A former police officer who terrorised California as a serial burglar and rapist and went on to kill more than a dozen people while evading capture for decades pleaded guilty Monday to murders attributed to a criminal dubbed, “the Golden State Killer”.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr had remained almost silent in court since his 2018 arrest until he repeatedly uttered the words “guilty” and “I admit” in a hushed and raspy voice as part of a plea agreement that will spare him the death penalty for a life sentence with no chance of parole.
DeAngelo, 74, had never publicly acknowledged the killings, but offered up a confession of sorts after his arrest that cryptically referred to an inner personality named “Jerry” that he said forced him to commit the wave of crimes that ended abruptly in 1986.
“I didn’t have the strength to push him out,” DeAngelo said while alone in a police interrogation room after his arrest in April 2018, according to Sacramento County prosecutor Thien Ho said. “He made me. He went with me. It was, like, in my head, I mean, he’s a part of me. I didn’t want to do those things. I pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. I did all those things. I destroyed all their lives. So now, I’ve got to pay the price.”
“The scope of Joseph DeAngelo’s crimes is simply staggering,” Ho said. “Each time he escaped, slipping away silently into the night.”
— Dateline NBC (@DatelineNBC) June 29, 2020
DeAngelo, seated in a wheelchair on a makeshift stage in a university ballroom that could accommodate hundreds of observers a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic, acknowledged he would plead guilty to 13 counts of murder and dozens of rapes that are too old to prosecute.
Family members wept as the proceeding went on for hours. A pile of used tissues sat on the floor next to Jennifer Carole, whose father, lawyer Lyman Smith, was slain in 1980 with his his wife, Charlene Smith, who was raped before being killed.
“This is much harder than I thought it was going to be. And I thought it was going to be hard,” Carole said. “I feel a lot of anger, which I don’t think I’ve felt so powerfully before.”
— Jen Carole | Lawyers Daughter Pod | LifeCoachPod (@jcarole) June 28, 2020
DeAngelo, a Vietnam veteran and a grandfather, had never been on the radar of investigators who spent years trying to track down the culprit.
It was not until after the crimes ended that investigators connected a series of assaults in central and Northern California to slayings in Southern California and settled on the umbrella Golden State Killer nickname for the mysterious assailant.
Police used DNA from crime scenes to find a distant relative through a popular genealogy website database then built a family tree that eventually led them to him. They tailed DeAngelo and were able to secretly collect DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue to get an arrest warrant.
Melanie Barbeau displays photos of murder victims believed to be slain by the Golden State Killer as she leaves a hearing for suspect Joseph DeAngelo in Sacramento, California in 2018 [File: Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo]
Prosecutors detailed sadistic acts he committed after slipping into homes undetected and surprising couples in bed by shining a flashlight in their faces and threatening to kill everyone in the house – including young children – if they did not follow his orders.
The masked prowler initially said he only wanted their money to earn their cooperation. He would have the women bind their husbands or boyfriends face down in bed with shoelaces, and then he would bind the women. Victims described being prodded by the barrel of a gun or the tip of a knife.
He piled dishes on the backs of men and said they would both be killed if he heard the plates crash while he raped the woman.
He stole whatever he could find, sometimes a few bottles of Budweiser and some cash, other times diamond rings. He slipped off into the dark on foot or by bicycle and even managed to evade police who at times believed they came close to catching him.
DeAngelo began on the police force in the San Joaquin Valley farm town of Exeter in 1973, where he is believed to have committed his first break-ins and first killing.
After three years on the force, DeAngelo moved back to the Sacramento area, where he got a job with the Auburn Police Department in the Sierra foothills. He held that job until 1979 when he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer – two items that could be of use to a burglar.
The guilty plea and life sentence avoided a trial and even a planned weeks-long preliminary hearing. Victims will be able to confront DeAngelo at length during an August sentencing expected to last several days.