Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, will be spending the rest of his days behind bars for a litany of crimes he committed as the Golden State Killer after a California judge imposed the maximum penalty of 12 life sentences plus an additional eight years on Friday.
“You may have escaped earthly justice altogether,” Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman told him. “Are you capable of comprehending the pain and anguish you have caused?”
For more than four decades, DeAngelo evaded capture and lived a quiet suburban life as a married father of three until investigators linked him to the crimes through DNA evidence, leading to his arrest on April 25, 2018.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 murder-related charges and 13 rape-related charges in a plea deal that allowed his victims and their surviving family members to avoid a lengthy trial. He admitted to around 50 rapes in total, but most were not prosecutable because the statute of limitations had long expired. Investigators believe he is also responsible for hundreds of burglaries.
Before the sentencing, DeAngelo spent three days sitting in court, not appearing to react behind his mask as dozens of heartfelt and often emotional victim impact statements were read to Judge Bowman.
“I listened to all your statements. Each one of them, and I’m truly sorry to everyone I’ve hurt,” DeAngelo said haltingly on Friday.
Several people close to the convicted killer said in statements read aloud by his attorney that his crimes contradict the image of the man they had known as a loving father. DeAngelo’s sister blamed their father, whom she called “a stern military career man and also a womanizer” who abused his children.
Family and friends of murder victims Claude Snelling, Katie and Brian Maggiore, Robert Offerman, Debra Manning, Charlene and Lyman Smith, Keith and Patrice Harrington, Manuela Witthuhn, Gregory Sanchez, Cheri Domingo and Janelle Cruz spoke to the court on Thursday.
“When I took my first steps toward the yellow crime scene tape around our house in 1981, I knew my life was changing,” Debbie Domingo McMullan, daughter of Cheri, told the court. McMullan explained that although her circumstances are now stable, she floundered after high school and at one point lost custody of her children.
“But I would never blame past trauma for my decisions,” she said. “I alone am responsible for my ways and deeds just as DeAngelo is responsible for his.”
Jennifer Carole, daughter of Lyman Smith, spoke about the pain of becoming a suspect in her father and stepmother’s murder, despite the fact her stepmother had been raped. Her younger brother had been the one to find their father.
“I was an 18-year-old young woman, barely an adult and a suspect in my own father’s murder,” she said through tears, narrowing her eyes to add, “Thank you, Joe. Thanks. That was awesome.”
Kris Pedretti, whom DeAngelo raped when she was 15, aimed a question at her attacker: “If I could speak directly to DeAngelo, I would ask him, do you feel any remorse for what you did to me?”
She told the court that she would “ask him to imagine his wife, daughters and granddaughter at 15 years old,” tied as she was, while a masked assailant “held power over their life or death.”
Many of the rape survivors described mental health troubles that plagued them in the decades after DeAngelo broke in, often late at night, and assaulted them while threatening to kill them. One woman flipped him off in court. A few commented on the small size of his penis, which had been one of very few personally identifying qualities known at the time of the attacks.
Equipped with a gun or knife, DeAngelo was known for binding the hands and feet of the male partners of his female victims during attacks, and several of the women described how their relationships subsequently fell apart. Only a few male victims wished to speak up in court.
Between the 1970s and 1980s, DeAngelo earned several nicknames: He was called the Visalia Ransacker in his earlier days, the East Area Rapist as he started attacking women in the Sacramento area, and the (Original) Night Stalker or Diamond Knot Killer as he began a killing spree in Southern California. But investigators did not initially realize these serial crimes were committed by the same man, although a couple suspected it. After the link was confirmed by DNA analysis, crime writer Michelle McNamara gave him a new name: Golden State Killer.
The scope and depravity of DeAngelo’s crimes inspired a recent HBO documentary based on McNamara’s book “I’ll Be Gone In The Dark,” a volume her writing partners and comedian husband, Patton Oswalt, completed after her death.
In the documentary, survivors and investigators remembered a pervasive fear throughout communities in California, where gun sales soared along with the prevalence of self-defense classes.
DeAngelo was born to a military family in 1945. Two relatives have alleged that while the family was living in Germany, a young DeAngelo witnessed two officers rape his 7-year-old little sister ― an event they believe to have had a lasting effect on him.
When he was older, DeAngelo joined the Navy during the Vietnam War before pursuing a college degree in criminal justice. There, he met a woman named Bonnie Colwell, who dated DeAngelo but broke off their engagement after feeling threatened by him, she told the Los Angeles Times. In response, Colwell said, he came to her window one night with a gun and attempted to kidnap her for the purpose of getting married; her father talked him out of it.
Her name came up in a police report after a victim said she heard DeAngelo mutter it in anger.
“A lot of people go through bad times, and they don’t decide to be serial rapists and murderers,” Gay Hardwick, who had been raped by DeAngelo, said in court Wednesday.
DeAngelo went on to marry a woman named Sharon Huddle and took a job with the Exeter Police Department in small-town Central California. Around this time, burglaries began to occur in the nearby town of Visalia ― but instead of going after obvious valuables, the culprit appeared more interested in small items of personal value.
He then became an officer for the Auburn Police Department further north, but was fired after store employees caught him trying to steal a can of dog repellant and a hammer. Nick Willick, DeAngelo’s former boss, told the LA Times that DeAngelo may have attempted to kill him, but supposedly could not find the right bedroom window.
Later he took a job as a mechanic near the Citrus Heights home where he was living at the time of his arrest.
DeAngelo and Huddle have three children ― all girls ― but moved apart in the early 1990s. The daughters have refused to speak with journalists about the case, as did their mother, who filed for divorce after learning about her estranged husband’s past. Huddle released a short statement expressing sympathy for the victims while requesting privacy for her family in the summer of 2018.
DeAngelo’s attacks appeared to stop for five years around the time his first daughter was born, several weeks after the brutal slaying of Domingo and Sanchez in 1981.
The final known Golden State Killer attack, the murder of 18-year-old Janelle Cruz, came a few months before the birth of DeAngelo’s second daughter in 1986. After that, he went quiet, leading some to speculate the killer had died. Instead, he appears to have settled into suburban life, where neighbors described him as a grumpy man who rode a motorcycle and got into occasional nasty arguments, particularly over pet dogs.
DeAngelo finally emerged as a suspect after now-retired Sacramento investigator Paul Holes entered his DNA into GEDmatch, a service that allows people to upload DNA profiles obtained through testing companies, such as 23andMe, to search for relatives. Since then, this novel method has been used in other cold cases around the country.
The practice remains controversial, however, with critics worrying that allowing law enforcement to access genetic information is a slippery path to vast abuses of privacy.