Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

‘The Monster Will Die Alone in the Dark’: Golden State Killer Gets 26 Life Terms

Ensnared randomly by a relative’s DNA genetic test submitted decades after a brutal yearslong crime spree, the confessed serial killer dubbed "The Golden State Killer's"disappearing act is up: He will die in prison.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Developed in Vietnam, sharpened on the patrol beat and perfected as the Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo’s forte was always his impenetrable elusiveness.

Ensnared randomly by a relative’s DNA genetic test submitted decades after a brutal yearslong crime spree, the confessed serial killer’s disappearing act is up: DeAngelo, 74, will die in prison.

“One thing I do know, when a person commits monstrous acts they need to be locked away so they can never harm another innocent person,” said Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman at a sentencing hearing Friday.

Concluding a multijurisdictional case brought by investigators eager to avenge years of fruitless searches for the notorious Golden State Killer, Bowman on Friday sentenced DeAngelo to multiple life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The hearing inside a makeshift courtroom set up at Sacramento State University, chosen to seat the many victims, their families and the media, closes the case that befuddled investigators from counties like Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare, Contra Costa as well as the FBI. 

Visalia police officers nearly apprehended DeAngelo the early 1970s. But the skilled prowler shot his way out of a dark backyard, leaving behind just tennis shoe marks and burgled goods. The close call emboldened DeAngelo, who eventually began capping off rapes and murders by pillaging his victims’ personal belongings and drinking beer in their kitchens.

The scope of the crime spree led to various monikers, including the original titles Visalia Ransacker and, in Sacramento, the East Area Rapist. He was later nicknamed the Golden State Killer by investigators who linked, through DNA, murders in Orange and Ventura counties to rapes and robberies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Described by acquaintances and co-workers as a simple “regular Joe,” the ex-cop, no matter the crime, no matter the county, almost always got away. 

The killings stopped abruptly in 1986, and DeAngelo settled down in suburban Sacramento undisturbed. He eluded law enforcement for decades, despite leaving DNA evidence behind, because he did not appear in the FBI’s national database. 

But finally a break in the cold case came in 2018 when investigators found the “needle in a haystack” by matching the suspect’s decades-old crime scene DNA to data uploaded to a publicly accessible genealogy database. For years, the answer to the investigation was shrouded in an evidence room, waiting for technology to catch up.      

He was arrested in Sacramento County in 2018 and pleaded guilty this past June to avoid the death penalty. He admitted to 13 counts of murder, 13 rape-related kidnapping for robbery charges and also admitted to dozens of rapes that could not be charged due to statute of limitations laws.

Over the last four days, victims, family members of the 13 killed and prosecutors lined up inside the downtown Sacramento courthouse to address DeAngelo.

“The devil can keep you company in your prison cell as he gnaws away at whatever soul you have left, at whatever life you have left,” said Kris Pedretti, who was 15 when DeAngelo raped her in Sacramento in 1976.

One by one, district attorneys from eight counties on Friday painted DeAngelo as the “devil” responsible for an unparalleled reign of terror.

“He’s driven to inflict the greatest amount of pain that he possibly can,” said Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley. “Therefore, it wasn’t enough for him to rape or beat or shoot his victims, he wanted to take inflicting human pain to the highest level possible.”

Dudley and the other DAs praised the victims’ courage and said they had triumphed over the villain for recounting their grief publicly. They acknowledged DeAngelo was an ideal death penalty case due to the magnitude of the crimes but said they agreed to the plea deal to speed up the healing process. Even if he had received the death penalty, his execution was doubtful given Governor Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on executions and the fact the state hasn’t carried one out since 2006.

Tulare District Attorney Tim Ward noted DeAngelo’s crimes began in his county and hoped the proceedings would open “the doors of justice” to the victims. “Never give up. You are not forgotten.” 

Naming off some of the known victims, Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert reiterated they and law enforcement have been waiting over 40 years for this day. She encouraged the victims to take solace knowing DeAngelo will live the rest of his life in a dark cell within California’s infamous prison system. 

“Know that the monster of your childhood or your younger years is gone forever and will die alone in the dark,” Schubert said while peering toward DeAngelo.

While law enforcement in the weeks and days before the arrest witnessed DeAngelo weaving through traffic in his motorcycle, shopping and performing yardwork, in each court appearance he sat motionless and frail in a wheelchair.

DeAngelo did rise briefly on Friday, telling the victims present in a feeble voice that he listened to each of their stories and only that he was “really sorry.”

Following Friday’s sentencing hearing, Sacramento DA Schubert released footage Bowman wouldn’t allow played in court that reveals DeAngelo’s courtroom demeanor was just a ruse.

The videos show DeAngelo in his jail cell in June walking without a cane, stretching, and even climbing on furniture to reach and cover up a light with papers.  

“He has, and always will be a sociopath in action,” Schubert warned in a press conference.

Public defenders read several statements throughout the week from DeAngelo’s family and friends, most notably his ex-wife and sister.

Attorney Sharon Huddle, who was separated from DeAngelo at this time of arrest and has since divorced him, wrote that she suffers from post-traumatic distress and has “lost the ability to trust people.” While she was working graveyard shifts at fast food restaurants or studying late for night school, DeAngelo was out terrorizing various parts of California. 

DeAngelo’s sister conveyed sympathy for the victims but wanted the court to know of the murder’s painful childhood. She said she still loved her brother but hoped the victims wouldn’t interpret her letter as an excuse for the terror.

“I do more or less blame our father in part,” she wrote. “He was a stern military career man and also a womanizer. He was also responsible for causing abuse in our family, mainly being hard on Joe…both physical and mental abuse was usually directed to him.”  

After four days of emotional testimony, Judge Bowman took the opportunity himself to address the Golden State Killer before announcing the lengthy sentencing list which includes multiple life sentences and requires DeAngelo to register as a sex offender indefinitely. Bowman concluded the case with a message for DeAngelo’s next landlord, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.   

“He deserves no mercy,” the judge announced to a ringing round of applause.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.