Crime - Sacto 911

'Biggest trial in California history' needs warrants sealed for East Area Rapist suspect, lawyer says

With the East Area Rapist suspect due back in court in Sacramento Monday, lawyers for Joseph James DeAngelo are urging the judge to keep arrest and search warrant documents sealed from public view to protect his right to a fair trial.

"The arrest and search warrant affidavits in this case detail allegations relating to what will inevitably be the biggest trial in California history," Diane Howard, the supervising assistant public defender representing DeAngelo, wrote in response to a motion by The Bee and other news organizations asking that the documents be unsealed.

The media companies, including the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, filed a motion May 1, a week after DeAngelo was arrested at his Citrus Heights home, asking that the documents be unsealed because "there is a substantial public interest in access to the materials sought here."

The case has drawn worldwide attention, and the media companies noted there is intense public interest in how law enforcement used decades-old DNA samples from murder scenes and online genealogy websites to capture DeAngelo.

"Because this investigatory technique is key to the prosecution's case and could significantly impact how other cold cases are solved, and because it arguably implicates privacy interests of third parties who willingly submit their DNA samples to commercial genealogical websites to learn about their family history, the importance of public access to the warrant information sought here cannot be overstated," San Francisco attorney Duffy Carolan wrote on behalf of the news organizations.

"The public will benefit from a full understanding of this unique investigatory technique and how police were able to (reliably) and credibly link DeAngelo to the crimes using open source DNA. The nature of the crimes at issue here, and their profound and sustained impact on the victims, families and loved ones also calls out for a transparent process to ensure confidence in the judicial and eventual outcome, and to provide a therapeutic value to the community through an open judicial process the instills confidence that justice is being served."

Howard doesn't see it that way, arguing that revealing the contents of the documents will taint potential jury pools, influence possible witnesses and affect an ongoing investigation into the case.

"The investigation in this case is far from over," she wrote. "Law enforcement only first became aware of the defendant's identity as a possible suspect in the first quarter of 2018," she wrote. "The allegations span back to 1976. The crimes attributed to defendant have occurred in approximately a dozen California counties."

The arrest warrant affidavit is believed to be about 40 pages long and was hurriedly written the night of April 23, the same night a second DNA evidence test came back linking the crimes to DeAngelo, sources have told The Bee.

Much of the information in the arrest warrant affidavit already is publicly known. But search warrant affidavits and returns that would show what was taken from DeAngelo's home could provide clues to whether the suspect had in his possession any items taken from victims' homes.

During the East Area Rapist's crime spree from 1976 through 1986, the attacker often took unusual items from victims - jewelry, coins, even china dishes - as "trophies" that investigators believe he may have kept over the years to relive his actions.

Prosecutors say they do not oppose unsealing the documents, but have asked that personal information that identifies victims, witnesses or law enforcement be redacted first.

Deputy District Attorneys Thienvu Ho and Amy Holliday also argue that the decision on whether the documents are unsealed should be made by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White, who signed the arrest and search warrants on April 24, the day DeAngelo was arrested.

Currently, the next hearing is scheduled before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet Monday morning, when lawyers are expected to argue over whether the documents should be unsealed. But prosecutors say "the judge that has firsthand knowledge of the content of the warrants is in the best position to be able to decide what, if anything, should be unsealed at this point."

In a hearing last week, Sweet rejected the defense's efforts to keep sheriff's investigators from executing a search warrant to obtain fresh DNA samples and fingerprints, as well as photos of DeAngelo's body and penis. The photos are believed to be sought because victims of the rapist told detectives at the time that the attacker was not physically well endowed.

DeAngelo, 72, faces two murder counts in Sacramento stemming from the Feb. 2, 1978, slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore, a young couple shot to death while walking their poodle in a Rancho Cordova neighborhood.

He is expected to face a total of 12 murder counts from other slayings in Orange, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, and prosecutors are currently discussing where a trial may be held.

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert has said previously that a trial could be moved to Southern California as long as all counties with cases take part. Schubert is credited with starting the task force two years ago on the 40th anniversary of the crime spree, a move that eventually led to DeAngelo's arrest.

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