SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Forty-five years after committing his first murder, Joseph James DeAngelo admitted Monday he was the Golden State Killer -- a serial killer and rapist responsible for one of the worst crime rampages in California history.
Looking frail and speaking in a halting voice, the former policeman entered a string of guilty pleas in a Sacramento State ballroom that was converted into a courtroom for the day.
DeAngelo, 74, admitted to a 12-year binge of murder and sexual assaults from the Sacramento area to Orange County that captivated the world's attention and spawned a multitude of nicknames for the former police officer, including East Area Rapist, Visalia Ransacker and Original Night Stalker.
DeAngelo, who has been confined to the Sacramento County jail since his arrest in April 2018 at his home in Citrus Heights, arrived at the makeshift courtroom at the campus's University Union about 20 minutes before the hearing began. He was trucked to the University Union in a van that was backed up to a loading dock.
Wearing a jailhouse orange jumpsuit, and a face shield to guard against the spread of the coronavirus, DeAngelo agreed to plead guilty to a total of 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of kidnap for robbery, starting with the Nov. 11, 1975, shooting death of college professor Claude Snelling in Visalia in 1975. He also pleaded guilty to committing 62 rapes and other crimes for which he wasn't formally charged.
Under a plea bargain reached two weeks ago, DeAngelo is expected to be sentenced in August to life in prison without parole.
Prosecutors agreed to forgo seeking the death penalty in order to save the cost of taking DeAngelo to trial in what would have been one of the largest and costliest prosecutions in California history. Given DeAngelo's advanced age, the advanced ages of witnesses and investigators, and Gov. Gavin Newsom's imposition of a moratorium on executions, prosecutors decided it was time to accept a plea deal and not conduct a death penalty trial.
"The family members of murder victims have waited decades for justice," said Amy Holliday, Sacramento County's assistant chief deputy district attorney. "The time for justice stands in front of us now."
More than 150 people attended, including DeAngelo's victims and relatives of victims, media representatives and prosecutors from all over the state, forcing courtroom officials to seek a large enough venue that could allow for social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic. Most of the lawyers, family members and others wore masks.
The Sacramento State ballroom, which can accommodate 2,000 people, was configured for a court hearing, with plastic chairs spaced far apart and a stage set up at one end. Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman sat in the middle of the stage, with DeAngelo and his public defenders on the right and a succession of district attorneys, led by Sacramento's Anne Marie Schubert, on the left.
In a testament to the statewide sweep of DeAngelo's crimes, prosecutors from multiple counties read aloud the facts underlying each of the murders, rapes and other charges to which he pleaded guilty, as well as the 62 uncharged counts.
Law enforcement personnel swept the building and the area outside with search dogs at 6 a.m. More than 20 sheriff's deputies arrived at the ballroom a little more than an hour later, more than two hours before the hearing began.