SANTA ANA (CNS) - The Golden State Killer faced relatives of his murder victims from Orange County and elsewhere in California in a Sacramento courtroom today.
Victim impact statements, which began on Tuesday, concluded today. Formal sentencing of Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, is scheduled for Friday when he is expected to be given life in prison without parole.
The victim impact statements began with some of the many victims he raped when he was known as the Visalia Ransacker and then later as the East Area Rapist and original Night Stalker.
DeAngelo admitted his guilt June 29 to a string of murders, rapes and other crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, stretching from Sacramento County to Orange County.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and murder during the commission of rape, robbery and burglary, 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery with sentencing enhancements for the use of a gun and a knife.
He also admitted to committing crimes for which he could no longer be prosecuted because of a statute of limitations -- such as attempted murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, rape, robbery, first-degree burglary, false imprisonment and criminal threats.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty in June to killing 24-year-old Keith and 28-year-old Patrice Harrington on Aug. 19, 1980, in Dana Point; 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn in Irvine in February 1981; and 18-year-old Janelle Cruz in Irvine in May 1986.
The Harringtons, who lived in a single-story home in the gated Niguel Shores community, were attacked in their bedroom, according to Investigator Larry Pool of the Golden State Killer task force. Their bodies were found on their blood-spattered bed with ligature marks on their wrists and Patrice's ankles.
“The Golden State Killer is truly the worst of the worst,'' said Harrington's brother, Ron. “Thirteen murders, 60 rapes. The most prolific murderer-rapist ever. His crimes were so brutal, so heinous, so sadistic, he is just a violent sexual predator. Pure evil.''
Ron Harrington said he became ill hearing the details of DeAngelo's crimes during his guilty pleas in June.
“The Golden State Killer is and always will be the poster child for the death penalty,'' Ron Harrington said with his brother, Bruce, next to him. “He has taught us how important the death penalty is. We need the death penalty because of people like him.''
Ron Harrington was critical of Gov. Gavin Newsom for putting a moratorium on executions. But Harrington was philosophical about the plea deal and said he supported it because of all of the logistical problems of putting on a preliminary hearing that would have taken four months with many witnesses and victims now dead and a trial that would have taken 18 months.
“And we had COVID-19,'' Harrington said.
Ron said his brother Keith was the “smartest'' and “best athlete'' in the family
“He was finishing medical school early. He wanted to be an emergency room doctor,'' Ron Harrington said. “His wife was a pediatric nurse. They wanted to help people. They'd been married three months on Aug. 19, 1980, when the Golden State Killer walked into their home, tied them up, raped Patti, bludgeoned both of them to death and then pulverized Patti... Our dad (Roger) found them two days later. Dad was never the same again.''
Investigators in 1996 matched semen at the crime scene to the killer in the two other Orange County cases. The identity of the killer remained unknown until 2018, when investigators used a public genealogy database with DNA recovered from an item discarded by DeAngelo.
“It is the use of DNA to build family trees to narrow down potential suspects,'' Ron Harrington said. “It is the next advance of DNA as an investigatory tool. It is so important for law enforcement to be allowed to solve these cold cases accessing public access DNA sites.''
The brothers recounted how they got Proposition 69 passed by voters to compel DNA samples from those arrested for felonies.
Witthuhn was attacked between 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1981, and 2 a.m. the following morning. The cause of death was skull fractures from a beating, Pool said, adding that her parents discovered her body in a sleeping bag when they went to check on her. There was no evidence of a struggle and she had ligature marks on her wrists and on her right ankle.
Witthuhn's husband, David, had been admitted to an area hospital due to a stomach virus, so she was alone for the night.
Witthuhn's brother-in-law, Drew, said his brother, Dave, “had to live for years under scrutiny'' as a suspect.
“We'll never really know what kind of a toll it took on him,'' until DNA investigators ruled him out in 2001, Drew Witthuhn said.
“Your honor, this thing was no cop,'' said Drew Witthuhn, who is a former law enforcement officer himself. “I would submit this convict never did a worthwhile, selfless thing in his entire life.''
Cruz was killed about 5 p.m. on May 5, 1986, in her bed in her Irvine home. Blood covered her head and neck and she was partially covered by her blanket.
