A former police officer suspected of being the elusive “Golden State Killer” is expected to plead guilty Monday to a series of linked assaults and murders that terrorized suburban California in the 1970s and 1980s.
The deal will spare 74-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. the death penalty for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges spanning six counties. In partial return, survivors of the assaults expect him to admit to up to 62 rapes for which he could not be criminally charged because too much time has passed.
"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 Lyman Smith, a lawyer who was killed in 1980 at age 43 in Ventura County. His wife, 33-year-old Charlene Smith, was raped and also killed.
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. They said he would threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.
A guilty plea and life sentence would avoid a trial or even the planned weekslong preliminary hearing. Relatives of the dead are expected to confront him at his sentencing in August, where it may take several days to tell DeAngelo and Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman what they have suffered.
It took years for investigators to connect a series of assaults in central and Northern California to later slayings in Southern California; they eventually settled on the so-called Golden State Killer whose crimes spanned 11 counties from 1974 through mid-1986.
The pioneering use of new DNA techniques led investigators to DeAngelo, whom the Auburn Police Department, northeast of Sacramento, had fired in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. He previously had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley city of Exeter from 1973 to 1976.
Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through an online DNA database. They eventually narrowed in on DeAngelo with a process that detectives have since used in other cases nationwide.
His defense attorneys have lobbied since then for a deal that would spare him the death penalty. Prosecutors who had sought the death penalty cited the massively complicated case and the advancing age of many of the victims and witnesses in agreeing to consider the plea bargain.
“Death doesn't solve anything. But, him having to sit through a trial or preliminary hearing, that would have helped,” said Carole, who added that neither her murdered father nor she believed in capital punishment.
But, she said it “absolutely” made sense for prosecutors to agree to a life sentence without parole, both to spare older victims and witnesses most vulnerable to the coronavirus from having to appear in court, and to save taxpayers the projected $20 million cost of a trial.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.