A Sacramento judge said Tuesday he expects to release some warrant documents by Friday in the East Area Rapist case after lawyers debated whether suspect Joseph James DeAngelo can receive a fair trial if that information becomes public.
DeAngelo, hands cuffed behind his back, stood silently in a cage inside a jailhouse courtroom for two hours as lawyers argued over the merits of unsealing the documents.
Although he initially attended court in a wheelchair, DeAngelo since has walked into hearings under his own power and spent Tuesday standing ramrod straight with a deputy in the cage behind him and another standing outside it nearby.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet cleared the courtroom at 10 a.m. after listening to arguments, saying he wanted to spend about two hours studying the material to see what, if any, can be released.
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Sweet reconvened the hearing Tuesday afternoon before asking attorneys to return Thursday for more debate over what must be redacted. The judge said he expects to complete that process Thursday and have some information ready for release by Friday.
"We're making good progress, but we're not finished," Sweet said. "It's sort of painstaking. We have to go through it paragraph by paragraph."
At issue is the affidavit that formed the basis of the warrant used to detain DeAngelo, as well as the search warrant affidavits and returns that would show what items and information had been seized from DeAngelo's Citrus Heights home, computer and cellphone.
The arrest warrant affidavit is about 40 pages long, and Sweet said Tuesday that the search warrant affidavit is more than 70 pages. The judge said he was not inclined to withhold all of the materials.
"I can tell you I wouldn't agree to keep it all under seal," Sweet said, but added he is concerned that some of the information in the documents is unrelated to the two murder charges DeAngelo faces in Sacramento County in the 1978 slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore in Rancho Cordova.
The defense and prosecutors have submitted suggestions about how to redact portions to prevent the release of some victim and witness names and other personal information, and Sweet said he wanted to spend time going over the material before making a decision.
The Sacramento Bee and other news organizations have asked that the information be unsealed, and media attorney Duffy Carolan argued that some information can be released without jeopardizing DeAngelo's ability to receive a fair trial.
"The press, the public and the victims deserve an open proceeding on how this case came to be charged," Carolan argued. "Cases don't come to the court in hermetically sealed environments."
Carolan noted that the case may not go to trial for years, and that courts have previously ruled in favor of releasing such documents.
But Assistant Public Defender David Lynch argued strenuously against releasing the documents without redactions, telling the judge that there already has been an avalanche of media stories that may have tainted the minds of potential jurors and the memories of witnesses in the decades-old case.
"The media coverage is immense, it's extraordinary," Lynch said, citing thousands of stories that have been published since DeAngelo's April 24 arrest.
DeAngelo, 72, has been held in the Sacramento County Main Jail downtown without bail since his arrest. He currently faces 12 murder charges: two from Sacramento County, four in Orange County, four in Santa Barbara County and two in Ventura County.
The two Ventura County victims were Lyman Smith, 43, an attorney who had just been appointed to a judgeship on the Ventura County Superior Court bench, and wife Charlene Smith, 33. The couple was found bludgeoned to death in their bed in March 1980. Prosecutors allege DeAngelo broke into their Ventura home, tied the pair with drapery cord and raped Charlene Smith before fatally beating the couple with a log of firewood.
Smith's daughter, Jennifer Carole, traveled from her home in Santa Cruz to join the group of women – survivors, friends, victims' family members – who gathered for lunch after observing DeAngelo’s morning hearing.
“The idea of privacy is already fluid,” Carole said from a seat in the quiet corridor outside Sweet's courtroom. Carole has agreed to several interviews and spoke to reporters again Tuesday. But others, she said, are less comfortable sharing their stories.
With the speed of today's instant news coverage, "There were already people in the room who were awkward that people saw them" on television, Carole said. "Survivors should absolutely have privacy unless they 'out' themselves - it should be their prerogative. My philosophy is that (talking about it) is healing, but I can't possibly know what's right for everyone. I don't know what they've lived through."
DeAngelo also is considered a suspect in a 13th killing in Tulare County, where a burglar known as the "Visalia Ransacker" broke into dozens of homes in the early 1970s, the same time frame during which DeAngelo served as a police officer in nearby Exeter.
DeAngelo, who had been living in Citrus Heights since the early 1980s and raised a family there, is believed to be responsible for a string of killings and rapes the length of California from 1974 to at least 1986. Authorities say they have linked him to many of the Southern California slayings through DNA evidence.