A former California police officer who terrorized the state as a serial rapist and murderer pleaded guilty Monday to 13 murders and admitted to more than 80 rapes over a 12 year period, bringing an end to the decades long search for the man known as the Golden State Killer.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr, now 74, is expected to be sentenced to life in prison in August, when testimony from victims will likely stretch over two days, the Sacramento Bee reported.
Appearing in an orange jumpsuit and sitting in a wheelchair, DeAngelo feebly announced “guilty” as each of the murders — and 13 counts of kidnap for robbery — were read off in the Sacramento State University ballroom, which had been configured as an impromptu court room to accommodate more than 150 observers safely socially distanced. DeAngelo himself wore a face shield as he said “I admit” to uncharged crimes — including 62 rapes — for which the statute of limitations had run out.
DeAngelo first pleaded guilty to the November 11, 1975, shooting death of Claude Snelling, a college professor who lived in Visalia who was killed trying to prevent the kidnapping of his 16-year-old daughter, and ended with the rape and bludgeoning death of 18-year-old Janelle Cruz on May 3, 1986, in Irvine. Cruz was the last known victim of the man who was also known as the East Area Rapist, Visalia Ransacker, Original Night Stalker, and more nicknames.
DeAngelo was caught two years ago using DNA, although he had never been on the radar as a suspect in any of the crimes he now admits to committing. From 1986 until 2018, the search for a suspect was met with dead ends and false leads. DeAngelo became the prime suspect just a week before his arrest, as CrimeOnline previously reported.
Prosecutors read aloud the circumstances of each case, noting that the killer rummaged through the refrigerator of Debra Manning and Robert Offerman, a Santa Barbara County couple he killed on December 30, 1979. Victims said he was masked and slipped in through open windows. He tied them up at gunpoint. He tied up husbands and boyfriends while he raped their wives and girlfriends. He secured parents and husbands with their backs to kitchen plates so he could hear if they struggled to escape. He left on foot or by bicycle.
Thienvu Ho, a Sacramento County deputy DA, told the court that DeAngelo had inadvertently confessed shortly after his arrest. Investigators confronted him with the evidence they had against him, Ho said, then left him alone in an interview room, where he began talking to himself, saying he was urged to commit the crimes by an inner personality he called “Jerry,” CBS Sacramento reported.
“I didn’t have the strength to push him out,” DeAngelo said. “He made me. He went with me. It was like in my head, I mean, he’s a part of me. I didn’t want to do those things. I pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. I did all those things. I destroyed all their lives. So now I’ve got to pay the price.”
Ho also suggested that DeAngelo’s weak, raspy voice was just an act, noting that he had been living a vigorous life, frequently riding around town on his motorcycle, as investigators tracked him. But when he was arrested, Ho said, “he feigned feeble incoherence.”
DeAngelo was a Vietnam veteran who worked at two California police departments, until he was fired in 1979 for shoplifting. He retired as a truck mechanic, living in the same area he terrorized.
Prosecutors reach a plea deal with DeAngelo two weeks ago to avoid a lengthy trial, citing DeAngelo’s age, the ages of investigators and witnesses, and a moratorium on executions in California.
DeAngelo’s youngest victim, who was 13 when he raped her on November 10, 1977, came to Monday’s hearing. She previously told ABC that she had kept a dossier on the rapist and killer, and when he appeared by her bedside at 2 a.m., she was ready.
“A little voice inside of me said, you know, ‘You get out of a lot of stuff, Margaret. But you’re not gonna get out of this one. And just you need to understand that this is what’s gonna happen to you. You’re gonna get raped. But you’re gonna be OK. And he’s not gonna hurt me,'” she said.
When he threatened to kill her or her mother, she defiantly told him, “I don’t care.”
“It was the best answer I could come up with in order to, like, let him know, ‘I’m not afraid of you,'” Wardlow said. “He wants fear. And I knew that. So, I just told him, ‘I don’t care.'”
Eventually, she said, he fled.
“He wasn’t getting what he wanted,” she said. “He wanted fear. He wanted to see fear in me.”
At the hearing in Sacramento State’s ballroom, Wardlow noted that DeAngelo had attended the school. “He went to university here,” she told the Sacramento Bee. “I bet he had no idea that this is the way he’d visit his alma mater. Hopefully, this will give some closure.”
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[Featured image: James Joseph DeAngelo in court on Monday/AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli]