An ex-policeman accused of being the “Golden State Killer,” a serial predator who terrorized much of California with a string of slayings, rapes and break-ins over 10 years, pleaded guilty on Monday to multiple murder and kidnapping charges.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, entered the pleas as part of a broader agreement outlined by prosecutors at Monday’s court hearing, to admit to all the offenses he stands accused of, charged and uncharged, stemming from a crime wave dating back to the mid-1970s.
Under terms of the plea deal, DeAngelo will face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While sparing the defendant from a potential death sentence, the deal also saves a dwindling number of aging survivors, victims’ families, witnesses and investigators involved in the case from legal proceedings that would likely have stretched on for years, prosecutors said.
The plea hearing was held in a ballroom at Sacramento State University, rather than a courthouse, to allow for more socially distanced seating space amid the coronavirus pandemic. The defendant and his attorneys all wore medical-style, clear plastic face shields.
DeAngelo, dressed in orange jail garb and slumped in a wheelchair with his mouth agape, answered “guilty” in a raspy voice when the judge asked his plea to the first of 13 counts of first-degree murder and kidnapping charges he faced, most of which also encompassed rape allegations.
He went on to plead guilty and admit to additional charges and allegations as prosecutors from 11 California counties took turns presenting “factual basis” statements graphically detailing every rape, murder, and home invasion with which DeAngelo was accused.
The hearing wore on for more than three hours before the judge recessed the proceedings for a lunch break.
DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018 capped more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by comparing crime-scene DNA evidence to information on genealogy websites consumers use to track their ancestry.
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.
In addition to 13 murders and kidnappings, prosecutors said DeAngelo was known to have committed nearly 50 rapes in all and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California.
The crime spree spanned an 11-year period – from 1975 to 1986 – and began while DeAngelo was a police officer, authorities said. He served on two small-town departments during the 1970s.
The suspect, whom authorities also had nicknamed the “East Area Rapist” and the “Original Night Stalker,” became notorious 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, Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)