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‘Monsters were real’: Victims confront the Golden State Killer for first time

Joseph James DeAngelo is helped up by his attorney, Diane Howard, as the judge enters court in June in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

The victim stood before the defendant known as the Golden State Killer, confronting for the first time in a Sacramento courtroom the man who had raped her 44 years ago.

The woman had gray hair and glasses, but she began by describing that night in July 1976 when she was just 15. Her parents had left her and her older sister alone in their Sacramento home for the first time.

They should have been safe.

They locked all the doors and went to bed by 11 p.m. as they had been told. But in the early hours of the next morning, Joseph James DeAngelo broke into their home. The older sister was tied up; the woman in the courtroom described herself waking with a hand clapped over her mouth. She was sexually assaulted multiple times.

“How could my life ever go back to what we knew before that night in July?” the woman testified Tuesday. “My normal teenage years were gone. My safety and security were taken away from me that night and I would never get that back.”

Roughly four decades after DeAngelo, 74, carried out a string of 13 murders and nearly 50 rapes across a wide swath of California, his victims described the impact of one of the nation’s worst serial predators.

Tuesday marked the first of three days of testimony from dozens of victims, some of whom recalled in detail the searing experience of waking in their own beds to find the man who would later become known as the Golden State Killer standing over them. DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced Friday to life without parole.

The woman who was raped when she was 15 told a judge she was determined not to let her fear rule her life or curtail her freedom. She said she gained a measure of closure and peace by finally forgiving the man subsequently identified as DeAngelo in 2004. The Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault.

DeAngelo, wearing a white surgical mask and an orange jail jumpsuit, watched impassively at the defense table. He did not respond to the victims during the hearing or speak about his crimes.

Another woman described being stunned when she found her mother bound and gagged on a bed in their home during an attack. The woman was 7 at the time and DeAngelo — clad in a black ski mask — led her away and bound her in a bathroom.

“That was the day I knew I had proof,” the woman testified. “Monsters were real. The boogeyman had broken into my house.”

For others too, the pain still had an edge after so many years. They described him as “subhuman” and ridiculed the size of his penis, and the daughter of one rape victim raised her middle finger at DeAngelo. Others pointedly said they had gone on to successful careers and marriages despite the depravity they suffered.

In June, DeAngelo reached a deal with prosecutors in six California counties that would spare him the possibility of the death penalty in exchange for admitting to 76 counts.

The marathon plea hearing spanned hours as prosecutors described in graphic detail each count against a predator so prolific that his crimes were once thought to be the work of multiple men. They stretched from Northern to Southern California during the timespan of 1975 to 1986.

Man accused of being Golden State Killer pleads guilty to 13 murders

“His monikers represent the sweeping geographical impact of his crimes,” Thien Ho, assistant chief deputy district attorney for Sacramento County, said at the June plea hearing. “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.”

Detectives who investigated DeAngelo said he carefully planned his attacks and often had an escape route via a trail or stream away from the scene of the crime so he was difficult to catch. For unknown reasons, the brutal crimes appeared to abruptly end in 1986.

The hunt for the killer quickly grew cold and remained so for decades before investigators employed a groundbreaking technique that used DNA recovered from a crime scene to find distant relatives of the killer in a public genetic database. They then constructed family trees to find a possible suspect in DeAngelo.

DeAngelo was a disgraced former police officer who had bought guns during two sprees tied to the Golden State Killer.

The unlikely new detective? A geneticist

He was living quietly in a Sacramento suburb when investigators scooped up an item with his DNA on it and definitively linked him to the crimes by matching it to genetic material taken from the crime scenes. DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018, generating national attention.

In the years since, genetic genealogy, as the technique is known, has helped solve dozens of other cold cases that probably would not have been cracked otherwise. But it has also stirred privacy concerns and fears of genetic surveillance.

The woman who was raped when she was 15 said it’s time to close the case of the Golden State Killer.

“Finally the end of this trauma is here,” the woman said. “He’s a horrible man. And now none of us has to worry about him anymore.”