With five district attorneys sitting in the front row as a show of force, East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer suspect Joseph James DeAngelo returned to court in Sacramento on Thursday to hear newly filed murder and kidnap charges read and learn that prosecutors want a hearing on whether he deserves a public defender or must hire his own lawyer.
Looking, pale, thin and frail, the 72-year-old former police officer stood silently inside the courtroom cage on the first floor of the Sacramento County Main Jail building without speaking.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet read the 26 counts against him — 13 for murder, 13 tied to sexual assaults — in a solemn 18-minute soliloquy while some survivors shed tears in the packed courtroom as the names were read.
DeAngelo never looked at the judge, instead staring straight ahead toward a wall where several of the 11 uniformed deputies in the small courtroom were standing.
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He did not enter a plea, and the judge set the next hearing in the case for Dec. 6, at which the issue of whether he deserves a free public defender will be argued.
Sacramento Deputy District Attorney Thienvu Ho told the judge he was asking for “an inquiry as to whether or not the defendant can hire his own attorney or whether he is indigent and should continue to be represented by the public defender’s office and have the services paid for by the public coffers.”
Ho, who is representing Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office along with prosecutor Amy Holliday, said such an inquiry had not yet been conducted because at the time of DeAngelo’s arrest in April it was unclear where he ultimately would face trial.
“I understand,” Assistant Public Defender Diane Howard said simply.
After court, Howard and Deputy Public Defender Joseph Cress declined comment and returned to the jail a short time later to meet with DeAngelo.
DeAngelo, who owns a Citrus Heights home, vehicles and a motorcycle, was assigned a public defender at the outset of the case, but prosecutors want a hearing on whether he is indigent or should have to foot at least part of the bill for what will be a long, expensive defense effort.
“We’re not saying he should not get a public defender,” Schubert said after court. “We’re just saying the court should decide.”
Following the hearing, a long row of survivors trailed by their court advocates filed out of the courtroom past a gauntlet of reporters and photographers and onto I Street.
Few spoke with reporters. But Jennifer Carole of Santa Cruz did, recounting the moment Sweet read the names of the murdered — including her father’s and stepmother’s.
Lyman Smith, an attorney in Ventura County who was about to join the Ventura County Superior Court bench, and Charlene Smith, an interior decorator, were beaten to death with a fire log in their home in 1980. DeAngelo is also accused of raping Charlene Smith.
DNA from the Ventura crime scene has been used by investigators to link DeAngelo to other slayings in Orange and Santa Barbara counties in 1980 and 1981; and attacks in Contra Costa County in 1978 and 1979.
“It was very tough to hear it line by line, crime by crime,” Carole told reporters outside Sacramento County Main Jail. “It was hard, but it made it very concrete, very tangible to hear these charges.”
Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said later in an interview Carole’s presence was one of several reasons he needed to be present for the arraignment.
“This was the first case I ever worked on as a young law clerk in the Ventura County District Attorney’s office,” Totten said. “And the daughter of Lyman Smith, who was brutally murdered in Ventura County, was here today, and for me it was personally very important to be here.”
DeAngelo’s arraignment follows an announcement in Orange County on Tuesday that he will be tried in Sacramento on 13 murder counts and 13 counts of kidnap for robbery stemming from crimes in six different counties: Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura.
He faces two murder counts in Sacramento, one in Tulare County, four in Orange County, four in Santa Barbara County and two in Ventura County.
DeAngelo also faces 13 newly filed kidnap for robbery charges — nine in Sacramento and four in Contra Costa County — stemming from sexual assaults.
The statute of limitations on rape charges expired years ago, but prosecutors say they are confident they can convict him using the kidnap for robbery counts, and said even with DeAngelo facing 13 murder counts it still is important to pursue the sexual assault cases, as well.
“It’s extremely important,” Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton said later at Schubert’s office, where Schubert, Totten, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, and Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward gathered. “In Contra Costa County, we have victims who have been harmed, and everyone is entitled to their day in court.”
The prosecutors (only Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley did not attend Thursday’s hearing) said they were there to present a show of unity and purpose in what will be a long, hard case.
“When you have all those charges in one document, with folks representing each county and the number of victims there, it demonstrates even more so the magnitude of the impact this case has had not just on Sacramento but this entire state,” Schubert said.
Prosecutors say they still are investigating cases and providing discovery to the defense, and said the fact that DeAngelo has yet to enter a plea is not unusual. They also conceded that just organizing the case in a cohesive fashion will be a massive task.
“It’s a big case,” Totten said. “It’s going to have a lot of moving parts, and it’s going to be in need of careful organization and thought in terms of how it’s prosecuted.
“But we, collectively, have people that are pretty exceptional prosecutors and are accustomed to handling large cases.”
Rackauckas said he believes a preliminary hearing in the case may be held in the next year or two, and added that sitting in court listening to the list of charges being read was gratifying after decades of searching for a suspect.
“I think this is an achievement,” he said. “We never knew for sure if it would come to fruition, and I think it represents an awful lot of work that’s been done.”
A trial could be as long as seven years away, Carole said authorities told her, but she vowed to attend.
“We’re in for the long haul. I want to be there for my dad because my dad believed in justice,” Carole said.
“Justice is already happening,” she added. “He’s in jail. We have DNA. He’s not going anywhere.”