Prosecutors said Wednesday they will seek the death penalty for the man accused of being the Golden State Killer.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. is suspected of raping some 50 women and holding entire families hostage during a reign of terror in Sacramento and the Bay Area in the late 1970s, then progressing to murder.
The killer was given various names in each region, including the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist, Creek Bed Killer and Original Night Stalker, before becoming known as the Golden State Killer.
He was arrested at his home in the Sacramento suburbs on April 24, 2018, just days after DNA samples surreptitiously gathered from him by law enforcement linked him to some of the crimes.
District attorneys met in a Sacramento office Wednesday to vote on whether to seek the death penalty if DeAngelo is convicted in any of the 13 serial murders he is charged with. The decision in favor was unanimous, said Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer, in whose county DeAngelo is accused of killing four people in the early 1980s.
Prosecutors in Santa Barbara, Ventura and Sacramento counties — with eight murder cases among them — agreed.
DeAngelo also is charged with killing a Tulare County journalism professor, but the county has not added special circumstances charges that would allow the death penalty in that case. He also is charged with kidnapping in several Contra Costa County rapes.
The capital punishment decision is strategic as much as anything. The letter prosecutors sent Wednesday to DeAngelo’s public defender notes that they would reconsider a lesser punishment if the defense provides sufficient reason. Spitzer declined to comment on what prosecutors would consider sufficient, but in death-penalty cases that typically includes a confession, especially to crimes not yet charged.
Ron Harrington, brother of 1980 murder victim Keith Harrington, said he was pleased to hear prosecutors will seek the death penalty.
“The Golden State Killer is the worst of the worst of the worst that ever happened,” Harrington said outside the Sacramento jail courtroom where DeAngelo appeared for Wednesday’s brief hearing. “We are thrilled with the decision to seek the death penalty.” Harrington followed with a criticism of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has put executions on hold after years of an unofficial freeze.
But another murder victim’s relative at Wednesday’s hearing said she does not support the death penalty.
“I was not expecting the announcement. I don’t agree with the death penalty. I understand the reasons we are asking for it, and that it is also political,” said Jennifer Carole, whose father, Ventura County lawyer Lyman Smith, and stepmother, Charlene Smith, were killed in March 1980. “Which is unfortunate, that D.A.s get involved in politics, but that’s how things are set up in California.”
However, Carole said she sees the pursuit of the death penalty as a strategy by prosecutors to speed up a case that otherwise might not get to trial for years. She hopes DeAngelo — who was stoic at Wednesday’s brief session — takes it to heart.
“I’m glad that he had to listen to all those count against him.... I hope this might get him to cooperate,” Carole said. “If just for his family.”