In a surprising turn of events, the two men facing a federal trial on kidnapping and attempted robbery charges in the April abduction of a female Jewelers Row employee pleaded guilty this morning instead of continuing with their trial.

Basil Buie, 23, pleaded guilty at a 9 a.m. hearing in a courtroom down the hall from the 16th-floor room where the trial began yesterday.

Afterward, his cousin, Salahudin Shaheed, 34, the mastermind of the horrific plot to rob the National Watch and Diamond Exchange store at 8th and Chestnut streets in Center City on April 4 and the abduction of the female employee, pleaded guilty shortly after 11 a.m., following talks between his attorney and prosecutors.

The 54-year-old victim was set to testify this morning at the trial.

After the guilty pleas, she emerged from an anteroom outside U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III's courtroom and hugged Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanine Linehan.

"Thank you, again, thank you for everything," the woman told Linehan.

Moments earlier, Linehan told reporters that the guilty pleas were surprises. She said it's "a huge amount of relief" that the victim will no longer have to testify in a public courtroom and will "not have to relive the terror."

Linehan said she believed Buie and Shaheed decided to plead guilty because "they were confronted with an overwhelming amount" of evidence against them.

Opening statements in the federal trial began Tuesday afternoon, and one witness - Janice Davis, a motorist who found the victim near a Darby cemetery - testified.

Today, the victim, a third man who participated in the kidnapping - Khayree Gay, 31, who has been cooperating with the government, and who already pleaded guilty - and Special Agent Sarah O'Reilly of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were expected to testify at the trial.

In summarizing the facts of the kidnapping, Linehan said during Shaheed's guilty-plea hearing that from November of last year to April 4 of this year, Shaheed planned a robbery of the National Watch store.

He recruited his cousin, Buie, and his friend, Gay. The three men surveilled the store before the attempted robbery to see who might know the store's codes.

About 4 p.m. April 4, the three men accosted the victim, then 53, as she was walking to her car in a parking garage across from the store on Chestnut Street. They thought she was the owner of the store - but she wasn't.

Shaheed shocked her with a taser gun, Linehan said, and all three men violently forced her into Gay's burgundy van, where the victim was beaten and subdued.

Shaheed then drove the van to the top of the parking garage, where he demanded to know the codes to get into the store and to its safe. Even when the woman said she didn't know the codes, Shaheed punched her and said he would kill her.

Shaheed then drove the van away, while Buie, who is heavyset, sat on top of the victim in the back of the van. The woman's hands and legs were bound with plastic zip ties.

The woman was "spitting bile onto the floor of the dirty van," Linehan said.

The men stopped to get $43 worth of gas using the woman's ATM card.

They then drove to Mount Lawn Cemetery in Darby, where "they dumped the victim into a ditch, covered her with a sheet, and tried to drive off," Linehan said.

But because of mud in the cemetery, they were not able to exit, she said. So instead, they reversed the van and abducted the woman again, this time putting metal shackles on her. They dumped her again in the cemetery and covered her with a sheet before driving off.

It was later that evening that Davis, who was driving past the cemetery, saw the victim walk out, screaming and waving, her hair messy, her clothes torn, Davis testified on Tuesday.

Both Buie and Shaheed pleaded guilty to the three charges in their indictment - conspiracy to commit robbery, attempted robbery and kidnapping. There is no agreement between the government and defense attorneys on their sentences.

Sentencing hearings for Buie and Shaheed were set for Jan. 7.

Both face a possible maximum life-in-prison sentence on the kidnapping charge. The other two charges each carry a maximum possible sentence of 20 years behind bars.

Shaheed, speaking in a clear, eloquent voice, today told the judge that he was pleading guilty because he is indeed guilty. He said he agreed to Linehan's summary of the facts in the case.

He told the judge he attended South Philadelphia High School, at most attending 11th grade.

Shaheed's attorney, Lawrence Bozzelli, said afterward of his client's decision to plead guilty: "The ultimate reason was to spare the expense of the victim from having to testify and to recount what happened to her."

He added of the victim: "She was there [in the courthouse]. That was something that weighed on all of us."

Bozzelli contended that Buie's decision to plead guilty first thing this morning did not factor into Shaheed's decision to plead guilty. "It wasn't a slam dunk case," he said of the evidence against Shaheed.

Buie's attorney, Arnold Joseph, said his client decided to plead guilty because "the prosecution came up with some evidence ... that was going to be devastating" and because Buie also wanted to "save the victim the ordeal" of having to testify.

Regarding the new evidence, which Joseph said he learned about last week, Joseph said an inmate who had been housed with Buie in the Federal Detention Center in Philadelphia was going to testify that while the two were in a cell together, Buie admitted to the kidnapping.

Joseph said Buie has denied saying that to his former cellmate, but that the cellmate was expected to testify and "if he came in and said it, that would have been difficult to overcome."

Joseph said the kidnapping "was out of Buie's character." Buie has no prior arrest record, he said.

"It was overwhelming to him," Joseph said of this case. "He wanted to put it behind him."

Joseph said the sentencing guideline range for his client would call for about 11 to 14 years in prison. The attorney also said his client was not cooperating with the government and would not have testified against his cousin if Shaheed had proceeded with his trial.

The case was investigated by the ATF and Philadelphia police.

@julieshawphilly