‘I saw the devil today’: Prosecutors, family members confront Golden State Killer in plea agreement hearing
For seven hours Monday, family members of the dozens of victims of the Golden State Killer listened while he croaked out his guilty pleas.
With a plastic visor covering his face, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. — mouth agape, seated between his attorneys and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, sitting behind a table on top of a stage in the middle of a university ballroom — pleaded guilty to 13 murders and 13 kidnappings he committed over about 13 years across California.
In case after case, DeAngelo, 72, admitted his guilt. In 161 other crimes, including rapes, robberies and burglaries, DeAngelo was not charged, but he admitted he did those, too.
“Guilty,” Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. said in a raspy, high-pitched voice. “I admit.”
Each time, the 74-year-old DeAngelo slowly leaned forward to speak into the mic, then haltingly entered his plea. Sometimes his head swayed, or nodded slightly, often with his eyes closed.
In meticulous, brutal detail, county prosecutors from up and down the state recounted each of DeAngelo’s crimes, including dozens of uncharged rapes.
All the while, the family members, spread across the ballroom in chairs spaced six feet apart, watched him intently.
Ron Harrington and his brother, Bruce, stood for much of the hearing, directly in front of DeAngelo.
“I wanted him to have to make eye contact with me,” Ron Harrington said. “I can’t honestly say he did, but I wanted to do to make sure he would have to avoid me if he looked up.”
The Harrington family has waited decades for this moment. Their brother, Keith, was killed in his bed in his Dana Point home in 1980. Also killed was his wife, Patrice Harrington. The couple was among four victims DeAngelo killed in Orange County between 1980 and 1986.
Ron Harrington said hearing DeAngelo’s crimes described in such detail made him feel “physically sick.” He said DeAngelo’s feeble appearance on Monday “was a facade.”
“This guy is just the most brutal, heinous, sadistic man — I mean he is just a violent sexual predator,” he said. “He absolutely deserves and should be executed … you really kind of had to restrain yourself from not just running up on the stage and wringing his neck.”
DeAngelo, as he has now admitted, stalked many of his victims, then often targeted them while they slept in their homes, or while they were alone.
The two others DeAngelo killed in Orange County were Janelle Cruz, 18, and Manuela Witthuhn, 28.
Cruz was home alone in Irvine when DeAngelo broke in, raped her, then bludgeoned her to death. During his reading of the facts of the killing, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said an autopsy determined Cruz was killed with an object resembling a hammer. Two of her front teeth were knocked out in the attack.
Spitzer said a pipe wrench was taken from the Cruz home after the murder, where it was last seen lying in their yard. He called DeAngelo “the devil incarnate.”
“I will tell you, I swear I saw the devil today,” Spitzer said after the hearing. “That is the devil. Anybody who can do what he did, over and over and over, and seem to relish it over and over and over, is the devil.”
DeAngelo will be sentenced in August. Prosecutors said that as part of a plea agreement he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.