Decades after terrorizing communities across California, the serial killer and rapist known as the "Golden State Killer" pleaded guilty to more than two dozen charges and admitted to committing numerous other crimes Monday.
Joseph James DeAngelo, a 74-year-old former police officer, pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping for robbery. He also admitted guilt "to all other charged crimes and uncharged crimes," including at least 50 rapes and more than 120 burglaries as part of a plea deal with prosecutors.
"This has been a very long journey for justice," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said during a press conference. "It has been said a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For so many there is little doubt that this journey felt like a thousand miles."
In her remarks, Schubert, whose office led the prosecution of the case, called DeAngelo "the real life version of Hannibal Lecter," a "sociopath," and "master manipulator."
"We now have moved this monster not simply from just being caught to now standing convicted," Schubert said.
Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday said that as a result of entering the guilty plea, the state of California would not pursue the death penalty.
DeAngelo was arrested in 2018 after law enforcement officers used online genealogical databases to link him to a decades-old DNA sample from the then-unidentified Golden State Killer, who terrorized California for a 12-year period in the 1970s and 1980s.
Many of the "uncharged crimes" to which DeAngelo admitted could not be prosecuted as the statute of limitations had expired.
Holliday said DeAngelo will face 11 consecutive life sentences of life without parole and 15 concurrent life sentences for his crimes. He also agreed to waive his right to a jury trial and appeal.
District attorneys from the nine other counties where DeAngelo committed crimes were present at Monday's hearing in Sacramento to give the court details of his offenses. Four months after DeAngelo's arrest, the prosecutors from the six counties where he was charged with murder agreed to consolidate their cases in order to ensure the suspect's right to a speedy trial.
DeAngelo, who was given various nicknames including the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, and the Original Night Stalker, would break into his victims' houses as they slept, shine a flashlight into their faces, and tie them up. He then raped the women residents, leaving their husbands tied up with plates on their backs so he could hear if they tried to break free of their binds. He also ransacked their homes, often stealing small items like cash and jewelry.
Decades after his crimes, the late true crime author Michelle McNamara investigated the case and brought it back to national prominence, giving the serial killer and rapist the nickname of the Golden State Killer. In 2013, McNamara and her team searched for DeAngelo on genealogy databases after authorities released his genetic markers. Years later, Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office investigator Paul Holes used the technique to ultimately identify DeAngelo.
McNamara's book, I'll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, which was published posthumously in 2018 just a few months before DeAngelo's arrest, was developed into an HBO limited series that premiered Sunday night.
Over the course of several hours Monday, prosecutors described the circumstances surrounding each of DeAngelo's crimes as he sat with his attorneys, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a face shield. He appeared frail and thin and spoke with a weak voice as he responded with "guilty" and "I admit" when the judge read the charged and uncharged crimes.
More than 150 people, including victims and family members of victims, attended the hearing, according to the Sacramento Bee. Following the hearing, prosecutors spoke about the decision to accept the plea deal, saying that while it was difficult to agree to life in prison without the possibility of parole, conducting a death penalty trial could have led to costly delays.
"[The victims] deserve to see the defendant die in prison as a convict and not simply the accused and that is the reason we chose this result, which I think is a just and a fair result in this horrific case," Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said.
Under the plea agreement, DeAngelo's victims and family members of victims will be given the opportunity to speak at his sentencing without a time limitation. His sentencing hearing is scheduled to begin Aug. 17.