SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Forty years after a sadistic suburban rapist terrorized California in what investigators later discovered was a series of linked assaults and murders, a 74-year-old former police officer is expected to plead guilty Monday to being the elusive Golden State Assassin.
The settlement will allow Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. any chance of the death penalty for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges spanning six counties. In partial exchange, survivors of the assaults that spanned the 1970s and 1980s expect him to admit up to 62 rapes of which he could not be criminally charged because too much time has passed.
However, nothing is certain until he actually speaks in a Sacramento State University ballroom that is used as a courtroom to provide social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I’ve been using pins and needles because I just don’t like our lives being tied to him, again,” said Jennifer Carole, the daughter of Lyman Smith, a lawyer who was murdered in 1980 at age 43 in Ventura County. His wife, Charlene Smith, 33, was also raped and killed.
Investigators initially linked certain crimes to a masked, armed rapist who broke into the suburban houses of the sleeping couples at night, tied the man up, and stacked dishes on his back. He would threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.
Gay and Bob Hardwick were among the survivors.
Now they expect DeAngelo to admit to that 1978 assault. The death penalty was never realistic anyway, he said, given DeAngelo’s age and Governor Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions.
“He certainly deserves to die, in my opinion, so I am seeing that he is swapping the death penalty for death in prison,” he said. “It will be good to leave things alone. I think he will never serve the sentence that we have served, we have served the sentence for 42 years.”
A guilty plea and life sentence prevents a trial or even the planned preliminary hearing of weeks. Victims hope to confront him at his sentencing in August, where he is expected to take several days to tell DeAngelo and Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman what they have suffered.
Ron Harrington’s younger brother Keith was married to Patti Harrington for just three months when they were beaten to death in their Orange County home in 1980 by an assassin then known as the original night stalker.
All four brothers were successful, but “Keith, the youngest of us all, was the smartest,” he said. “It is a great loss. And every time this comes up, I think of all the lives I would have saved as an ER doctor.”
Her father found the couple two days later.
“It was so horrible,” said Harrington. “My dad was never the same.”
The killer accumulated a series of nicknames for his crimes over the decades.
East Area Violator.
Original Night Stalker.
Diamond knot killer.
But it wasn’t until years later that investigators linked a series of assaults in central and northern California to subsequent murders in southern California and became known as the Golden State Killer for the mysterious attacker whose crimes spanned 11 counties from 1974 to mid-1986.
The mystery sparked worldwide interest, a best-selling book and a six-part HBO documentary, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” which premiered on Sunday.
It was only the pioneering use of new DNA techniques that led investigators to DeAngelo two years ago, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department in northeast Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught stealing dog repellent and a hammer. He had previously worked as a police officer in the city of Exeter in the Central Valley from 1973 to 1976, near where Visalia Ransacker hit more than 100 houses south of Fresno.
Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through a popular online DNA database. They eventually limited themselves to DeAngelo with a process that has since been used in other cases across the country, but said they confirmed the link only after surreptitiously picking up their DNA from their car door and a discarded handkerchief.
His defense attorneys have since publicly lobbied for a deal that would save him the death penalty, although they did not respond to repeated requests for comment before Monday’s hearing.
Prosecutors who had applied for the death penalty cited the enormously complicated case and the advanced age of many of the victims and witnesses in agreeing to consider the plea agreement.
“Death doesn’t solve anything. But having to sit in a trial or preliminary hearing would have helped,” said Carole, who said that neither she nor her murdered father believed in capital punishment.
She was so committed to seeing the case that she temporarily moved from Santa Cruz to her adult daughter’s home in Sacramento, where she has slept on an air mattress in a spare room. She has told the story of her father’s death and her own recent experiences through podcasts called The Lawyer’s Daughter.
But he said it “absolutely” makes sense for prosecutors to accept a life sentence without parole, both to prevent older victims and witnesses more vulnerable to the coronavirus from appearing in court, and to save taxpayers the cost. projected $ 20 million. of a trial.
Harrington supports the death penalty, but also agreed with the prosecutors’ decision to “give a certain degree of closure.”
“This will be a relief to all of us, moving on with our lives,” Hardwick said. “We have dealt with the effects of the attack for 42 years.”