East Area Rapist suspect watches as judge rules on unsealing warrants
The DNA evidence that authorities used to arrest Joseph James DeAngelo in the East Area Rapist case came from swabbing his car door in a public parking lot and later retrieving a used tissue from his trash can, newly released court documents show.
The documents, partially redacted by the court, give the most detailed look yet at how detectives tracked DeAngelo and obtained the evidence that led to his April 24 arrest.
The evidence, which authorities say gave them the strongest link between DeAngelo and a decades-old serial killer-rape spree, came as investigators had the 72-year-old Citrus Heights man under surveillance as a suspect.
A DeAngelo relative had submitted DNA to a genealogy website in early 2018 that authorities determined was close to the suspect they had been looking for. Following an exhaustive effort, they determined that a distant relative of that person — DeAngelo — had been living in areas where many of the crimes had been committed.
But investigators didn't have a sample of DeAngelo's DNA, so Sacramento sheriff's detectives began following him as he moved about town, finally watching April 18 as DeAngelo parked his car in a public parking lot at a Hobby Lobby store in Roseville, according to an arrest warrant affidavit unsealed Friday.
"A swab was collected from the door handle while DeAngelo was inside the store," according to the affidavit from sheriff's Detective Sgt. Ken Clark. "This car door swab was submitted to the Sacramento DA crime lab for DNA testing."
Two days later, the results came back: The swab contained DNA from three different people, and 47 percent of the DNA came from one person, the affidavit said.
That DNA was compared to murders in Orange and Ventura counties where DNA had been collected and saved from decades before, and it came back with results that elated investigators.
"The likelihood ratio for the three-person mixture can be expressed as at least 10 billion times more likely to obtain the DNA results if the contributor was the same as the Orange County/Ventura County (redacted) profile and two unknown and unrelated individuals than if three unknown and unrelated individuals were the contributors," Clark wrote in his affidavit seeking an arrest warrant for DeAngelo.
In other words, investigators believed they had their suspect, but they wanted to be certain. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has said previously that even with the possible match she asked for a better sample, so investigators went hunting again, this time focusing on DeAngelo's trash on April 23.
"The trash can was put out on the street in front of his house the night before," Clark wrote. "DeAngelo is the only male ever seen at the residence during the surveillance of his home which has occurred over the last three days."
Detectives gathered "multiple samples" from the trash can and sent them to the crime lab on Broadway for analysis.
"Only one item, a piece of tissue (item #234-#8), provided interpretable DNA results," Clark wrote. "The likelihood ratio for this sample can be expressed as at least 47.5 Septillion times more likely to obtain the DNA results if the contributor was the same as the Orange County/Ventura County (redacted) profile than if an unknown and unrelated individual is the contributor."
The crime scene DN A authorities have been using comes from Southern California murders DeAngelo has been blamed for, including the 1980 Ventura County slayings of Lyman and Charlene Smith, who were found beaten to death with a fire log in their home.
Detectives first homed in on a business partner of Lyman Smith, but those charges were dropped and DNA testing from the body of Charlene Smith, who had been raped, cleared that person.
The documents say that DNA evidence was used to link the killings to others.
In 1996, tests of the semen evidence linked the Ventura attacks to three other Southland cases, including the August 1980 murders of Patrice and Keith Harrington in Orange County. By 1997, the same evidence was linked to attacks in Contra Costa County in 1978 and 1979.
Another new lead was lifted from the same Ventura samples more than a decade later in 2011, when authorities discovered that DNA matched evidence left at the scene of the July 1981 murders of Cherie Domingo and Gregory Sanchez in Santa Barbara.
DeAngelo is charged in 12 homicides in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, but the documents indicate that investigators strongly believe he may be responsible for a 13th slaying in Tulare County, where he was serving as a police officer in Exeter at the time of the 1975 shooting death of college professor Claude Snelling.
Tulare County investigators have been in contact with Sacramento officials about the evidence and still are deciding whether to charge DeAngelo in that September 1975 slaying in Visalia, but Clark's affidavit lays out DeAngelo's ties to the area.
"Visalia is less than 20 minutes away from DeAngelo's residence at the time," Clark wrote. "Additionally, it appears the Kings County Public Safety Academy was held on the campus of the College of the Sequoias.
"This campus is the epicenter of the Visalia Ransacker crimes and it was a professor at this college that was murdered in September of 1975 following an attempted abduction of the professor's daughter in the middle of the night."
The documents were released in response to a motion by The Sacramento Bee and other news organizations asking that the warrants be unsealed by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet.
Attorneys spent the third day Friday in Sweet's chambers combing through what would be released and held from public view.
Just after 1:30 p.m., Sweet was ready to rule, as a lumbering DeAngelo made his way — walking without aid — into the courtroom's cell. The gaggle of reporters and victims' survivors was smaller than at previous hearings, but still nearly filled Sweet's tiny jailhouse courtroom.
The setting was much the same as earlier hearings this week: county public defenders David Lynch and Joe Cress posted near DeAngelo, who stared straight ahead at the judge's bench; prosecutors Thienvu Ho and Amy Holliday across the room standing alongside the row of photographers; and in the center, media attorney Duffy Carolan arguing for access to the documents that help form the narrative of the case against DeAngelo.
Holliday said her office never sought to seal the DeAngelo warrants, but wanted some personal identifying information redacted. Holliday said that "95 percent of the redactions made were by attorneys for DeAngelo over the objections of the People."
Defense attorneys said the documents contained "certain speculative theories" that would be inadmissible and would taint jurors at trial, arguing that releasing the information to the public will negatively affect DeAngelo's ability to receive a fair trial.
Sweet said he recognized media outlets' First Amendment right to the information, with the qualification that his duty is to protect the rights of the defendant at trial.
Details related to homicides could be unsealed, Sweet said, adding that DeAngelo has been charged with the offenses and information is already in the public domain.
But information related to sex crime allegations will remain under seal, Sweet ruled, agreeing with defense attorneys that "widespread public dissemination may result in inaccurate, inadmissible information."
"The defendant is not charged" with sex crimes, Sweet said. Information about possible sex crimes, the judge said, would prejudice his right to a fair trial.
"No right ranks higher than the defendant's right to a fair trial," Sweet said.
Arrest and search warrants have been issued seeking seizure of items and information from DeAngelo's home and vehicles, and a separate warrant sought fresh fingerprints, DNA samples and photographs of DeAngelo's body, including his penis.
DeAngelo's public defenders objected unsuccessfully to the serving of that warrant, which authorities apparently sought because victims of the East Area Rapist had described their attacker as not physically well endowed.
The judge agreed that warrant information regarding DeAngelo's alleged murder victims, including Brian and Katie Maggiore, who were killed in Rancho Cordova in 1978, can be released.
But the judge said he was keeping sealed for now any information about what was seized from computers, cellphones, photo albums, cars or his home, saying that releasing that information would "create an overwhelming prejudice."
Authorites were hoping the search would turn up "trophies" the attacker took from victims over the years such as class rings or china dishes, and an inventory of items stolen from victims goes on for nine pages.
Much of the nearly 200 pages of documents focus on attacks the East Area Rapist made in the Sacramento area in the 1970s, and although many of those details have been publicly known for years, the judge had many redacted because they related to sex crimes for which DeAngelo has not been charged.
The various crime sprees were known by different nicknames — Visalia Ransacker, Original Night Stalker, East Area Rapist, Golden State Killer — until authorities determined through DNA samples left at crime scenes that they likely were the work of one suspect.