District attorneys from six California counties announced plans Tuesday morning to prosecute accused East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo in a Sacramento courtroom, an unprecedented joint effort that will bring to the state capital what his own lawyer has called the “biggest trial in California history.”
The announcement at the Orange County District Attorney’s Office included word that the prosecutors are continuing an aggressive assault on the suspected serial killer and rapist, with 13 new charges being filed related to decades-old sexual assaults in Sacramento and Contra Costa counties.
Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert joined with five other DAs to announce that the 13 murder counts — currently filed in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties — had been refiled Tuesday morning in Sacramento Superior Court to consolidate the case.
Ten of the murders carry special circumstance allegations that allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty, but they said a decision on that is still far off.
Another 13 counts tied to some of the sexual assaults attributed to DeAngelo — nine of them Sacramento rapes — will be added to the tally, and all of the charges will be tried in Sacramento with teams of attorneys from all the offices expected to participate.
After several meetings, the prosecutors said they agreed on Sacramento because it is a large county with the resources and crime lab needed and because so many of DeAngelo’s alleged crimes occurred there.
“This case changed our community, and it’s very difficult to explain to folks what that meant,” Schubert said. “It’s almost like trying to explain what it’s like to go through an earthquake.”
“This is not simply a Sacramento case,” she added, “this is a joint case of six different jurisdictions.”
The other DAs said they concurred that Sacramento should be the site of the trial.
“As a group, we’ve determined that the trial should take place in Sacramento,” Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said, adding that he and the others have never heard of such a large joint prosecution of a defendant in California.
“A large number of crimes occurred in Sacramento over some period of time,” he added. “Sacramento really has the weight of the victims. ... I don’t mean to diminish the importance of other victims anywhere. Certainly, the victims and loved ones of victims in Orange County are very, very important to all of us.”
Prosecutors have been working since DeAngelo’s April arrest to devise a strategy to prosecute him for the dozens of rapes he is suspected of committing in the 1970s and 1980s, but they had been stymied by the fact that statutes of limitations for many of the rape cases have lapsed.
As a result, the 13 new counts will be filed as kidnap for robbery counts, which carried a life sentence in the 1970s and do not carry a statute of limitations. Most of those charges stem from East Area Rapist attacks in Sacramento.
Four of the new charges stem from cases in Contra Costa County, where DeAngelo is believed to have sexually assaulted nine women in 1978 and 1979. Two of the four include DNA evidence, District Attorney Diana Becton said.
The cases with no DNA evidence will rely on evidence such as the circumstances of each rape and their similarity to methods used by the East Area Rapist, who terrorized Sacramento residents from June 1976 until March 1979.
The Sacramento rapes occurred in 1976 and 1977 and include allegations that DeAngelo used a knife or pistol during some of them. Schubert said after the news conference that her office has been in constant contact with many East Area Rapist victims and was reaching out to them Tuesday as the new charges were being announced.
Three rapes also occurred in Davis that were attributed to the East Area Rapist, and Yolo County officials said after DeAngelo’s arrest that they would consider filing rape charges. But Jonathan Raven, Yolo County’s chief deputy district attorney, said Monday that his office had decided such charges now are “unlikely.”
DeAngelo, 72, is a former police officer who has been held without bail in the Sacramento County Main Jail since being arrested at his Citrus Heights home in April.
The arrest came after a concerted effort by Schubert, Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones and other officials to publicize the fact that the East Area Rapist was still at large and that they needed tips from the public to find him.
Instead, prosecutors say a task force Schubert helped form found DeAngelo after one of his relatives uploaded their DNA to an online genetic site. That DNA was a close enough match to DNA evidence from crime scenes that detectives began looking into the family tree of the individual who uploaded it, ultimately leading to DeAngelo.
Schubert on Tuesday said she plans to draw on attorneys from counties across the state whose residents fell victim to the violent spree. “You’re going to see a lot of lawyers involved,” Schubert told reporters at the late-morning new briefing. “I fully anticipate I’ll be swearing in some lawyers from Orange County, Ventura” and elsewhere.
Prosecutors from Tulare County will almost certainly be among them.
“We’ve invested a lot of work and we all envision being a part of that process,” Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said, adding that his office plans to “assist Ms. Schubert’s office in any way we can.”
DeAngelo is believed to have begun his 44-year-old crime spree as the Visalia Ransacker, a suspect who burglarized dozens of homes in that Tulare County community and is alleged to have shot and killed a man who interrupted the attempted abduction of his 16-year-old daughter from their Visalia home.
During that crime spree, DeAngelo was a police officer in nearby Exeter.
The crimes stopped suddenly after a suspect believed to be the Ransacker was nearly arrested by a police officer on stakeout. The suspect got away after firing a shot at the officer, striking his flashlight.
Not long after those crimes stopped, a new set of burglaries and sexual assaults began in the neighborhoods of Sacramento County, where the attacks were attributed to a suspect who became known as the East Area Rapist. At the time of those crimes, DeAngelo was a police officer in Auburn and later a Citrus Heights resident.
Since DeAngelo’s arrest, prosecutors have met and debated where to hold his trial and how to ensure that prosecutors from each jurisdiction will be involved in the case.
Initially, Schubert had suggested the trial might be held in Southern California, where prosecutors say they have DNA evidence from rape-murder scenes attributed to DeAngelo.
There is no DNA evidence from the Sacramento murders DeAngelo has been charged with, the Feb. 2, 1978, slayings of Brian and Katie Maggiore. The couple was shot to death in Rancho Cordova while walking their dog, and detectives say there is other evidence to link those killings to the East Area Rapist case.
Prosecutors ultimately decided the entire case should be moved to Sacramento.
DeAngelo had a hearing scheduled for Sept. 5 but now must face arraignment on the new charges in a Sacramento courtroom Thursday. He has yet to enter a plea, and prosecutors said Tuesday that although they want a rapid march to trial, the timing is up to DeAngelo’s defense attorneys.
Prosecutors said they continue to investigate cold cases to determine whether DeAngelo had any involvement but said no new charges are currently expected.
And Schubert dismissed questions about whether her office could succeed in prosecuting old rape cases as kidnappings without DNA available.
“We don’t file charges unless we believe we can prove them,” she said.