In a hoarse and halting voice, DeAngelo said “guilty” or “I admit” over and over, after multiple prosecutors spent hours detailing horrific attacks that were so prolific and spread out across Northern and Southern California they were initially thought to be the work of multiple suspects.
“The scope of Joseph DeAngelo’s crime spree is simply staggering, encompassing 13 murders and almost 50 rapes,” said Thien Ho, assistant chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County. “His monikers represent the sweeping geographical impact of his crimes. The Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Nightstalker and Golden State Killer. Each time he escaped, slipping away silently into the night, leaving communities terrified.”
Ho added that after DeAngelo’s arrest in April 2018 he began to talk to himself while waiting in an interview room.
“I did all those things,” Ho said DeAngelo muttered. “I’ve destroyed all their lives, so now I’ve got to pay the price.”
Claude Snelling was gunned down in his Visalia backyard in 1975, after he tried to fight off a man attempting to kidnap his teenage daughter.
Debra Manning was raped and shot in the back of the head, before her boyfriend, Robert Offerman, was shot and killed in his Santa Barbara County apartment in 1979. The killer ate leftover turkey out of his fridge.
Greg Sanchez was shot and bludgeoned in the head 24 times, before his girlfriend, Cheri Domingo, was raped and bludgeoned to death in a home where she was housesitting outside of Goleta, Calif., in 1981.
And so it went, prosecutors piling chilling detail upon chilling detail.
Many waited four decades for this moment of reckoning. The hearing was held at a cavernous Sacramento State University ballroom, a venue chosen because it was large enough to hold the more than 150 victims, family members and others who were expected to attend and provide for social distancing. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael G. Bowman presided.
Deputies wheeled DeAngelo into the hearing in a wheelchair. He appeared in an orange jumpsuit, wearing a face shield to protect him from the novel coronavirus. The former police officer and Navy veteran did not speak other than to answer a judge’s questions.
The arrest of DeAngelo in 2018 marked an extraordinary breakthrough, because it came decades after the hunt for the killer had grown cold, and because it relied on a groundbreaking genetic technique that has now helped solve dozens of other crimes.
DeAngelo was quietly living out his retirement in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights when authorities linked him to a series of brutal attacks that stretched from 1975 to 1986.
It would take the advent of a new technology to finally crack the case long after it had gone stale.
Paul Holes, an investigator for the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, and other investigators used a technique that was originally developed to reunite adoptees with their birthparents.
Holes’s team uploaded a DNA profile of the killer to a public DNA database that scours tens of thousands of other profiles to find potential relatives. The search uncovered some distant cousins.
The team then found a common ancestor between the relatives and the killer and created family trees down to the present day. One of the forking branches contained DeAngelo.
Investigators trailed DeAngelo before scooping up something he discarded that contained his DNA. That was tested against the DNA recovered from the crime scene and it produced a match, Holes said. DeAngelo was soon arrested.
The victims and their family members are expected to confront DeAngelo at an August sentencing, which is slated to last days. Victims are expected to read impact statements at that hearing.