Bruce Harrington’s world was turned upside-down more than 30 years ago, when his younger brother, Keith, and sister-in-law, Patty, were brutally beaten to death in their Orange County home by a mysterious killer then known as the Original Night Stalker.
It was later revealed, thanks to DNA testing, that the Original Night Stalker was the same person who had committed more than 45 rapes in Northern California, where he was known as the East Area Rapist.
And then, on Wednesday, Harrington spoke forcefully, sometimes passionately, at a press conference where authorities identified Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, as the suspected Golden State Killer — thanks to DNA.
Authorities would not say how they obtained DeAngelo’s DNA — just that it was a discarded sample — but Harrington, along with then-Orange County sheriff’s detective Larry Pool, were instrumental in getting Proposition 69 passed in 2004.
The law established an all-felon DNA database in California, according to “In the Footsteps of a Killer,” writer Michelle McNamara’s article for Los Angeles Magazine.
McNamara wrote in her article that Pool and Harrington felt expanding the DNA database to every convicted felon in the state would help catch the Golden State Killer. The law also allows authorities to take DNA from anyone arrested on suspicion of a felony and store the information in the database, even if the suspects were acquitted or had the charges dropped. This allows law enforcement to comb through the database for suspects in crimes.
“What’s driving me is a sense of wanting to avenge the death of my brother and his wife,” Harrington told the Los Angeles Times before Prop 69 was passed. “I believe that DNA technology is the last practical hope of resolving the who and why of [their] deaths.”
The law is not without controversy: before it was passed, critics raised objections to it, saying it would invade inmates’ rights to privacy and allow California to violate the U.S. Constitution by gathering evidence without suspicion that targets have committed a crime.
On April 2 of this year, the California Supreme Court upheld the law’s provision that any adult arrested or charged with a felony must give up their DNA. The case was brought to court by Mark Buza, who refused to have his DNA taken after he was arrested on suspicion of arson and related felonies in 2009, according to the LA Times.
Two of the judges on the court in that case dissented, with one, Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, writing,“The DNA Act unlawfully invades people’s reasonable expectation of privacy in their personal genetic information.”
But Harrington said the arrest in the Golden State Killer case vindicated his efforts to bring DNA testing to the forefront of forensic science in California.
“You were wrong,” he said Wednesday, addressing politicians whom he said hindered the effort to establish the database. “It is time for all victims to grieve and take measure. It is time for the victims to begin to heal after so long,” Harrington said. Of DeAngelo, Harrington said, “He’s now in jail and he’s history.”