Ignoring Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on capital punishment, prosecutors from four California counties announced in court Wednesday they will seek the death penalty against Golden State Killer/East Area Rapist suspect Joseph James DeAngelo if he is convicted.
DeAngelo, 73, had no visible reaction as he stood in a cell inside a Sacramento Superior Courtroom on the first floor of the county’s main jail building downtown before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman.
Clasping his hands together in front of him and sporting a closely shaved head, a gaunt DeAngelo stared straight ahead as prosecutors from Sacramento, Orange, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties said they would pursue a death sentence if he is convicted in any of the 12 slayings he is accused of committing in those counties in the 1970s and 1980s.
A 13th murder in Tulare County in 1975 will not be prosecuted as a death penalty case because capital punishment had been placed in limbo by legal challenges.
Prosecutors from those counties and Contra Costa, where he is accused of four kidnap for robbery cases that stem from sexual assaults, are working together to try DeAngelo in a Sacramento courtroom for the slayings and 13 rapes – including nine in Sacramento – that are being charged as kidnap for robbery counts.
Outside the courtroom, Ron Harrington stood surrounded by reporters to say he was “thrilled” by the announcement.
Harrington’s youngest brother Keith and Keith’s wife Patty were newlyweds when they were bludgeoned to death in August 1980 in their Orange County home by the man prosecutors believe to be the Golden State Killer. Keith Harrington was months away from graduating medical school. Patty Harrington was a pediatric nurse. The couple were married three months when they were murdered.
“The Golden State Killer is the worst of the worst: 13 murders, 50-plus rapes. He is the most prolific murderer-rapist not only in California, but the United States,” Harrington said, fixing his eyes on reporters. “We are absolutely thrilled with what has happened today.”
In the decades since the couple’s brutal killing, the surviving Harrington family led by Ron’s brother Bruce has championed use of the DNA crime solving technology that led investigators to DeAngelo a year ago.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and other prosecutors have previously argued that Newsom’s moratorium has no impact in their ability to seek death penalty sentences.
The five county prosecutors met with Schubert earlier Wednesday at her downtown Sacramento offices ahead of the afternoon announcement, said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, calling the meeting part of a “very comprehensive process.”
“We were unanimous in our decision,” to seek the death penalty, Spitzer said outside Sacramento County Main Jail following the hearing. The district attorneys also sent a letter to DeAngelo’s defense team saying that they were willing to hear out defense arguments against a death sentence for the accused serial killer and rapist, Spitzer said.
Spitzer will join Schubert, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten and crime victims for a Thursday news conference in Sacramento to speak out against the governor’s moratorium.
DeAngelo’s attorneys, Sacramento County Supervising Assistant Public Defenders Diane Howard and Joseph Cress, decried the decision in a statement following the hearing.
“We are disappointed with the decision to seek the death penalty against a 73-year-old man,” the statement read. “The multi-county prosecution team is comprised of over 30 people. Their decision to seek the death penalty is estimated to cost taxpayers over $20 million. This decision does not further justice and is wasteful.”
Newsom announced March 13 that he was granting reprieves to all 737 Californians on Death Row – the largest group of condemned inmates in the nation – and ordered the death chamber at San Quentin State Prison dismantled.
No one has been executed in California since 2006, and Newsom’s executive order will remain in place at least as long as he is governor.
But prosecutors and family members of crime victims have pushed back hard against his decision, with district attorneys saying they will continue to seek death sentences in appropriate cases.
The last inmate sentenced to death in Sacramento was Luis Bracamontes, who was convicted in the 2014 slayings of deputies in Sacramento and Placer counties. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White formally sentenced Bracamontes to die April 25, 2018, the same day prosecutors announced DeAngelo’s arrest.