A former police officer known as the Golden State Killer for his crime spree across California in the 1970s and ’80s was sentenced Friday to consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Joseph DeAngelo, 74, who had eluded authorities for decades, pleaded guilty in June to 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 rape-related charges in a deal that spared him the death penalty. He also publicly admitted to dozens more sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired.
Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman said Friday in a rare sentencing statement that DeAngelo would “meet his death confined behind the walls of state penitentiary.”
“The court is not saying DeAngelo does not deserve to have the death penalty imposed,” Bowman said, but given the age of the defendant and victims, a life sentence made more sense. Bowman said he hopes “survivors will find some resolution” after DeAngelo is permanently placed behind bars.
DeAngelo on Friday made a short statement in court addressing victims and their families. “I’ve listened to all your statements. Each one of them. And I’m truly sorry to everyone I’ve hurt. Thank you your honor,” he said.
Prosecutors said DeAngelo admitted to harming 87 victims in 53 separate crimes spanning 11 California counties. As part of the plea agreement, he was required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to the victims or their families, as well as any fees or fines.
Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Thien Ho has said the scope of DeAngelo’s crime spree is “simply staggering, encompassing 13 known murders and almost 50 rapes between 1975 and 1986.”
DeAngelo’s crime spree started while he was working as a police officer in Exeter, a northern California community in the San Joaquin Valley near the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Over the years, his crimes morphed from stalking properties to serial rape and murder.
DeAngelo went on to marry and raise his own family, escaping investigators’ efforts to find him for decades, before he was arrested in Sacramento County in 2018. It is believed to be the first high-profile case to have been cracked with genetic genealogy. Authorities said they used “discarded DNA” to confirm that DeAngelo was the man generations of authorities and citizen sleuths had searched for.
His attacks up and down California inspired nicknames such as the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer.
“His monikers reflect the sweeping geographical impact of his crime,” Ho said in June. “Each time, he escaped, slipping away silently into the night, leaving communities terrified for years.”
Some of DeAngelo’s victims are in their 80s and 90s. Some are dead.
Phyllis Henneman said she was 22 years old and “young and carefree” when her life changed forever in June 1976. She was home alone with her sister while their dad was out of town when DeAngelo attacked.
“Joseph DeAngelo, henceforth called ‘the devil incarnate,’ broke into my home, blindfolded me, tied me up, threatened my life with a knife and raped me,” she said, describing DeAngelo’s modus operandi, which also included tying up male partners and spending hours in homes, leaving his victims wondering what terror would come next.
“Life as I knew it irrevocably changed that day,” she said in the statement read by her sister, Karen Veilleux. But DeAngelo’s arrest and upcoming sentencing meant “his victims and their families are now free.”
A recent HBO documentary, “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” detailed the gruesome attacks and the desperate effort to find the killer, even as the years wore on.
The documentary is based on crime writer Michelle McNamara’s book of the same name, in which she recounted her own obsessive effort to uncover the identity of the Golden State Killer and conviction that genetic genealogy would help her do it. McNamara, the wife of comedian Patton Oswalt, died in 2016, two years before DeAngelo’s arrest.
Bowman on Friday thanked McNamara by name, along with law enforcement, other citizen detectives and DeAngelo’s victims for their “dogged persistence” in their quest to bring him to justice.
The Associated Press contributed.