Crime - Sacto 911

East Area Rapist suspect faces judge more than 40 years after notorious spree began

See suspected East Area Rapist’s first court appearance

Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected East Area Rapist, is arraigned in a Sacramento courtroom on murder charges on Friday, April 27. He was charged with murdering Katie and Brian Maggiore in Rancho Cordova in 1978.
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Joseph James DeAngelo, the suspected East Area Rapist, is arraigned in a Sacramento courtroom on murder charges on Friday, April 27. He was charged with murdering Katie and Brian Maggiore in Rancho Cordova in 1978.

He was once a lawman, later a foul-tempered family man with a manicured lawn who for decades, authorities say, had hidden his horrors from the world.

On Friday, Joseph James DeAngelo was a man facing murder charges in a horrific attack 40 years ago that prosecutors say was part of the notorious East Area Rapist crimes that terrified California.

DeAngelo, 72, appeared for the first time in a packed jail courtroom after investigators said they cracked Sacramento's biggest unsolved crime spree.

He arrived around 1:45 p.m. in a wheelchair wearing the standard orange jail garb, appearing frail with his eyes barely open. He whispered "yes" when Judge Michael Sweet asked if he was DeAngelo.

He was formally charged with two counts of murder in the 1978 slayings of Katie and Brian Maggiore in Rancho Cordova, with special circumstances for being a double homicide. He also faces two charges of murder with special enhancements for burglary and rape in connection with the 1980 slaying of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura.

Minutes later, the hearing was over, with DeAngelo not entering a plea after charges were read. Sweet appointed public defender Diane Howard and scheduled the next hearing for May 14.

Paul Holes, the newly retired Contra Costa County investigator who chased the East Area Rapist for 24 years and was part of the team that watched DeAngelo in recent weeks, questioned DeAngelo's frail court appearance.

"No, no, no, no," Holes said. "This guy was moving around like a young 50-year-old. He was riding his motorcycle, bombing down the freeway at over 100 miles per hour. Stop signs are optional for this guy."

Earlier this week, neighbor Kevin Tapia said he talked to DeAngelo as recently as a week prior about a motorcycle mechanic. Neighbors said they saw him building a table before his arrest Tuesday.

Howard, his newly appointed public defender, would not talk about her client's health issues or why he was in a wheelchair, but complained that she was denied access to him while sheriff's investigators interviewed him Wednesday, even after she got a court order.

"I had a court order that said they had to give me access to him and I felt they were stonewalling me...," she said. "I went to interrupt it and the sheriff's department disregarded it."

Howard said she expects to receive "hundreds of thousands of pages" of discovery evidence from prosecutors, but said that as of Friday she had been given only the criminal complaint. She also declined to say anything about the meeting she later was able to get with DeAngelo.

But the veteran public defender conceded that the scene that played out in court Friday, with more than 100 journalists clamoring to get into the small jailhouse courtroom and members of the general public lined up for hours to get in, was highly unusual.

"I really haven’t seen anything like this in my experience, never," Howard said. "And I've been doing this more than 30 years."

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, who formed a task force two years ago to focus new efforts on solving the case, sat in a front row seat while two of her most senior prosecutors – Steve Grippi and Rod Norgaard – handled the brief hearing.

Prosecutors said family members of some of the murder victims were in the courtroom, but they left through an exit away from the crush of reporters and cameras staking out the front of the jail.

Others waiting to get in were simply curious about a case that had terrified the Sacramento region in the 1970s.

Kellie Hill and her mom, Diane, were part of the small group of everyday citizens who hoped to attend the arraignment. Hill said she grew up in Sacramento, but only learned about the case after listening to true crime podcasts.

The two live in the Sacramento area and were stunned when they learned of DeAngelo’s arrest.

“She called me at 6:30 (a.m.), screaming into the cellphone" that police had caught the suspected East Area Rapist, Diane Hill said.

The hearing came more than four decades after the start of a terrifying run that involved the dozen homicides, more than 50 rapes and a string of other crimes between 1974 and 1986. DeAngelo was arrested outside his home Tuesday afternoon and booked into the county jail after detectives used a DNA match to find their suspect.

"For people who grew up here, it changed who we were as a community," said Renee Voelker, a lifelong Sacramento resident who was hoping to get into the hearing. "To have this man finally caught while I'm still alive – and while he's still alive it's an exciting time. This brings closure to all those people who were affected at his hands and who directly and indirectly were affected as a community."

He faced arraignment in Sacramento Superior Court on Friday, but authorities still must determine where he ultimately will stand trial and whether he faces death penalty prosecutions.

Some of the murders were committed at a time when the death penalty had been ruled unconstitutional, but others are eligible. Schubert said she wants to meet with prosecutors from the counties where DeAngelo is suspected of murders and plan a joint prosecution similar to that used in the Luis Bracamontes cop-killing trial that ended with a death penalty sentence on Wednesday.

"It makes sense to do it in one county," she said Thursday, adding that the case could be moved to Southern California because 10 of the 12 murder victims were killed there.

"The majority of the murders happened down in Southern California, so I'm comfortable with wherever it's going to be as long as everybody gets to be a participant," she said.

Prosecutors also must grapple with whether to file rape charges against DeAngelo because for many cases the statute of limitations has expired.

The Bee's Ryan Lillis and Hector Amezcua contributed to this report.

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