Six district attorneys gathered in a Santa Ana hall Tuesday to announce they were joining forces to try the man accused of one of the most notorious crime sprees in the state’s history.
Such an effort had never happened before in California.
But it will in Sacramento and now, decades in the making, the hard work of bringing Joseph James DeAngelo to trial has begun anew.
DeAngelo, 72, of Citrus Heights, will return Thursday to Sacramento Superior Court to be arraigned on the raft of new charges in the now-consolidated case. Prosecutors filed 13 new allegations Tuesday tied to sex assaults in Sacramento and Contra Costa counties joining the 13 murder counts that had been filed in Sacramento, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties.
Special allegations accompany 10 of the murders in the new filing alleging burglaries, robberies and rapes committed during the commission of the slayings.
And, more charges could come, said Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas.
“I think that we’ve filed everything that we have right now, that we’re able to file, but we’re not done with the investigation,” he said. “We still have a large team, we’re still looking at evidence of things that have happened in different areas of the state. So I can’t rule out that there would be other charges.”
Time, people, money — all are crucial components of a case that Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called the “most significant, probably the most notorious unsolved serial killing-rape case in California history.”
Schubert said Sacramento County has the resources to handle the case, even as she anticipated plucking prosecutors from other California counties preyed upon during the reign of murders and rapes in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Sacramento, we’re a a big jurisdiction. We have 175 lawyers, we have a crime lab, we have investigators, our Sheriff’s Department was the lead on this case, particularly when the arrest occurred.”
Even with attorneys marshaled from across the state, the case will be a massive undertaking said DeAngelo’s lawyer, supervising Sacramento County assistant public defender Diane Howard. She is a career public defender with more than 30 years on the job.
“It’s just extraordinary,” Howard said. “It’s unprecedented in my experience.”
“This will be a significant impact on both (District Attorney and Public Defender’s) offices. This is a considerable commitment of resources taken offline to work on this case,” said Sacramento defense attorney Linda Parisi, who has tried numerous high-profile cases and spent 30 years in the Sacramento County Public Defender’s Office before moving into private practice. Parisi was asked earlier this month to comment on the challenges of bringing the case to trial.
“Even with a well-staffed defense team, it will take years. It’s truly a complicated case, just by the sheer volume of the case,” Parisi said.
The costs, too, of taking People v. DeAngelo to a jury in Sacramento County expect to come with a high price tag. Those costs are yet unclear — a trial of this size and scope is unprecedented in Sacramento Superior Court.
Local courts can apply for additional cash to help defray trial costs, but Sacramento is among those ineligible for the funding because of its size, said Sacramento Superior Court spokeswoman Kim Pedersen.
“We’ve already looked into that,” Pedersen said.
But prosecutors and victims’ survivors say the decision to consolidate the case in Sacramento was the right one.
Debbi Domingo’s mother, Cheri Domingo, and Cheri’s boyfriend, Greg Sanchez, were slain in 1981 in Goleta, in Santa Barbara County. Domingo has since become a vocal advocate for victims’ survivors.
“I didn’t know what to expect — I didn’t know if it was going to include (a change of) venue or combining cases, but ... it’s the smartest way to go with the case. It wouldn’t have been effective to prosecute individual cases,” Domingo said. “The decision to try it in Sacramento is a smart one — the consolidation is already in place.”
Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley said with the united effort, “We now have the opportunity to have a single, comprehensive, speedy trial for all victims.”
“We concluded that more than anything else, our still-suffering victims and their loved ones needed this injustice to end,” Dudley said. “Step one was clearly the arrest. Step two has to be taking this case to trial as soon as possible in Sacramento, where we can combine all of our cases, where the defendant now resides.”
How quickly the case will move to a jury remains an open question. Prosecutors are eager to press ahead on a case that investigators in counties across California have worked for decades. But that push is tempered by DeAngelo’s right to a fair trial and the time it will take for the sides to present their cases.
Schubert tried to moderate expectations at the Tuesday news conference.
“Let’s remember Mr. DeAngelo has a right to a fair trial, and he has a right to a competent defense counsel, so we recognize that the case will not be something that goes to trial really quickly,” Schubert said. “But we also expect and hope that we move this process through efficiently because we do have witnesses and victims who are aging.”
Domingo said survivors are just as eager to see a resolution, though one likely will be years away.
“The DAs and the investigators — they all know this case inside and out. But it may take the defense team a few years to get up to speed, so it makes sense,” she said. “At the same time, we’re pretty ready for it to get going.”