‘Golden State Killer’ suspect pleads guilty to 13 murders, admits dozens of rapes

By Nathan Frandino

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – An elderly ex-policeman confessed on Monday to being the violent serial prowler known as the “Golden State Killer,” pleading guilty to 13 murders and admitting to dozens of rapes and break-ins that terrorized California during the 1970s and ’80s.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, entered the pleas as part of a broader deal with prosecutors sparing him from a potential death sentence in return for his admission to all of the offenses he stood accused of – charged and uncharged – in 11 California counties.

Under terms of the unusual plea agreement, approved by Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman at Monday’s hearing, DeAngelo faces life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than a potential death sentence.

Prosecutors said the deal ensured that aging survivors and victims’ relatives lived to see the case resolved, sparing them further legal proceedings likely to have dragged on for 10 years.

“The time for justice stands in front of us now,” said Amy Holliday, deputy district attorney for Sacramento County.

The hearing was held in a Sacramento university ballroom, rather than a courthouse, to allow for socially distanced seating amid the coronavirus pandemic. The defendant and his attorneys wore medical-style, clear plastic face shields.

DeAngelo, dressed in orange jail garb, sat expressionless and slack-jawed in a wheelchair throughout the seven-hour proceeding.

He spoke in a weak, raspy voice only to give yes and no answers to procedural questions from the judge, and later to answer “guilty” when Bowman asked his plea to each of 13 counts of first-degree murder and kidnapping.

He also replied “I admit” to dozens of allegations of rape, robbery, and other crimes as prosecutors took turns presenting “factual-basis” statements graphically detailing every murder, sexual assault and burglary with which DeAngelo was accused. His admissions encompassed a total of 161 uncharged crimes, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors also revealed that on the day of his arrest, while alone in an interview room, DeAngelo was overheard having an animated conversation with himself, referring to an apparent alter ego named “Jerry,” whom he described as being “in my head” and compelling him to “do those things.”

‘NOT AFRAID TO FACE HIM’

One of many surviving victims who attended the hearing, Kris Pedretti, said she felt satisfied with the outcome of DeAngelo’s plea, telling Reuters during a break, “I do think he is owning it.”

Pedretti, who was 15 when sexually assaulted, said she and other survivors “want people to know that there’s hope and that we’re not afraid to face him.”

DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018 capped more than 40 years of investigation that authorities finally solved through DNA evidence and data from commercial genealogy websites.

The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” A TV documentary series spawned by the book premiered by coincidence on HBO on Sunday.

Besides the 13 murders and kidnappings, prosecutors said DeAngelo was tied to nearly 50 rapes and more than 120 home invasions – mostly in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

The crime spree ran from 1975 to 1986 and began while DeAngelo was still a police officer. He served on two small-town departments during the 1970s.

The suspect, whom authorities also nicknamed the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Night Stalker,” was notorious for creeping into his victims’ bedrooms at night, tying them up, raping them, and stealing their valuables.

Formal sentencing was set to begin on Aug. 17.

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino in Sacramento; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Richard Pullin, Marguerita Choy, Cynthia Osterman and Gerry Doyle)

‘Golden State Killer’ suspect expected to plead guilty in California

By Nathan Frandino

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – An ex-policeman accused of terrorizing California with a string of murders, rapes and break-ins attributed to a serial predator dubbed the “Golden State Killer” was expected to plead guilty on Monday at a court hearing set to be held on a university campus.

The plea deal reached between Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, and prosecutors from six California counties, according to the Los Angeles Times, would spare the defendant from the death penalty while sparing survivors and victims’ families the trauma of a trial.

Prosecutors declined to confirm the plea agreement as reported by the Times earlier this month. But Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced she and her five counterparts would hold a major news conference on Monday afternoon at Sacramento State University, following a hearing in the case.

The proceeding, like the press briefing, is to be held in a campus ballroom rather than a courthouse to allow for more socially distanced seating space amid the coronavirus pandemic.

DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts each of murder and kidnapping following his arrest in 2018, capping more than 40 years of investigation in a sprawling case that authorities said was finally solved by DNA evidence.

The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.” A TV documentary series based on the book was due to premiere on HBO on Sunday.

Twelve of the murder counts DeAngelo faced carried “special circumstance” allegations, such as rape of the victim, making him eligible for capital punishment. The FBI has said DeAngelo was linked with 45 rapes in all, and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

His alleged crime spree spanned a total of 10 California counties over an 11-year period – from 1975 to 1986 – and began while he was a police officer, authorities said. DeAngelo served on two small-town departments during the 1970s.

Nicknamed the Golden State Killer by investigators before he was caught, the suspect became known for creeping into the homes of couples at night, tying them up and raping the woman before killing both victims.

(Reporting by Nathan Frandino in Sacramento; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Richard Pullin)

California prosecutors to seek death penalty in ‘Golden State Killer’ murders

FILE PHOTO - Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, who authorities said was identified by DNA evidence as the serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer, appears at his arraignment in California Superior court in Sacramento, California, U.S., April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Four California district attorneys have jointly agreed to seek the death penalty if they win a conviction of an ex-policeman charged with 13 counts of murder attributed to a serial predator dubbed the “Golden State Killer,” prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The decision, disclosed during a court hearing for the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 73, put the prosecutors at odds with a statewide moratorium on capital punishment declared last month by Governor Gavin Newsom.

DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018, capping more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by DNA evidence. The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book: “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.”

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called it “probably the most notorious” series of rapes and killings in California history, a crime spree spanning 11 years from 1975 to 1986 across multiple jurisdictions.

The defendant was an officer in two small-town California police departments during the 1970s.

Schubert and her counterparts from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties “unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case,” her office said in a statement after Wednesday’s hearing.

DeAngelo is charged with 13 counts each of murder and kidnapping. Twelve murder counts accompany “special circumstance allegations” – such as rape of the victim – that make him eligible for capital punishment, the prosecutors said. The 13th murder count, in Tulare County, does not.

In all, authorities have said DeAngelo is suspected of dozens of rapes and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.

Four weeks ago, Newsom, a Democrat, said he was imposing an indefinite moratorium on executions for any of the 737 inmates now on death row, the most of any state.

Newsom said he took the action in part because he was deeply troubled by the possibility of putting an innocent person to death as the state moved to toward resumption of executions after developing a new protocol for lethal injections.

The governor, whose moratorium angered victims’ rights advocates, has since said he was considering a ban on future death sentences. California last carried out an execution in 2006.

Voters passed a 2016 ballot measure aimed at speeding up the process, but that initiative has failed to work, critics say, largely because it lacked additional funding needed to implement necessary reforms.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Genealogy websites help California police find Golden State Killer suspect

By Fred Greaves

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California investigators tracked down the man they suspect is the Golden State Killer by comparing crime scene DNA to information on genealogy websites consumers use to trace their ancestry, a prosecutor said on Thursday.

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested on Tuesday outside the Sacramento-area home where he has lived for at least two decades, not far from the site of the first of eight murders he is charged with committing 40 years ago.

DeAngelo, described by neighbors as an oddball and loner known to fly into occasional fits of solitary rage, is suspected of 12 slayings in all. He also is accused of committing 45 rapes and scores of home invasions in a crime spree that spanned 10 years and 10 California counties during the 1970s and 1980s.

Announcing his arrest on Wednesday, authorities said DeAngelo’s name had never surfaced as a suspect prior to last week, when a DNA match was made.

Officials initially did not disclose how their investigation led to DeAngelo, whose DNA had never previously been collected.

But on Thursday, Steve Grippi, chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County, said detectives narrowed their search by using genetic information available through commercial genealogy websites furnishing personal family histories to consumers who send DNA samples in for analysis.

Confirming details first reported by the Sacramento Bee newspaper, Grippi said investigators compared DNA samples left by the perpetrator at a crime scene to genetic profiles on the ancestry sites, looking for similarities.

He did not address whether the websites volunteered the information or were subject to a search warrant or subpoena.

Detectives followed the family trees of close matches, seeking blood relatives who fit a rough profile of the killer. The process produced a lead a week ago, pointing to DeAngelo based on his age and whereabouts at the time of the attacks, Grippi said.

Investigators found DeAngelo, placed him under surveillance and obtained his DNA from a discarded object, finding a match to a crime scene sample. A second, more decisive sample was collected from him days later and came back positive on Monday.

Authorities have not disclosed the relative whose DNA helped solve the case. DeAngelo is known to have at least two adult children.

DeAngelo is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Sacramento on Friday, facing two counts of murder.

On Thursday, sheriff’s detectives and FBI agents spent hours combing through his modest single-story house in Citrus Heights, a Sacramento suburb, and probing the backyard with poles for signs of digging. Red marker flags were visible in an embankment at the rear of the yard, enclosed by a tall wooden fence.

“Those are fairly standard search techniques,” said Lieutenant Paul Belli, a homicide detective for the sheriff’s department. “There’s no reason to believe there are bodies buried back there.”

Among the items of evidence collected from the house were computers and firearms, he said.

Investigators also sought articles of clothing that might help tie the suspect to particular crimes, such as ski masks or gloves worn during the attacks, or jewelry, driver’s licenses and other personal effects taken from victims, apparently as keepsakes or trophies, Belli said.

Belli said he doubted additional victims would emerge because exhaustive DNA database searches had turned up no further matches.

Neighbor Paul Sanchietti, 58, said he was left “bone-chilled” by news that DeAngelo, who lived four houses away, had been arrested as a suspected serial killer.

In the 20 years they lived as neighbors, Sanchietti said he could recount speaking just a few words with DeAngelo on two occasions, once when they pushed a stalled car out of the middle of the street.

“It just felt like he wanted to be left alone,” Sanchietti said of his neighbor, who he said had a reputation in the community for loud, angry outbursts.

“He would be outside in his driveway working on his car or something, and he would go into these rally loud tirades, Sanchietti told Reuters, adding that he nevertheless was unaware of DeAngelo ever running afoul of law enforcement.

(Reporting in Sacramento by Fred Greaves. Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Michael Perry)