The man accused of being the Golden State Killer pleaded guilty in Sacramento on Monday to 13 counts of first-degree murder in a deal that will spare him the death penalty.
In front of victims and their families, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday announced that the man, Joseph DeAngelo, 74, a former police officer, had agreed to plead guilty to committing a multitude of crimes across California in the 1970s and ’80s.
The hearing was livestreamed from a ballroom at California State University, Sacramento, that can hold up to 2,018 people when set up for receptions. Court officials and prosecutors sought a space to accommodate in-person attendance while maintaining social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Holliday said DeAngelo also admitted guilt in a number of crimes for which he was not charged, some of which are past the statute of limitations. He was dressed in orange jail clothing and wore a clear face shield.
As part of the plea agreement, he is required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims or their families, as well as any fees or fines.
DeAngelo had eluded authorities for four decades before he was arrested in April 2018 in a Sacramento suburb. It is believed to be the first high-profile case to have been cracked with genetic genealogy. Authorities said they used “discarded DNA” to confirm that DeAngelo was their man.
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho said the scope of DeAngelo’s crime spree is “simply staggering, encompassing 13 known murders and almost 50 rapes between 1975 and 1986.”
“His monikers reflect the sweeping geographical impact of his crime,” Ho said at Monday’s hearing. “Each time, he escaped, slipping away silently into the night, leaving communities terrified for years.”
A documentary about the case, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” aired Sunday night on HBO.
DeAngelo will be sentenced later to life without the possibility of parole. He is expected to be confronted before his sentencing by surviving victims and the relatives of those who were killed, prosecutors have said.
In a joint statement issued two weeks ago, the district attorneys who are involved in the case said, “It was not until the advent of Investigative Genetic Genealogy that we were able to successfully identify DeAngelo as the suspect in a series of rapes, burglaries and murders that spanned 11 counties over more than a decade.”
The district attorneys hinted at the possibility of a plea deal in their June 15 statement.
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to consider any offer from the defense, given the massive scope of the case, the advanced age of many of the victims and witnesses, and our inherent obligations to the victims,” the statement said.
The prosecutors’ decision to take a plea deal was influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, Holliday said.
The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for May, she said, but “it had to be postponed because of court closures and the dangers of bringing elderly or high-risk individuals into the courtroom in a public setting.”
Holliday said the pandemic has also limited the availability of courtrooms and jurors because of social distancing requirements.
The ages of victims, witnesses and law enforcement personnel, many of whom are in their 80s and 90s, also played a role, she said.
“During the time we have waited for the identity of this person who committed these crimes to be discovered, many of the victims, witnesses and law enforcement personnel involved have passed away,” Holliday said. “Many of these people deeply affected by these crimes may not be with us at the time of jury trial.”