The man accused of being the Golden State Killer agreed to plead guilty in Sacramento on Monday, more than two years after he was arrested using an investigative technique that has fundamentally changed how some violent crimes are solved in the United States.
In front of victims and their families, Amy Holliday, the Sacramento County deputy district attorney, announced that Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, had agreed to plead guilty to 13 counts of first degree murder across California in the 1970s and ’80s.
In addition she said, he also agreed to admit guilt in a multitude of crimes for which he was not charged, some of which passed the statute of limitations.
Throughout the hearing, prosecutors from counties across California approached the podium and described a series of murders, rapes and burglaries in detail. Michael G. Bowman, a judge for the Sacramento County Superior Court, then asked Mr. DeAngelo for his plea.
“Guilty,” Mr. DeAngelo said after each one.
The judge then asked whether he admitted the circumstances of the crime. “I admit,” he said, over and over.
By 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, about an hour after the hearing began, Mr. DeAngelo had pleaded guilty in several of the 13 cases.
Asked by the judge if he understood he would receive 11 consecutive life without parole sentences, Mr. DeAngelo said “yes.”
The hearing was livestreamed from the Sacramento State University Ball Room, a space selected in part to accommodate in-person attendance amid the coronavirus pandemic. Mr. DeAngelo and his lawyers wore transparent face shields. After speaking, Judge Bowman put on a black face mask.
The prosecutors’ decision to take a plea deal, rather than go to a jury trial was driven in part by public health risks, Ms. Holliday said at the start. The preliminary hearing was originally scheduled for May, she said, but “It had to be postponed because of court closures and the danger is of bringing elderly or high risk individuals into the courtroom.”
The advanced age of many of the key players involved also played a role. “Many of the victims, witnesses and law enforcement are in their 80s and 90s,” she said. “Many these people all deeply affected by these crimes may not be with us at the time of jury trial.”
Mr. DeAngelo, a former police officer, had eluded the authorities for four decades before he was arrested in 2018 in a Sacramento suburb.
It was the first high-profile case to be cracked with genetic genealogy, a new technique that relies on identifying DNA collected at a crime scene by searching for the suspect’s relatives in genealogy databases. Investigators used a DNA sample that had been found at the scene of a double murder in Ventura County in 1980 to create a fake profile on a genealogy website. They were able to match the sample to distant relatives of Mr. DeAngelo.
As part of the plea deal, Mr. DeAngelo will avoid the death penalty, a decision that has produced mixed feelings among some victims and their families, who are eager to see this chapter closed but also want to see a man who terrorized so many forced to confront the allegations.
Gay Hardwick, who was raped in 1978 while her now-husband Bob Hardwick was tied up, said earlier this month that it was difficult to think of any punishment as sufficient.
“My view has been he will never be able to serve a long enough sentence,” Ms. Hardwick said. “He’ll never serve the sentence that the rest of us have served.”
But, she added, “knowing that he has admitted responsibility is a big step toward closure for us.”
Mr. DeAngelo’s public defenders had sought to spare him from the death penalty, which California last used in 2006. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in California, which he said had failed to deter violent crimes and disproportionately harmed people of color.
“I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” a documentary about the case and about Michelle McNamara, an author who spent years trying to solve it, aired on HBO on Sunday night.