By Linh Nguyen and Dominique Kato
SACRAMENTO – Forty-five years after the first crime in a spree of violent burglaries, murders and rapes across California, spanning a decade in the mid 1970s through mid 1980s, Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty to all charges pressed against him and admitted to committing all uncharged crimes.
Seventy-four-year-old Joseph DeAngelo, known by multiple monikers, including the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and, most notably, the Golden State Killer, was apprehended by police on April 24, 2018, over four decades after his first crime.
DNA evidence and a consistent MO linked DeAngelo to over 70 heinous crimes across the state in 11 counties. DeAngelo was charged with 13 counts of first degree murder. Due to California’s statute of limitations, DeAngelo could not be charged with other offenses, including the rapes, burglaries, robberies, false imprisonments and making criminal threats.
Judge Michael G. Bowman presided over the hearing on June 29, 2020, where DeAngelo, in a seemingly frail state of health, changed his plea to guilty for 13 counts of first degree murder, including all special circumstances and enhancements. DeAngelo was also to admit to all charged and uncharged offenses.
By entering this deal, DeAngelo would avoid the death penalty and receive 11 consecutive life sentences in state prison without the possibility of parole, plus 15 concurrent life sentences without possibility of parole. Furthermore, DeAngelo will have to register as a sex offender, pay all restitution and give a blood and saliva sample. DeAngelo will not be allowed to own a firearm and will not be eligible for work time credit.
The crimes occurred in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Orange County, Sacramento County, San Joaquin County, Santa Barbara County, Santa Clara County, Stanislaus County, Tulare County, Ventura County and Yolo County.
The first count of first degree murder occurred in Tulare County on Sep 11, 1975. DeAngelo shot and killed Claude Snelling, father of Elizabeth Snelling, who DeAngelo was initially attempting to pursue. Elizabeth Snelling called out for her father after DeAngelo entered her bedroom and attempted to rape her. DeAngelo subsequently shot Claude Snelling with a firearm after he attempted to rescue her. DeAngelo pled guilty to the first degree murder of Claude Snelling with a firearm, admitted to kidnap Elizabeth Snelling with intent to rape and admitted to attacking an officer, whom he shot at for pursuing DeAngelo.
In Sacramento County on Feb 2, 1978, Brian Maggiore and Katie Maggiore were killed in their Rancho Cordova residence. DeAngelo shot and killed Brian Maggiore first and then pursued Katie Maggiore on foot. DeAngelo shot Katie Maggiore in the back as she was attempting to escape through the side gate of their residence.
On Dec 30, 1979, Robert Offerman and Debra Manning were killed in their residence in Santa Barbara County. Offerman was shot at; Manning was raped and then killed. The murders occurred during a burglary. DeAngelo pled guilty for the first degree murders of Offerman and Manning and admitted to the use of a firearm and the rape of Manning.
In Ventura County sometime between March 13, 1980, and March 16, 1980, Charlene Smith and Lyman Smith were killed in their residence. DeAngelo burgled their house and killed the husband and wife. Lyman Smith died of blunt force trauma after being repeatedly struck by firewood. Charlene Smith was raped before she was killed. Their 12- year-old son found them dead. DeAngelo pled guilty to their murders and admitted to raping Charlene Smith.
In Orange County sometime between Aug 19, 1980, and Aug 21, 1980, Keith Harrington and Patrice Harrington were killed in their residence. DeAngelo burgled their house and killed the newlyweds. Keith Harrington died of blunt force trauma. Patrice Harrington was raped and also died of blunt force trauma. DeAngelo pled guilty to their murders and admitted to raping Patrice Harrington.
In another occurrence in Orange County, Manuela Witthuhn was bludgeoned to death on Feb 6, 1981, in the commission of rape, burglary and robbery. DeAngelo pled guilty.
