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Accused Golden State Killer agrees to enter plea to avoid death penalty

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(CNN) — The former California police officer who prosecutors say murdered 13 people as the Golden State Killer appeared in court Monday where he has agreed to enter guilty pleas on all counts.

Joseph DeAngelo, who is also accused of committing more than 50 rapes during his killing spree between 1975 and 1986, appeared before Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman at the Sacramento State University Union Ballroom, a venue chosen to allow for social distancing.

Dressed in a prison jumpsuit and appearing frail, DeAngelo and his defense team wore clear plastic face guards as they sat on a dais to Bowman’s left. As part of the plea deal, prosecutors from the counties where DeAngelo committed his crimes read the details of each offense.

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When the lengthy hearing has concluded, he will have pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and speacial circumstances (including murder committed during burglaries and rapes), as well as 13 counts of kidnapping, the prosecution said. He will also informally admit to numerous other crimes, it said.

He pleaded guilty to seven of the murders, in Tulare, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, before Bowman called a brief recess.

DeAngelo was known by many names. After committing scores of burglaries as the Visalia Ransacker, DeAngelo’s crimes became more violent in 1975, with the slaying of Claude Snelling, prosecutors allege.

For the next 11 years, he terrorized communities from Sacramento to Orange County, prosecutors say. Headlines attributed the crimes to the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and, finally, the Golden State Killer.

The plea

The 74-year-old has agreed to plead guilty to all charges to avoid the death penalty, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Amy Holliday. As for other uncharged offenses in seven counties, DeAngelo will say, “I admit to all the uncharged offenses that have been alleged,” in exchange for those counties not charging him, she said.

He will serve 11 consecutive terms of life without parole, with 15 concurrent life sentences and additional time for weapons charges, Holliday said. He will waive his rights to appeal, she said.

The plea benefits the public for multiple reasons, including the time that has passed since the crime and the prospect of bringing elderly witnesses to testify during a pandemic, she said.

DeAngelo confirmed to Bowman he understood the plea, and confirmed he is making the pleas of his own volition.

Fast Facts on Serial Killers

In 2018, prosecutors from Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties filed 26 charges against DeAngelo and consolidated the cases against him.

The prosecutors said they will hold a news conference Monday at 3 p.m. (6 p.m. ET) at the Sacramento State ballroom.

The suspect

In 1973, DeAngelo began working as a police officer in Auburn, outside Sacramento, and then in Exeter, an hour southeast of Fresno. The Vietnam War veteran spent six years in law enforcement before he was fired for shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer from a drugstore.

He later worked as a mechanic in Roseville, near Sacramento, retiring in 2017. When he was arrested in April 2018, he was in Citrus Heights, the neighborhood where the Golden State Killer raped the first of his known victims in 1976.

DeAngelo’s longtime neighbors thought he was odd and reclusive, they said. He yelled at passersby who got too close to his yard or people who mowed their lawns too early in the morning, but there were no signs he was a serial killer, they said.

Investigators identified him using a then-novel investigative technique known as genetic genealogy that combines DNA analysis with genealogical research.

DNA from a crime scene matched genetic material from one of DeAngelo’s relatives, who was registered on a genealogy site, prosecutors said.

Cracking the case

While investigators did not immediately link DeAngelo’s crimes, patterns began to emerge. For one, if he broke into a couple’s home, he would usually tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.

“Over the years, we heard of homicides down in Southern California, and we thought it was the East Area Rapist,” said Larry Crompton, a retired detective for Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Department. “But he would not leave fingerprints, so we could not prove, other than his (modus operandi), that he was the same person. We did not know anything about DNA.”

Investigators in 2001 were able to link via DNA evidence the crimes of the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker.

Seventeen years later, using crime scene DNA, they created a profile on a genealogy database called GEDMatch and DeAngelo’s name emerged in a list of possible suspects.

They then gathered DeAngelo’s DNA on the handle of a car door and a tissue in his garbage can, which matched the DNA from the crime scenes.

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