The Sacramento County Superior Court Sentenced the “Golden State Killer” to Life Imprisonment

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Moshiuzzaman
Moshiuzzaman holds a 2:1 LL.B degree from BPP University (UK). He is currently pursuing the CFA chartership and working as an independent legal researcher at the American Society of International Law (ASIL)

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In the recent case of People of the State of California v. Joseph J DeAngelo, the Sacramento County Superior Court has sentenced Joseph James DeAngelo – the infamous “Golden State Killer” to life imprisonment without parole; along with several more years added to additional charges.

Background of the Case

Since the early 1970s to the late 1980s, a serious of murders, rapes and burglaries swept across the State of California. The perpetrator, however, was never found. Notoriously known as the East Area Rapist, or the Original Night Stalker, the perpetrator wreaked havoc in several counties in the State of California, particularly, the Sacramento County. Years later, in 2001, a DNA analysis of samples collected from the attacker revealed that these rapes and murders had been committed by the same individual, whom crime writer Michelle McNamara labelled as the “Golden State Killer”.

In 2018, Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, a former police officer and Vietnam War veteran was arrested and subsequently charged for a series of murders, rapes and burglaries. In June 2020, DeAngelo pleaded guilty in agreement to avoid the death penalty. In total, he had confessed to 13 murders, more than 50 rapes, and over 120 burglaries. 

The Crime 

Notoriously known as the East Area Rapist, or the Original Night Stalker, DeAngelo was responsible for burglaries in northern California before becoming a rapist and murderer. During these break-in(s), he would take small trophies from homes and spent time going through women’s undergarments. In 1975, in an attempt to kidnap a teenage girl in a similar break-in, DeAngelo killed the girl’s father when he tried to stop him.

From there, his killing spree began. During these crimes, DeAngelo would spend several hours in the victims’ homes, sometimes taking breaks from the assault to eat or cry. He also stole personal items, such as jewellery or photographs. Although the Golden State Killer began by targeting young women and girls, by 1977, he started attacking couples. When he would break into a house, he would threaten the female victim employing a gun or a knife to tie up her male partner. He would later place dishes on the bound man’s back. He would warn the male partner that if the dishes were to fall, he would attack his partner and kill both of them. His attacks would often be followed by silent phone calls or taunt-calls to victims. 

The Arrest

Due to the similarities of the attacks in southern California, investigators pursuing the Golden State Killer formed a special group to investigate and trace the killer. Although many departments involved in the investigations had destroyed pieces of evidence relating to the attacks – as the statute of limitations had expired (only three years in the 1970s), enough evidence remained for DNA analysis to confirm the perpetrator in the individual attacks were, in fact, the same person. Due to the statute of limitations expiring, charges of rape could not be pressed against DeAngelo.

The Sacramento Superior County Court’s decision 

In August 2020, the Sacramento County Superior Court sentenced DeAngelo to 11 consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole for 13 murders, along with an additional consecutive life term for 13 kidnappings, plus another eight years for weapons charges. Additionally, DeAngelo also admitted of dozens of sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired. 

The four-day hearing compromised mainly of victim statements. At the final hearing, DeAngelo broke through the silence as he admitted that he was “truly sorry” for all crimes he committed and the people he had hurt. Prosecutors and victims had said that it was more evidence of a manipulative and vicious criminal who fooled investigators and his own family. 

Prosecutors from Ventura, Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Contra Costa counties were ready to seek the death penalty against DeAngelo. However, because of the plea agreement, the death penalty was taken off the table. Sacramento Superior County Court Judge Michael Bowman was, however, unmoved. He stated that the crimes that DeAngelo was of the gravest kind and that he should die in prison with “no mercy” from his jailors after pleading guilty. The plea agreement only spared him the death penalty, not the punishment. 

Addressing the victims, Judge Bowman stated that “[w]hen a person commits monstrous acts, they need to be locked away so they can never harm an innocent person.” Similarly, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, also addressing the victims and their families, stated that “[t]he greatest revenge is to live your lives.” Adding, she said “[p]aint your children’s and grandchildren’s rooms again with hearts and rainbows. … Knowing the monster of your childhood or your younger youngers is gone forever and will die alone in the dark.”


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