SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former police officer who terrorized California as a serial burglar and rapist and went on to kill more than a dozen people while evading capture for decades pleaded guilty Monday to murders attributed to a criminal dubbed the Golden State Killer.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. had remained almost silent in court since his 2018 arrest until he repeatedly uttered the words “guilty” and “I admit” in a hushed and raspy voice as part of a plea agreement that will spare him the death penalty for a life sentence with no chance of parole.
DeAngelo, 74, had never publicly acknowledged the killings, but offered up a confession of sorts after his arrest that cryptically referred to an inner personality named “Jerry” that he said forced him to commit the wave of crimes that ended abruptly in 1986.
“I did all that,” DeAngelo said to himself while alone in a police interrogation room after his arrest in April 2018, Sacramento County prosecutor Thien Ho said.
“I didn’t have the strength 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.”
Among DeAngelo’s victims is former Dubuque doctor Robert Offerman, a native of Dyersville, Iowa. On Dec. 30, 1979, Offerman, 44, and Alexandria Manning, 35, were brutally killed in their condo near Goleta, Calif. Prosecutors say DeAngelo found Offerman and Manning in bed at their home, bound them and eventually shot them both.
The day of reckoning has come for DeAngelo, Ho said.
“The scope of Joseph DeAngelo’s crimes is simply staggering,” Ho said. ”Each time he escaped, slipping away silently into the night.”
DeAngelo, seated in a wheelchair on a makeshift stage in a university ballroom that could accommodate hundreds of observers a safe distance apart during the coronavirus pandemic, acknowledged he would plead guilty to 13 counts of murder and dozens of rapes that are too old to prosecute.
DeAngelo, who wore orange jail scrubs and a plastic face shield to prevent possible spread of the virus, listed to one side and his mouth appeared agape as prosecutors read graphic details of crimes, where he raped and killed and then snacked before leaving.
Police had 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 were able to collect DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue to get an arrest warrant.
The retired truck mechanic was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburbs — the same area he terrorized in the mid-1970s, earning the title East Area Rapist.
Prosecutors detailed sadistic acts he committed after slipping into homes undetected and surprising couples in bed by shining a flashlight in their faces and threatening to kill everyone in the house — including young children — if they didn’t follow his orders.
The masked prowler initially said he only wanted their money to earn their cooperation. He would have the women bind their husbands or boyfriends face down in bed with shoelaces, and then he would bind the women. Victims described being prodded by the barrel of a gun or the tip of a knife.
He piled dishes on the backs of men and said they would both be killed if he heard the plates crash while he raped the woman.
At a home in Contra Costa County in the fall of 1978, he told a woman he would cut her baby boy’s ear off if she didn’t perform oral sex after he had raped her.
“I admit,” DeAngelo said after the prosecutor read the description of that crime.
He stole whatever he could find, sometimes a few bottles of Budweiser and some cash, other times diamond rings. He slipped off into the dark on foot or by bicycle and even managed to evade police who at times believed they came close to catching him.
A guilty plea and life sentence avoids a trial and even a planned weeks-long preliminary hearing. Victims will be able to confront DeAngelo at length during an August sentencing expected to last several days.
Gay and Bob Hardwick said they wanted to hear DeAngelo admit attacking them in 1978. They felt a life sentence was appropriate given DeAngelo’s age and a moratorium on executions by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“He certainly does deserve to die, in my view, so I am seeing that he is trading the death penalty for death in prison,” she said. “It will be good to put the thing to rest. I think he will never serve the sentence that we have served — we’ve served the sentence for 42 years.”