Cruz had hemorrhaging in her eyes and bruises on the bridge of her nose, according to Pool, who said the killer knocked out three of her teeth -- with two found in her hair.
An ultraviolet light spotlighted semen on the victim, according to Pool, who said the cause of death was “crushing skull fractures.'' No murder weapon was found, but a pipe wrench in the backyard was missing.
Cruz's family had gone on vacation to Mexico, leaving her home alone. One of the victim's male friends visited her because she was afraid to be alone.
Cruz's sister, Michelle, said she spent a decade looking for the killer.
“Many family members were angry with me and said I was putting them at danger as a public advocate,'' Michelle Cruz said. “When I was told my sister's murderer was caught, I cried and cried for hours. Finally, I wouldn't have to spend hours a day looking for an answer.
“I could stop looking over my shoulder looking for him... There was no more thinking he would try and find and kill me too. He no longer has control over my mind because I know he will never be free again.''
In a statement read aloud in court, the victim's mother said DeAngelo is “a coward, worse than a coward, a fraud, a pathetic loser. He has tried to hide but the world sees him now.''
Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten noted in June that DeAngelo admitted 161 crimes involving 48 individual victims in 32 crime scenes.
Various prosecutors from across the state read detailed descriptions of DeAngelo's crimes, starting with the murder of 45-year-old Claude Snelling on Sept. 11, 1975, in Visalia. DeAngelo shot and killed Snelling as he attempted to rescue his daughter, who the killer was trying to kidnap.
Snelling's daughter, Elizabeth Hupp, recounted the terrifying experience when she was 16. She said her father caught him “peering through my window'' twice and that he “tried to chase him down, but was unable to catch him.''
As a ski-masked DeAngelo was dragging the teen out of her home at gunpoint, Snelling heard the commotion and ran to the front door, where he was gunned down, Hupp said.
“I was on the ground, thinking this is it,'' Hupp said. “Instead, he kicked me in the head and face and ran off down the driveway.''
DeAngelo also pleaded guilty to attempting to kill Detective William McGowen on Dec. 10, 1975, as the then-Visalia officer attempted to arrest him for a series of burglaries attributed to the “Visalia Ransacker'' from April 1974 through December 1975.
McGowen's daughter on Thursday recounted how her father, who died 15 years ago, never gave up on the case but grew hypervigilant in the ensuing years and “never traveled without a gun'' and “never let his guard down.''
DeAngelo admitted to the beating deaths of Goleta residents Debra Manning, 35, and Robert Offerman, 44, on Dec. 30, 1979, in their home in Santa Barbara County, and the beating deaths of Gregory Sanchez, 27, and Cheri Domingo, 35, both of Goleta, on July 27, 1981. DeAngelo also raped Manning and Domingo.
Two friends of Manning's said they met her while interning at a children's hospital in Boston and remarked that “she brought joy and healing energy wherever she went.'' Before her murder she told her friends she felt she was “being followed'' and even scratched out a “will on a napkin.''
Domingo's son, David Scott Domingo, said he has struggled over the years to “process'' what happened. When he heard the news, he said, “I wanted to cry, but nothing came out... There was nothing but shock, I guess. I've cried very few times since 1981 over this or anything else.''
DeAngelo also pleaded guilty to bludgeoning to death Charlene and Lyman Smith, both of Ventura, with a fireplace log on March 13, 1980. Lyman Smith, a 43-year-old former deputy district attorney, and his 33-year-old wife were found dead by his 12-year-old son. The killer also raped Charlene Smith and stole some of her jewelry, prosecutors said.
Jennifer Carole, the daughter of Lyman Smith, remembered it was a “gorgeous spring day'' when her younger brother, Gary, who was 12 at the time, found the bodies. He mowed their lawn and went inside the house, hearing an alarm clock that had been ringing for 72 hours, Carole said.
Her father's head was “cemented to the fabric by blood, his blood, an ungodly amount of blood,'' Carole said. “It represented nearly all of the blood from his body.''
She recalled the anxiety of being considered a suspect for two days.
“I've lived with the shame for decades, but it's your shame, Joe,'' Carole said.
“With Joe's arrest my life fell apart,'' she said. “There was no way for me to ignore what happened any longer.... It is true in this case there is no justice... Predictably, he decided to forgo his manhood and take the easy way out -- and because of that I will have no peace.''
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