‘Golden State Killer’ admits to over a dozen murders, rapes to avoid death penalty

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People stand at the Sacramento County courtroom as former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. speaks during a hearing on crimes attributed to the Golden State Killer, in Sacramento, California, U.S., June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Fred Greaves

Sacramento, CA (News Nation/AP) – For dozens of victims, including Victor Hayes, it was a day they’d waited decades for.

Hayes was held at gunpoint in 1977 while his girlfriend was raped. During Monday’s hearing, while Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday read details of his attack aloud for the record, Hayes stood up and shouted that he wanted his name said aloud.

“I’ve been waiting for 43 years. I’m not ashamed of what happened. I’ve never been John Doe in my life,” Hayes later told the Associated Press. “I want accountability and accountability starts with my name.”

The California man dubbed the “Golden State Killer” is looking at life behind bars with parole after pleading guilty to 13 murders and admitting to dozens of rapes and robberies during a violent crime spree across the state during the 1970s and ‘80s.

During the seven-hour proceeding, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. sat expressionless in an orange jumpsuit, wearing a plastic face shield. He remained mostly silent, only replying ‘I admit’ and ‘guilty’ in a weak, raspy voice to dozens of allegations of rape, robbery, murder and other crimes individually described by prosecutors from eight California counties.

Sacramento State University turned their ballroom into a state courtroom on Monday to safely accommodate and socially distance the large number of observers, victims and victims’ families in attendance.

In addition to the 26 charges DeAngelo plead guilty to on Monday, prosecutors said his admissions also encompassed a total of 161 uncharged crimes.

Prosecutors said the deal ensured aging survivors and victims’ relatives lived to see the case resolved, sparing them further legal proceedings likely to have dragged on for 10 years.

“I think we all had come to terms that we would never see justice in this case,” Jennifer Carole told News Nation affiliate KTXL ahead of Monday’s hearing. Carole’s father, Lyman Smith, was murdered in 1980 with his wife, Charlene Smith, who was raped before she was killed.

“Neither one of them in any way shape or form should have ever died this way and the level of brutality,” said Carole. “This man absolutely decompensated and brutalized these people in the murders.”

In 2018, DeAngelo was arrested at his home in the Sacramento area suburbs, bringing a long-awaited end to a nearly 40-year investigation.

The 74-year-old went undetected for decades, known to some neighbors as a Vietnam veteran and grandfather, who was often seen doing handy work around his home.

Police used DNA from crime scenes to find a distant relative through a popular genealogy website database, then built a family tree that eventually led them to him. They tailed DeAngelo and secretly collected DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue to get an arrest warrant.

Although DeAngelo has never publicly admitted to the crimes, during Monday’s hearing, Sacramento County prosecutor Thien Ho revealed details of an apparent confession shortly after his 2018 arrest.

According to Ho, DeAngelo said “I did all of that,” to himself while alone in a police interrogation room at the time.

DeAngelo referred to “Jerry,” Ho continued, an inner voice who drove him to commit violent crimes.

“’I didn’t have the time to push him out,’” DeAngelo said. “‘He made me. He went with me. It was like in my head, I mean, he’s a part of me. I didn’t want to do those things. I pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. I did all those things. I destroyed all their lives. So now I’ve got to pay the price.’”

Ho cast doubt on DeAngelo’s statement in the interrogation room, saying he had “feigned feeble incoherence” to detectives despite appearing sharp while under surveillance the day before his arrest. Ho said DeAngelo had “acted crazy” when he was arrested for shoplifting three decades earlier in an attempt to avoid charges.

Ho said the day of reckoning had come for DeAngelo, calling the scope of his crimes ‘staggering.’

Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer choked up as family members of the victims stood during his description of each of the four killings there. Spitzer, who wiped a tear at one point, diverged from other prosecutors to address DeAngelo directly when discussing the May 5, 1986, rape and slaying of Janelle Cruz, 18 — the final killing.

“You attacked her, you beat her and you raped her,” Spitzer said. “You murdered her in the first-degree, bludgeoning her in the face.”

Victims began to stand in the audience as accounts of their attacks were read. Nearly two dozen were on their feet in solidarity as a prosecutor from Sacramento — where most of his sexual assaults took place — detailed each case.

One of the surviving victims, Kris Pedretti, said she felt satisfied with the outcome of DeAngelo’s plea, telling Reuters during a break, “I do think he is owning it.”

Pedretti, who was 15 when sexually assaulted, said she and other survivors “want people to know that there’s hope and that we’re not afraid to face him.”

Under DeAngelo’s plea deal, he has agreed to register as a sex offender, and pay restitution to the victims’ families.

DeAngelo faces up to 15 consecutive life sentences for his crimes. Formal sentencing is scheduled to begin August 17, with victim statements potentially lasting several days.

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