LOS ANGELES: The so-called “Golden State Killer” pleaded guilty to multiple murders Monday, as well as admitting to dozens of rapes and kidnappings, drawing a line under a sadistic crime spree that terrorised California for two decades.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr confessed to being the notorious killer and rapist who stalked the state during the 1970s and 1980s, at a plea hearing held in a converted university ballroom in state capital Sacramento.
A frail-looking DeAngelo, 74, wheeled into the courtroom wearing an orange jumpsuit and a clear face shield, responded simply “Yes”, “No”, “Guilty” and “I admit” to the judge’s questions, as he agreed to the terms of the plea deal.
A former policeman and Vietnam navy veteran, DeAngelo agreed to plead guilty to a total of 13 counts of first-degree murder, according to prosecutor Amy Holliday who said the state was prepared to remove the death penalty to secure 11 consecutive terms of life in prison.
“The family members of the murder victims have waited for decades for justice for their loved ones, the sexual assault victims have waited decades for justice,” she said.
Resolving the case “at this time” would allow the remaining victims and families to “hear the defendant admit that he committed these acts and crimes”.
The “Golden State Killer” carried out a decade-long crime spree of sadistic rapes and murders that terrorised California in the 1970s and 1980s.
DeAngelo was finally arrested in 2018 after a 40-year manhunt, when investigators compared DNA evidence from crime scenes to a family genealogy database used by his relatives to track down the killer.
He was initially charged with only the 1978 murders of Brian and Katie Maggiore, a newlywed couple who were shot dead in Rancho Cordova, a Sacramento suburb, while walking their dog. At the time, he entered no plea.
But authorities have since said DeAngelo is linked by DNA or other evidence to more than 50 rapes and 150 burglaries.
The statute of limitations for the rapes and abductions have expired.
But prosecutor Holliday said under the deal, the defendant had agreed “to say I admit to all the uncharged offenses that have been alleged” across six California counties.
The known attacks began in 1975, initially in the Sacramento area of central California, before spreading out across the state.
The spree apparently ended abruptly in 1986 with the rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl.
Along the way, the meticulous masked assailant was given a number of other nicknames including the East Area Rapist, the Diamond-Knot Killer and the Original Nightstalker.
In 1979, DeAngelo was fired from the police department in Auburn, California for shoplifting a hammer and a can of dog repellent.
He retired in 2017 from a job as a truck mechanic at a warehouse for a grocery store chain in Citrus Heights, a town about 32km northwest of Sacramento where he has lived for more than 20 years.
The cold-case DNA breakthrough leading to his arrest came shortly after best-selling true crime book “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” reinvigorated public interest in the infamous case.
Its author Michelle McNamara – the wife of Hollywood actor and comedian Patton Oswalt – had died before its release.
By a mid-morning recess, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman had accepted DeAngelo’s guilty pleas to nine counts.