YOLO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Sherri Papini made her first court appearance for allegedly committing mail fraud and lying to law enforcement about her disappearance in 2016.
Back in 2016, Papini disappeared while on a run in Redding, and the community believed she had been abducted and held captive for three weeks.
The search for Papini garnered national attention and prompted law enforcement to spend hundreds of hours and many taxpayer dollars searching for her.
She later appeared in Yolo County. A trucker found her battered and bruised walking down Interstate 5 the day before Thanksgiving.
Court documents show that DNA evidence taken from her garments that day connected Papini to her ex-boyfriend who was living in Costa Mesa. Officials said the evidence did not match up with what she told detectives, which included a description of her phony kidnappers.
According to court documents, Papini had her ex-boyfriend pick her up in Redding, and she then stayed with him down in Orange County. He said she beat herself up, cut her own hair and told him to brand her shoulder.
She could potentially spend upwards of 25 years in prison.
Sacramento criminal defense attorney Mark Reichel said the defense is in a tough position but could claim Papini was mentally ill.
“The federal system says that look, we only find you not guilty by reason of insanity if you had no ideas of the consequences or the nature of what you were doing. In here, the prosecution and the judge are going to say look, this is kind of an elaborate scheme. I mean, you took great pains to figure this out to cover your tracks, to come up with reasons to throw them off your tracks and to try to get away with this. That kind of planning shows sophistication, sophistication means that you understood the natural and probable consequences of your actions,” Reichel said.
The harshest punishment, however, could result from the money she received from a government fund that helps crime victims.
She reportedly received 35 payments by mail after the incident. Officials said it totaled more than $30,000 from a victim assistance fund, and she could be forced to pay it all back.
Papini is being held without bond because the judge considers her a flight risk. Her next court appearance is March 18 at 2 p.m.