Four decades after he began breaking into houses, tying up victims, raping women and murdering couples, former police officer Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty Monday to 26 charges, admitting what pioneering forensic science had already shown: it was the sadistic killer from the Golden State.
His acceptance of a guilty plea barred him from death, a postponement that the 74-year-old never offered to more than a dozen men and women whom he shot and beat to death during a 12-year spree during the 1970s and eighty. He only stopped, prosecutors believe, when he grew older and was no longer aggressive enough to dominate victims.
The admission of guilt will guarantee DeAngelo’s time behind bars, as he will be sentenced to life in prison without parole.
DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts of murder, with additional special circumstances, as well as 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery in six counties, including Contra Costa County in the Bay area. Investigators believe he was responsible for more than 60 violations, including some in Santa Clara and Alameda counties as well, but the statute of limitations expired on those crimes.
Wearing an orange suit and a plastic visor to his face Monday, DeAngelo was taken to a large Sacramento ballroom in a wheelchair where officials read out loud detailed reports of each crime. On one side of the room were their victims and their families, while law enforcement officials and prosecutors were on the other side.
DeAngelo confirmed out loud that he had accepted the plea agreement.
Sacramento County prosecutors announced that he would plead guilty to all 26 charges, and that he would admit responsibility for other, unreported crimes, including the rape of several women.
The unprocessed crimes he is expected to plead guilty to occurred in Sacramento, Yolo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties, according to authorities. The crimes were mostly rapes that had exceeded the statute of limitations.
Last year, district attorneys for Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange, and Ventura counties decided to pursue the death penalty. But with DeAngelo’s advanced age and Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order stopping executions, it was doubtful that he would ever be killed.
Joseph DeAngelo was brought into the ballroom with a plastic visor over his face. The ballroom is absolutely quiet. # GoldenStateKiller @sfchronicle pic.twitter.com/HB2hdnGyBN
– Matthias Gafni (@mgafni) June 29, 2020
Monday’s hearing was moved from a Sacramento County Superior Court chamber to a Sacramento State University ballroom to provide space for social estrangement amid the coronavirus pandemic and large numbers are expected to attend. victims. Those men and women will have the opportunity to address DeAngelo at a future sentencing hearing.
DeAngelo’s depravity caused fear in the hearts of residents from Sacramento to Orange County. He would target sleeping couples, break into their suburban homes with a mask, tie up the man, and place dishes on his back as a makeshift alarm. He would threaten to kill the couples before raping the woman. Her crimes earned morbid nicknames: Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist, and Original Night Stalker.
Over the years, investigators linked some of the Southern California murders to a series of rapes in the Bay Area and Central Valley, and the suspect was named the Golden State Assassin. Authorities now believe he committed crimes in 11 counties from 1974 to 1986.
It was two years ago when researchers decided to use a family genealogy website that stored a massive database of genetic profiles of hobby detectives looking for long-lost relatives. They uploaded the Golden State Killer profile to GEDmatch.com and were successful. A distant relative of DeAngelo had uploaded a DNA profile and investigators mapped the family trees and slowly narrowed down any possible suspects.
The genetic roadmap finally led to DeAngelo, a grandfather who lives in Citrus Heights, Sacramento County. Police inspected his home in a quiet residential neighborhood and finally confirmed the match by removing DNA from his car door and a tissue in the trash.
The effort not only caught one of California’s most notorious criminals, but also launched a new era of crime resolution where genetic genealogy is used to solve inactive cases. That technique and DeAngelo’s crimes sparked worldwide interest, releasing a best-selling book, a six-part HBO documentary that premiered on Sunday, podcasts, and countless television shows.
Since his arrest two years ago, DeAngelo seems increasingly frail, loses weight, and rarely shows any emotion.
DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 after being caught shoplifting. He had previously worked as an officer in Exeter from 1973 to 1976, not far from where Visalia Ransacker robbed more than 100 houses in the Central Valley.
Debbi Domingo McMullan, whose mother Cheri Domingo was killed by DeAngelo in 1981, stayed with her brother, wiping away tears as a prosecutor read horrendous details about the double murder. Her mother was beaten at least 10 times and raped by DeAngelo in Santa Barbara.
All these years later, he finally heard DeAngelo take responsibility, and a judge found him guilty.
“It was difficult to remain standing,” said Domingo McMullan during a break.
Matthias Gafni is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @mgafni