Pictured: Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. “the Golden State Killer” with attorneys pleads guilty to all charges in Sacramento on June 29, 2020. 

by Kimberly Rivers


On Monday, June 29, Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, known as the Golden State Killer, pleaded guilty to over a dozen murders, kidnappings and several other uncharged crimes. 

His guilty plea means he will serve the rest of his life in prison, without parole. 

“Today’s hearing marks a tremendous moment in the lives of dozens, if not hundreds, of California citizens who were direct or collateral victims of this defendant’s crimes,” said Greg Totten, Ventura County District Attorney. “We left no lead uninvestigated, and we left no victim forgotten.” He said the county was “rocked by the brutal murders” of the Smiths in 1980. “Initially, evidence was thin and leads proved fruitless. However, for over 40 years, law enforcement never gave up. Using the best technology and legal tools available, teams of investigators linked the Smiths’ murders to other murders and rapes around the state, and we put together a rock-solid case against this defendant.”  

Lyman and Charlene Smith.

DeAngelo was arrested in 2018, three decades after the crimes were committed, after DNA evidence was used along with online genealogy information to link him to the long unsolved murders. Two Ventura County residents,  Lyman and Charlene Smith were killed by DeAngelo in 1980. 

DeAngelo’s crimes began in 1975 when he was a police officer with the Exeter Police Department. His crimes continued after he was fired from the Auburn Police Department in 1979 and escalated from window peeping to stalking to rape and serial murder. His crimes were described in excruciating and exacting detail on Monday during the hearing in Sacramento. 

The court accepted the guilty plea to 13 felony counts of first-degree murder and 13 felony counts of kidnapping to committ robbery, which occured over a 13-year, multi-county crime spree across California. The final murder occured in 1986. His crimes earned him the nicknames of the Visalia Ransacker, the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker and the Golden State Killer. 

DeAngelo also admitted to 161 uncharged crimes related to an additional 61 victims. 

James DeAngelo Jr., 2018 booking photo.

The prosecution was handled jointly by district attorneys of the counties (Contra Costa, Orange, Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura) where the charged crimes took place. Uncharged crimes also occurred in Alameda, Sacramento, San Joaquin, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Tulare and Yolo Counties. 

Prosecutors consulted with the victims’ families in the decision to accept the guilty plea, taking into consideration the ages of the victims, witnesses and defendant. 

In a statement released on June 29, DA Totten said, “The plea provided the victims and their families who were terrorized by DeAngelo the opportunity to hear him admit his crimes.”

A hearing is set in Sacramento on August 17, 2020, where victims will have opportunity to provide impact statements.  

Additional background information about People v. Joseph James DeAngelo, including the factual basis for each plea, can be found at www.peopleversusjosephdeangelopressmaterials.com

VCReporter coverage of 2018 arrest of DeAngelo: https://vcreporter.com/2018/05/golden-state-killer-found-county-da-files-capital-murder-charge-in-1980-deaths-of-ventura-residents/