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Former Cop Joseph DeAngelo Pleads Guilty, Admits Being The Golden State Killer

Joseph DeAngelo, 74, is admitting guilt to 13 murders and numerous rapes.

By Gina Tron
True Crime Buzz: Golden State Killer Suspect Pleads Guilty

A former police officer has admitted to being the Golden State Killer, the serial murderer and rapist behind the deadly and disturbing crime spree that spanned decades and multiple jurisdictions in California. Joseph DeAngelo, 74, pleaded guilty Monday morning to multiple murders and rapes in a Sacramento State University ballroom, which was transformed into a courtroom for the event due to accommodation issues, Kim Pedersen, public information officer for the Superior Court of Sacramento told Oxygen.com. The plea hearing ⁠— which lasted more than seven hours ⁠— was scripted, and further confessions from DeAngelo were permitted, the Los Angeles Times reports.

By the end of the proceedings, DeAngelo, who was wheeled onto the stage of the room wearing a face shield as a precaution amid the global coronavirus pandemic, will have pleaded guilty to 26 murder, rape and kidnapping charges, prosecutors said. His defense stated that he also has admitted to 62 uncharged offenses that he can no longer be charged for due to the statute of limitations.

In exchange for the plea, DeAngelo will dodge the death penalty. Instead, he will serve 15 consecutive life sentences. In a raspy and noticeably weak voice, DeAngelo answered “yes” when asked by Judge Michael Bowman if he understood the charges he was admitting to. Prosecutors from relevant jurisdictions then began going through all the charges individually, beginning with the 1975 murder of Claude Snelling. Before a recess, prosecutors got through charges eight and nine: the 1980 murder of Lyman and Charlene Smith. To all nine counts brought up in court before recess, DeAngelo stated in the same feeble manner, “I admit.”

Sacramento County Prosecutor Thien Ho told the court that in a police interrogation room following his arrest in 2018, DeAngelo started speaking to himself and seemingly blamed his crimes on voices in his head.

“I did all that,” DeAngelo said, according to Ho's recounting. “I didn’t have the strength to push him out. 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.”

"The scope of Joseph DeAngelo's crime spree is simply staggering, encompassing 13 known murders and almost 50 rapes between 1975 and 1986," Ho stated. "His monikers reflect the sweeping geographical impact of his crimes."

Before true crime author Michelle McNamara gave DeAngelo the moniker "Golden State Killer," he was known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Visalia Ransacker. Only recently did investigators link all his many crimes together. In addition to the 13 murders and dozens of rapes, he's responsible for numerous home break-ins; his crimes spanned six California jurisdictions. He targeted couples in their homes, often restraining the men while he raped their partners. In some cases, he put dishes on the backs of the men while he raped the women, telling them that if any dishes broke, he’d kill them both.

For decades, the killer’s identity remained a mystery and while the case was known in parts of California, it remained largely unknown nationally. That is, until McNamara came across a true crime TV show about the East Area Rapist in 2011 and was shocked she had never heard of the case. She started doing research and then spent the rest of her life trying to track the killer down. She wrote a wildly successful feature "In the Footsteps of a Killer" for Los Angeles Magazine in 2013, in which she gave the East Area Rapist the new moniker "Golden State Killer." She began work on a book on the case titled, "I'll Be Gone in the Dark," which was published in 2018 despite McNamara's untimely death in 2016.

As HBO’s new docuseries of the same name shows, she pushed for genetic research to be conducted in the case and her work has been credited with leading to an arrest. DeAngelo, who'd previously worked as a cop in the mid-to-late 1970s in the California towns of Exeter and Auburn, was arrested in April 2018 after genetic analysis pointed to him as the main suspect. It’s long been suspected that his cop job helped him know how to stay off the radar. While working for the Exeter Police Department in 1976, he was even  promoted to sergeant and put in charge of their burglary program, ABC 10 in Sacramento reports.

Ho also hinted in court that DeAngelo's meek and confused demeanor, at least at the time of his arrest, may have been an act. He noted that the killer was spotted by investigators vigorously working in his yard before he was taken into custody and that a week prior he was driving a motorcycle. Yet, "sitting in the interview room he feigned feeble incoherence," the prosecutor noted, adding that it "wasn't the first time he did so."

"When store security detained DeAngelo in 1979 for shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer, he pretended to suffer a heart attack and then fought with them to the point where they had to tie him down to a chair," he stated. "When the deputies arrived, he rolled around in his chair in circles and screamed incoherently. Later that day, DeAngelo admitted to the deputies that he just pretended to act crazy to avoid getting in trouble."

During Monday’s all-day hearing, prosecutors went into disturbing detail about DeAngelo’s crimes. In addition to the 26 charges, prosecutors went into detail about many of the 62 uncharged offenses: rapes, burglaries, abductions and false imprisonments.

District Attorney of Orange County Todd Spitzer got emotional as he discussed the 1981 murder of Manuela Witthuhn. He glared at DeAngelo and wiped away a tear after noting that  Witthuhn’s mother found her body face down on a bed. Spitzer’s voice cracked while DeAngelo’s facial expression remained unchanged as it has the entire hearing — DeAngelo’s mouth mostly just stayed gaped open as prosecutors spent hours talking about DeAngelo’s murders and rapes.

When discussing the rapes, in which the survivors were referred to as “Jane Does,” some of the most graphic detailsand disturbing sexual demands that were made to the survivors by DeAngelo were discussed in court.

“Today was long. It was hard hearing his heinous crimes to many of the men and women that have become my close friends,” Kris Pedretti, who was 15 when DeAngelo attacked her, told Oxygen.com after the hearing.

While taunting the couples, prosecutors noted his ruthless and uncaring demeanor; he often threatened to kill his victims through clenched teeth, leaving them tied up while he casually ate their food and rummaged around their belongings.

At one point, when a prosecutor noted that a victim described DeAngelo’s penis as small, the audience broke out into applause. At another point, as one of the other rape-charges was described in detail, a victim seemingly attempted to speak. Bowman told the person that he will be able to speak at a later date, along with other survivors.

As the hearing wrapped up, several survivors clapped and cheered. A victim’s relative hollered “see ya!” to the stoic and feeble DeAngelo.

In all, the hearing stretched over seven hours and involved multiple recesses.

The serial killer has now been convicted of killing Claude Snelling, Katie Maggiore, Brian Maggiore, Debra Alexandria Manning, Robert Offerman, Cheri Domingo, Greg Sanchez, Charlene Smith, Lyman Smith, Patrice Harrington, Keith Harrington, Manuela Witthuhn and Janelle Cruz. He has also now been convicted of 13-rape related charges.

DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced during the week of August 17. Survivors will prepare impact statements to be read aloud during proceedings.