The man accused of being the “Golden State Killer” has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of murder and admitted other crimes during a plea hearing that is ongoing in a California courtroom.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, is admitting to being one of the nation’s worst serial predators as part of a deal with prosecutors and a handful of California counties that spares him the death penalty. The deal calls for him to be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
DeAngelo said “guilty” in a hoarse voice after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman asked him if he killed journalism professor Claude Snelling in 1975, the first of 13 counts of first degree murder and other uncharged counts DeAngelo is expected to admit to under the terms of the deal.
The plea hearing will bring to a close one of the nation’s most infamous strings of unsolved crimes, sprees of slayings, rapes and burglaries that stretched across California from the mid-’70s to the mid-80s.
“The scope of Joseph DeAngelo’s crime spree is simply staggering,” said Thien Ho, assistant chief deputy District Attorney for Sacramento County.
Ho said DeAngelo admitted to the crimes while muttering to himself after his arrest while waiting in a law enforcement interview room. “I’ve done all those things,” Ho said DeAngelo said to himself. “I’ve destroyed all their lives.”
The hearing is being held at a cavernous Sacramento State University ballroom, a venue chosen because it was large enough to hold the more than 150 victims and family members of victims expected to attend and at the same time provide for social distancing.
DeAngelo appeared at the hearing in an orange jumpsuit, wearing a faceshield to protect him from the coronavirus. He has not spoken other than to answer a judge’s questions.
The arrest of DeAngelo in 2018 marked an extraordinary breakthrough, since it came decades after the hunt for the killer had grown cold, and because it relied on a groundbreaking genetic technique that has now helped solve dozens of other crimes.
DeAngelo, a Navy veteran and former police officer, was quietly living out his retirement in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights when authorities linked him to a series of brutal attacks that stretched from Northern to Southern California between 1974 and 1986.
The victims and their family members are expected to confront DeAngelo at an August sentencing, which is slated to last days. Victims are expected to read impact statements at that hearing.
The plea deal is a long time coming.
It would take detectives four decades and countless hours of investigation to realize that crimes in 11 California counties appeared to be the work of a single suspect, who was alternately known as the East Area Rapist, Original Nightstalker and Visalia Ransacker, among other monikers.
The Golden State Killer appeared to start in 1974 with a series of more than 100 home burglaries and a slaying near Visalia, a city in the Central Valley of California. Dozens of rapes followed in and around Sacramento and the Bay Area from 1976 to 1979.
Then, the killer terrorized Southern California, carrying out a string of rapes and slayings that left women and sometimes their partners dead. By 1986, the wave of crimes abruptly ended.
Investigators said the Golden State Killer was cunning, sometimes observing his victims and plotting escape routes before launching an attack. During part of the period when the crimes occurred, DeAngelo was a police officer in the small town of Auburn, Calif.
The attacks were also notable for the fear they instilled. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert was a child in Sacramento when many of the rapes occurred.
“It changed this community,” Schubert said in 2018. “People referred to him as the boogeyman. It wasn’t a matter of if he was coming, it was when, because it happened so much and it went on for so long.”
It would take the advent of a new technology to finally crack the case long after it had gone stale.
Paul Holes, an investigator for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, and other investigators used a technique that was originally developed to reunite adoptees with their birthparents.
Holes’s team uploaded a DNA profile of the killer to a public DNA database that scours tens of thousands of other profiles to find potential relatives. The search uncovered some distant cousins.
The team then found a common ancestor between the relatives and the killer and created family trees down to the present day. One of the forking branches contained DeAngelo.
Investigators trailed DeAngelo before scooping up something he discarded that contained his DNA. That was tested against the DNA recovered from the crime scene and it produced a match, Holes said. DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018.
“Everything else up to this time had failed,” Paul Holes told The Post in 2018. “For 44 years, law enforcement has been trying to solve this case. No other case has had more resources poured into it in the history of California. I was just stunned.”
District attorneys and family members of victims are scheduled to hold a news conference after the plea hearing around 6 p.m. Eastern time.