A plea deal for the accused Golden State Killer, requiring he admit to a series of rapes and murders that terrorized residents across California in the 1970s and 1980s, brings justice to those who have waited decades for one of the state’s most notorious killers to be sentenced, a prosecutor told a judge on Monday.
Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer who was arrested in 2018 after authorities identified him through DNA, appeared before his surviving victims and the relatives of those he is accused of killing in order to accept a plea deal that spares him the death penalty but will almost certainly leave him behind bars for the rest of his life.
A frail-looking DeAngelo struggled to rise when Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael G. Bowman entered the courtroom.
He sat with his head listing to the side, his mouth open, for much of the hearing, answering simply “yes” or “no” when questioned by the judge.
Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday noted that the crimes are all more than 30 years old, and that many victims, witnesses and law enforcement officials involved in the investigation have died, with some of those who remain in their 80s and 90s.
She told the judge that the plea deal will allow them to hear DeAngelo admit to committing the crimes and to be present for the sentencing.
“The time for justice stands before us now,” Holliday said.
Under the plea deal, DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced to 11 consecutive terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole. DeAngelo confirmed to the judge that he understood, and agreed, to the plea deal.
By mid-morning, the prosecutors had begun reading the details of the specific crimes, followed by DeAngelo individually pleading guilty to each count.
The Golden State Killer – also known as the Original Night Stalker and the East Area Rapist – is suspected of carrying out a dozen-year crime wave beginning in 1974 that included killing at least 13 people and raping more than 50 victims.
He is believed to have begun the increasingly violent crimes in the Sacramento area before moving to the Central Valley, the Bay Area and, finally, to Southern California.
He would be pleading guilty, essentially, to being one of the most prolific serial killers in California history, though the sheer geographic spread of his alleged slayings meant that they wouldn’t be tied together until 2001.
His crimes began in the Sacramento area in the late ’70s, and included the 1979 killing of Brian and Katie Maggiore, shot while walking their dog in Rancho Cordova.
He then moved to the Bay Area, where he is accused of committing 11 break-ins and sexual assaults in Concord, Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Fremont and San Jose before relocating to Southern California.
The Orange County killings began in August 1980, with the slaying of Keith and Patty Harrington, a newlywed couple who lived in Dana Point. The killer entered the couple’s unlocked home, tied them up, raped Patty, then covered the two with bedding and bludgeoned them to death.
In 1981, a killer broke into the Irvine home of Manuela Witthuhn while her husband was hospitalized with an illness. Investigators came to believe, they said, that the killer meant to target the couple and was surprised to find Witthuhn home alone, but killed her anyway.
In 1987, the same killer is suspected of attacking Janelle Cruz, alone at her parents’ Irvine home while they were on vacation, raping her and bludgeoning her to death. Investigators said they believe he attacked her shortly after her boyfriend left.
DNA tied the Orange County slayings to one assailant, then eventually to the other killings and rapes across the state.
For decades, the killer eluded authorities. Larry Pool, a former Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigator, later said he had a database of potential suspects that grew to more than 8,000 people.
Not included in that database was the balding, jowly, 72-year-old ex-cop who had spent years living in a one-story stucco house with a three-car garage in a quiet Sacramento suburb. A Navy veteran who served in Vietnam and as a police officer in Exeter and Auburn before being fired for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent, DeAngelo hadn’t raised a hint of suspicion.
It was a DNA match from an online geneological website, compared to DNA found at a crime scene, that would land DeAngelo on the radar of investigators. Authorities, working undercover, trailed DeAngelo to a Hobby Lobby and got hold of a piece of trash he threw into a garbage bin to obtain his DNA.
Before the plea deal, DeAngelo’s trial was shaping up to be a massive endeavor, with input from prosecutors across the state who had indicated they would seek the death penalty. Though Gov. Gavin Newsom has placed a moratorium on executions while he is in office, the death penalty still remains legal in California.
This is a developing story. Check back here for coverage of the court proceedings.
Source: Orange County Register