SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — The man accused of being the Golden State Killer would plead guilty to the charges to avoid a death penalty trial, according to court documents and a letter from his attorneys sent to victims’ families.
Joseph DeAngelo is charged with 13 murders spanning more than a decade in six California counties plus an additional 13 counts involving kidnapping and robbery. Dozens of other crimes attributed to the Golden State Killer during the 1970s and 80s can’t be prosecuted because the statute of limitations has expired.
A capital trial, which would follow a lengthy preliminary hearing in May, could cost taxpayers an estimated $20 million.
DeAngelo’s offer was first hinted at by one of his attorneys, Sacramento County assistant public defender Joe Cress, during a Jan. 25 hearing to set the date for DeAngelo’s preliminary hearing. Cress told Judge Steve White that the defense team had been trying to “resolve” the case with the district attorney. The offer came into sharper focus this week in a motion filed by the defense team seeking to have the charges dismissed. DeAngelo’s attorneys wrote in a brief footnote, “Mr. DeAngelo is 74 years old. He has offered to plead to the charges with a lifetime sentence.”
A letter sent by the public defender’s office to survivors and victims’ families dated Feb. 25 and obtained by CBS13 gave a more complete explanation of the motive behind DeAngelo’s offer:
Criminal cases often take many years to resolve by trial. The trial process is often very stressful for victims and their families. This particular case is exceedingly complex due to the number of charged crimes and the diverse locations of the charged crimes. We would like to reach a resolution of the case that avoids a trial, satisfies all parties and provides a more immediate resolution of the case. Such a resolution would hopefully provide closure for you. If avoiding the trial process appeals to you, we hope that you feel comfortable providing your input to both the District Attorney and the defense team.
Assemblyman Jim Cooper, (D) Elk Grove, authored the Justice Act of 2019 to reimburse the affected counties for the extraordinary costs they would incur in a death penalty trial that would involve roughly 200 witnesses and thousands of exhibits. Taxpayers would pay for both the prosecution and defense and a legislative analyst estimated the potential cost at $20 million, which the analysis concluded could jeopardize critical county services if the counties were not reimbursed by the state. AB141 died in committee.
Cooper told CBS13 that although a capital trial would be enormously expensive, he would prefer that the victims and their survivors ultimately decide whether a plea bargain is put on the table even if it’s likely DeAngelo would die of natural causes on death row before he could ever be executed.
The daughter of one the Golden State Killer’s victims told CBS13 she was open to the idea of a plea bargain to end the long ordeal but wanted more information first.
The Golden State Killer has also been known as the East Area Rapist in the Sacramento area.
The six counties involved in the prosecution, led by Sacramento County, are Contra Costa, Tulare, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange. When asked to comment on the public defender’s offer, Sacramento County District Attorney spokeswoman Shelly Orio responded that nothing has changed since the following statement was issued in April, 2019:
“This morning, the District Attorneys of Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange County, Ventura County, Contra Costa, and Tulare met to review the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the Joseph DeAngelo case pursuant to the death review protocol of Sacramento County. Thereafter, the four jurisdictions with special circumstance allegations – Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange, and Ventura – unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case. There will be no further comment.” – Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office