SACRAMENTO, Calif. >> A former police officer suspected of being California’s elusive Golden State Killer faced 26 murder and rape-related charges today after prosecutors decided this week to consolidate charges in counties across the state into one case.
One family member described the 15-minute recitation of offenses as “very, very intense.”
The Sacramento County Superior Court hearing sets up a trial in the state capital, which was among several cities terrorized by the rapes and killings during the 1970s and 1980s.
The statute of limitations has long run out for charging 72-year-old Joseph DeAngelo with the suspected rapes of nearly 50 women. So prosecutors lodged 13 kidnapping-related charges that aren’t barred by the passage of time.
He also faces consolidated murder charges previously filed in five other California counties.
“The complaint alleges numerous crimes over multiple counties and dates,” Judge Michael Sweet said before reading each of the 26 charges.
DeAngelo stood stone-faced and ramrod straight in a courtroom cage, never looking at the courtroom packed with survivors, relatives, reporters and at least a half-dozen armed bailiffs. District attorneys from five of the six counties where the crimes took place were in the courtroom but did not speak.
D’Angelo has yet to enter a plea. Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek the death penalty, but said they will fight his use of a public defender and try to require him to pay for his own defense at his next hearing in December.
His public defender, Diane Howard repeatedly declined comment.
“That was very, very intense and really tough,” said Jennifer Carole of Santa Cruz, the daughter of victim Lyman Smith, a lawyer who was slain at age 43 in Ventura in 1980. His wife, 33-year-old Charlene Smith, was raped and murdered at the same time.
“Even those few words don’t begin to summarize what happened during the crimes. They were heinous, what everybody went through was really horrible. So to hear it, that black-and-white, to hear it get listed, it was hard — it was harder than I thought it was going to be,” she said. “My heart is pounding right now. I’m feeling it.”
She welcomed having the trial consolidated in Sacramento, which she and prosecutors said would make it easier for victims.
“I think it’s going to be healing for all of us,” Carole said. Other survivors and supporters did not comment, but one held a hand-lettered sign reading “Remember the Victims” toward television cameras as she filed out of the courtroom.
Carole said the number of survivors and family members is growing with each court hearing as they learn to support each other.
Survivors have been told a trial may be five to seven years away, she said, but she said they aren’t disturbed by the expected legal wrangling.
“To me, his life is already over. It’s done,” she said. “The rest of us have moved on. The survivors have done remarkably well.”
DeAngelo was arrested in April at his home in Sacramento County after investigators linked him to several of the slayings using DNA evidence.
Prosecutors said a sadistic stalker also known as the East Area Rapist and Visalia Ransacker, among other nicknames, would sneak into suburban homes through windows at night and surprise sleeping victims who ranged in age from 13 to 44.
If the assailant found a couple, he would tie up the man and pile dishes on his back, threatening to kill both victims if he heard plates crash to the floor while he raped the woman. He ransacked homes, taking souvenirs like coins and jewelry, before fleeing.
DeAngelo worked as a police officer in towns near two of the sprees that authorities said terrorized neighborhoods during a more innocent time when children rode bicycles to school and played outside until dark and people didn’t lock their doors at night.