SACRAMENTO (CBS SF/AP) — In front a crowded university ballroom, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. pleaded guilty Monday to being the infamous Golden State Killer who terrorized neighborhoods across the state in a crime spree that spanned the 1970s and 1980s and included dozens of home invasion rapes and murders.
The plea came in a deal with prosecutors from several counties including Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. The deal spared DeAngelo from any chance of being sentenced to death for 13 special circumstance first-degree murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges spanning six California counties.
He also pleaded guilty to uncharged crimes in Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties.
The spree included, among other crimes:
- Contra Costa County: Four counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Oct. 7, 1978, and June 11, 1979
- Sacramento County: Two counts of murder in the Feb. 2, 1978, shootings of Kate Maggoire, 20, and Brian Maggoire, 21, as they walked their dog in their Rancho Cordova neighborhood. 9 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery using a gun and knife between Sept. 4, 1976, and Oct. 21, 1977.
- Santa Barbara County: Four counts of murder in the Dec. 30, 1979, rape and slaying of Debra Manning, 35, and slaying of Robert Offerman, 44, of Goleta, and in the July 27, 1981, slaying of Gregory Sanchez, 27, and Cheri Domingo, 35, of Goleta.
- Tulare County: One count of murder in the Sept. 11, 1975, slaying of Claude Snelling, 45, during an attempted kidnapping of the victim’s daughter from their home.
- Ventura County: Two counts of murder in the rape and slaying of Charlene Smith, 33, and slaying of Lyman Smith, 43, of Ventura between March 13 and March 16, 1980.
- Orange County: Four counts of murder in the Aug. 21, 1980, slaying of Keith Harrington, 24, and rape and slaying of Patrice Harrington, 27, of Dana Point; the Feb. 6, 1981, rape and slaying of Manuela Witthuhn, 28, of Irvine; and the May 5, 1986, rape and slaying of Janelle Cruz, 18, of Irvine.
The hearing was moved to Sacramento State University Union Ballroom to allow surviving victims and victims families to attend while maintaining the social distancing requirements of the current COVID-19 outbreak.
Dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit, in a wheelchair and wearing a protective COVID-19 mask, DeAngelo, a 74-year-old former police officer, showed little emotion and spoke in a weakened voice as he made the plea before Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman.
Prosecutors from the various counties read details of the brutal assaults and murders to the court, setting the scene for the plea.
As Bowman began reading the lengthy lists of crimes, DeAngelo uttered the word “guilty.” In return, DeAngelo agreed to be sentenced to 11 consecutive life in prison without the possibility of parole. Other sentences were also added.
DeAngelo will be sentenced at a later date when the court officially accepts the plea agreement.
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The hours before Monday’s plea was an emotional nightmare for many of his victims.
“I’ve been on pins and needles because I just don’t like that our lives are tied to him, again,” said Jennifer Carole, the daughter of DeAngelo victims Lyman and Charlene Smith.
Investigators early on connected certain crimes to an armed and masked rapist who would break into sleeping couples’ suburban homes at night, binding the man and piling dishes on his back. He would threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.
Gay and Bob Hardwick were among the survivors.
They are now looking forward to DeAngelo admitting to that 1978 assault. The death penalty was never realistic anyway, she said, given DeAngelo’s age and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions.
“He certainly does deserve to die, in my view, so I am seeing that he is trading the death penalty for death in prison,” she said. “It will be good to put the thing to rest. I think he will never serve the sentence that we have served — we’ve served the sentence for 42 years.”
Ron Harrington’s younger brother, Keith, was married to Patti Harrington for just three months when they were bludgeoned to death in their Orange County home in 1980 by a killer then known as the Original Night Stalker.
All four brothers were successful, but “Keith, the youngest of all of us, was the smartest,” he said. “It’s just such a loss. And every time this comes up I think of all the lives he would have saved as an emergency room doctor.”
Their father found the couple two days later.
“It was so gruesome,” Harrington said. ”My dad was never the same.”
DeAngelo eluded capture for decades and the mystery surrounded his identity sparked worldwide interest, a best-selling book and a six-part HBO documentary, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” that premiered Sunday.
It was only the pioneering use of new DNA techniques that two years ago led investigators to DeAngelo, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department northeast of Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. He previously had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley town of Exeter from 1973 to 1976, near where the Visalia Ransacker struck more than 100 homes south of Fresno.
Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through a popular online DNA database. They eventually narrowed in on DeAngelo with a process that has since been used in other cases nationwide, but said they confirmed the link only after surreptitiously collecting his DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.