A man accused of being the rapist and killer who terrorized California residents in the 1970s and 1980s has agreed to plead guilty to dozens of crimes in return for being spared the death penalty, a law enforcement source and a victim's relative said Monday.
Joseph DeAngelo, a former police officer accused of being the Golden State Killer, is expected to plead guilty on June 29 and be sentenced in August to life without the possibility of parole after the surviving victims and relatives of those killed confront him in court.
"We are so totally supportive of the death penalty and yet we are totally supportive of this decision to let the Golden State Killer plead to life without possibility of parole," said Ron Harrington. His younger brother, Keith, and new sister-in-law, Patti, were beaten to death in their Orange County home in August 1980.
"Almost 40 years have passed and literally some of the victims have passed away, there are foundational issues from an evidentiary standpoint," he explained. "You’ve got victims who have now passed away, how are they going to testify?"
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Sacramento County public defenders did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment about their 74-year-old client, who appeared increasingly frail at his last court appearance in March.
District attorneys in six counties that had been seeking the death penalty issued a joint statement that did not address that issue, but noted the scope of crimes that started more than four decades ago and involved dozens of victims across 11 counties over more than a decade.
DeAngelo was identified only when investigators secretly collected DNA more than two years ago that they say proves he is the one who broke into couples’ suburban homes at night. The armed and masked rapist would tie up the man and pile dishes on his back, threatening to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he assaulted the woman.
"Victims of a crime are entitled to finality in their criminal cases, as well as the expectation that the person convicted of committing the crime will be punished," the prosecutors said. They said their offices "are working closely with the victims in this case to ensure their statements are considered by the Court prior to sentencing."
The prosecutors said they "have a moral and ethical responsibility to consider any offer from the defense, given the massive scope of the case (and) the advanced age of many of the victims and witnesses."
Gov. Gavin Newsom has halted executions so long as he is governor, though the death penalty remains legal in California.
Harrington said the decision was made about two weeks ago after prosecutors consulted with survivors and swore them to secrecy until the news was first reported by The Sacramento Bee.
He expects a day-long hearing just to read all the charges, and for the hearing to be held in an as yet undetermined venue larger than any courtroom just to keep the dozens of victims and spectators at a safe distance during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeAngelo is suspected of at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes across California. In many of the rapes, Harrington said, "the statute of limitations has run and he could not be formally charged with them, but it’s my understanding he is going to formally acknowledge or plead to them as well."
Sentencing may well span several days in mid-August, Harrington said, because each survivor or family member will have a chance to confront DeAngelo in person, by video or writing.
There was a consensus among survivors to go along with the plea deal, Harrington said he was told.
"Too many victims have passed and there’s a lot of other people — not just our case — that wanted closure," Harrington said. "We’re getting closer to as much closure as we can obtain."