In yet another incident in Santa Barbara County on July 26, 1981, Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez were killed in their residence. Sanchez was shot in the cheek, which was ruled as a nonfatal wound. Sanchez then incurred 24 wounds from a blunt object and later died from brain damage due to blunt force trauma. Domingo was raped and beaten 10 times until she died. DeAngelo pled guilty to their first degree murders and admitted to the use of a firearm and raping Domingo.
The last known murder committed by DeAngelo was the murder of 18-year-old Jannelle Cruz in her Irvine residence in Orange County, committed on June 5, 1986. Cruz was bludgeoned to death in the commission of rape and burglary. DeAngelo pled guilty.
Counts 14 through 74 reflected other charged and uncharged offenses that occurred in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Sacramento County, San Joaquin County, Santa Clara County, Stanislaus County and Yolo County, terrorizing 50 female victims and 22 male victims. The victims were referred to as Jane Does and John Does. There were 37 counts in Sacramento County alone.
In many of these counts, DeAngelo was charged with kidnapping with the intent of either burglary or robbery. The various uncharged offenses included rape, false imprisonment, robbery, burglary and making criminal threats. DeAngelo pled guilty and admitted to every offense.
A distinct MO was noticed in these counts. In multiple occurrences, DeAngelo would enter the place of residence at night and shine a flashlight into the victims’ faces, waking them from their sleep. DeAngelo tells the victims that he would not hurt them and that he was only seeking food and money. DeAngelo warns victims that he is carrying a firearm and threatens to kill them if they moved or made any sounds.
Often, DeAngelo would place plates onto the victims’ backs and threaten to kill them if they make any noise. He asked the female victims to tie up their partner and then tie up themselves. He would then move the female victim into another room to sexually assault and rape her. DeAngelo would ransack the residences, taking money, jewelry and victims’ driver’s licenses. DeAngelo would also consume the victims’ food and beer before leaving.
During police investigation, the victims described the East Area Rapist as a tall Caucasian man of athletic build. He also wore a mask with only the eyes and mouth cut out. In a moment of power and unity in the makeshift courtroom in a Sacramento State University ballroom, the audience of victims and their relatives erupted in applause after the Sacramento County Assistant District Attorney Amy Holliday said that the one of the victims described the perpetrator of the crimes as having small male genitalia.
The rape kits from the victims showed DNA evidence from semen left with the female victims. Genealogy tracing and resemblance of the DNA to other crimes led investigators to DeAngelo’s residence in Citrus Heights in Sacramento County in 2018, where he was apprehended.
During the virtual press conference directly after the hearing, district attorneys from six California counties spoke on the events of the day. Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert began by stating, “This has been an unprecedented and historic multi-county prosecution.”
Schubert thanked law enforcement, detectives, crime labs, the court staff and the victims for helping get them to this day. “This journey of passion and persistence finally led to this day, this day of reckoning,” stated Schubert.
“For me and for so many people in this community that lived here, he was the boogeyman…Joseph DeAngelo isn’t just the Visalia Ransacker or East Area Rapist or the Golden State Killer, he is the real life version of Hannibal Lecter,” Schubert stated.
Tulare County DA Tim Ward spoke, stating, “Today was an absolute honor and privilege to stand with and be present with the victims and the survivors that we were able to see today. Your dedication, and commitment today fuels us to do what we do…You give us hope as prosecutors and to those victims of tomorrow.”
Opening the panel for community questions, a member asked, “Is DeAngelo’s frail state an act?” DA Schubert’s response outlined the several instances where DeAngelo was acting healthy and then a few days later appearing feeble. She noted that there is clear evidence of his “malingering” and said, “These victims know what’s going on.”
A community member asked, “Why did DeAngelo stop committing crimes at such a young age?” They noted that when the crimes ended they speculated that the killer either died or was possibly incarcerated for another offense. The DAs did not directly comment but did note that it was unusual for someone to just suddenly stop committing crimes.
Joseph DeAngelo’s sentencing hearing will start Aug 17, 2020, and victims will be allowed to give impact statements prior to sentencing on Aug 21, 2020.
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