An ex-police officer accused of terrorizing California with a string of slayings, dozens of rapes, and break-ins attributed to a serial predator dubbed the Golden State Killer pleaded guilty on Monday to the first of 13 counts of first-degree murder charges against him.
Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, entered the plea as part of a broader agreement with prosecutors from 11 California counties to admit to all allegations against him, charged and uncharged, in a crime wave dating back to the mid-1970s, prosecutors said at a hearing.
Under the terms of the plea deal, as outlined by prosecutors and a judge at the hearing, DeAngelo will face a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
While sparing the defendant from a potential death sentence, the deal also saves a dwindling number of aging survivors, victims’ families, witnesses and law enforcement officers involved in the case from prolonged legal proceedings, prosecutors said.
The plea hearing was held in a ballroom at Sacramento State University, rather than a courthouse, to allow for more distanced seating space amid the coronavirus pandemic.
DeAngelo, dressed in orange jail garb and seated in a wheelchair between his two lawyers, answered “guilty” in a raspy voice when the judge asked how he pleaded to the first of 13 murders with which he was charged.
DeAngelo’s arrest in 2018 capped more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by comparing crime-scene DNA evidence to information on genealogy websites that track ancestry.
The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, which was published posthumously two years after the author’s death and has recently been made into an HBO documentary series.