‘I’ve de­stroyed all their lives’

Ex-cop ad­mits he is Golden State Killer

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS - JUSTIN JOUVENAL

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 in a Cal­i­for­nia court­room.

Joseph James DeAn­gelo Jr., 74, ad­mit­ted to be­ing one of the U.S.’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, 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 plea hear­ing brings to a close one of the na­tion’s most in­fa­mous strings of un­solved crimes 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 was 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 face shield to pro­tect him from the coro­n­avirus.

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 bo­gey­man. 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 birth par­ents.

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 said 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.”

Joseph James DeAn­gelo Jr.

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