SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A man suspected of committing dozens of rapes and murders in California as the “Golden State Killer” is expected to plead guilty later this month as part of a deal that will save him from the death penalty.
Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, will plead guilty to murder, rape, and other charges on June 29 in exchange for a life sentence, according to news reports.
The details of the agreement are still being worked out, including the location where the hearing will take place. Officials are reportedly looking for a venue that will seat many victims, their families, and the media in a setting that will allow for social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.
DeAngelo was arrested in 2018 using DNA evidence that linked him to at least 12 homicides and dozens of rapes committed from 1976 to 1986 in the Sacramento area, the Bay area, and Southern California.
Prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty for DeAngelo.
Under the plea agreement, DeAngelo is expected to agree to admit to crimes, including rapes, that he was not charged for because they had expired under the statute of limitations.
Speaking on behalf of the six counties involved in DeAngelo’s case, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert did not confirm the plea deal but said prosecutors have a “moral and ethical responsibility” to consider any offer from the defense.
“Victims of a crime are entitled to finality in their criminal cases, as well as the expectation that the person convicted of committing the crime will be punished by the courts of the state of California,” Schubert said in a joint statement.
After arresting DeAngelo at his suburban Sacramento County home in April 2018, prosecutors claimed they had closed the book on a 40-year manhunt for a man who ransacked homes, raped and murdered for decades with impunity.
According to investigators, the answer to the brazen crime spree was shrouded in the thousands of old pieces of evidence collected from crime scenes in places like Sacramento and Santa Barbara, waiting for technology to catch up.
“The answer was and always was going to be in the DNA,” said Schubert, following DeAngelo’s arrest.
Officials scoured genealogical websites to compare openly available DNA samples of people checking their family history, to DNA collected at crime scenes tied to the suspect known as Golden State Killer or East Area Rapist. After finding a close match in the database presumably from a relative, investigators zeroed in on DeAngelo and were able to secure DNA from his garbage and other items on his property.
Prosecutors claim DeAngelo selected and spied on his victims in advance while lurking through dark suburban California neighborhoods. One by one, dozens of victims say they were startled inside their homes by a man wearing a ski mask as they were tied up and raped — often with their husbands and children nearby.
A multi-jurisdictional team of prosecutors from counties including Sacramento, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Orange, Contra Costa and Tulare have charged DeAngelo in 13 murders and over a dozen sexual assaults and robberies. The counties consolidated the case to Sacramento County, where DeAngelo owned a home and was ultimately nabbed by law enforcement.
The deal, as first reported by the Sacramento Bee, would negate a lengthy and complex trial that would have included hundreds of witnesses across six jurisdictions at a time when California courts are limiting public and media access to courtrooms due to the pandemic. DeAngelo is next scheduled to appear in Sacramento Superior Court on June 29.
When DeAngelo last appeared in March, his public defenders publicly complained about the breadth of the case and difficulties communicating with the various jurisdictions. They also claimed to be outmatched and under-resourced and told Judge Steve White the accused serial killer was open to a plea deal.