Taxpayers on the hook for defense of East Area Rapist suspect, judge rules

The suspect in the East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer case is considered indigent under the law and entitled to have Sacramento County public defenders represent him in a case that could last another 10 years and cost $20 million, a judge ruled Thursday.

“I’ve determined he is not able to afford his own defense,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Sweet declared as suspect Joseph James DeAngelo stood in a courtroom cage nearby watching impassively.

DeAngelo, a former police officer, Navy veteran and mechanic who owns a Citrus Heights home, automobiles and a motorcycle, is facing 13 murder charges and 13 rape-related charges in a string of crimes in the 1970s and 1980s that spanned the length of the state.

Sweet, acting on a motion from prosecutors who wanted DeAngelo’s finances studied, said he had reviewed DeAngelo’s financial state and determined that, given the nature of the case, the suspect cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

“It will take an extraordinary amount of resources to litigate the charges in this case ...” Sweet said. “He’s not going to have the sufficient means or ability.”

The decision means taxpayers will foot the bill for his defense, although Sweet warned DeAngelo that at the conclusion of the trial he could be held responsible for the costs.

DeAngelo turned 73 last month while being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail, and his trial is expected to be one of the largest of its kind in California’s history.

He faces charges in six different counties and will be tried in a Sacramento courtroom under a joint prosecution effort that will be led by Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office.

Prosecutors have been working out how to share the cost burden of the trial, and the total cost of prosecuting and defending DeAngelo could total $20 million, according to a report given to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“We’ve had discussions with the counties on the prosecution side and, yes, they would be helping us,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi told the board. “We haven’t finalized any of that.

“I think a bigger issue might be with the defense part of the case because the prosecution has been working at this for 40 years, and in the last 15 years since they were all tied together by DNA we’ve been working together on it. But the defense doesn’t have that information yet.”

Public defender Steve Garrett told supervisors that his office has been in contact with other counties that have filed charges, but that he has received few offers of financial help.

“I think it’s fair to say it’s thoughts and prayers at this point,” Garrett said.

On Thursday, deputy district attorneys from all six counties were present, with Debora Lloyd of Orange County handling most of the brief hearing.

The judge rejected a motion by public defender Diane Howard to clear media from the hearing, a standing request she has made since DeAngelo’s arrest in April.

“This case has great public interest, no only nationally but internationally,” the judge ruled.

DeAngelo is due back in court for his next hearing April 10. As the sessions have settled into somewhat of a routine, the media and public interest has waned slightly.

But relatives of victims still appear to watch. Cyril and Phyllis Kalbach, who believe they were his intended victims in a 1977 attempted break-in at their Citrus Heights home, showed up in the jailhouse courtroom for the first time.

“We want to see him in chains,” said Cyril Kalbach, who said a man they believe was DeAngelo tried to break into their home through a sliding glass door but was scared off when Kalbach jacked a round into a .12-gauge shotgun.

He didn’t realize until later, when he was talking to a sheriff’s deputy, that the suspect might have been the East Area Rapist. Kalbach said he described the break-in to his deputy friend and noted that his home had been broken into earlier when the couple, now both 70, were not home.

A photograph of his wife had been taken from an album, Kalbach said, which was a trademark of the rapist, who frequently stole knick knacks and other items from victims’ homes.

Cyril Kalbach did not seem impressed by the sight of DeAngelo, who was in orange jail garb and stood starting straight ahead without speaking.

“I thought he’d be bigger,” Kalbach said.

Related stories from Modesto Bee