Victim after victim lined up on Tuesday to describe Joseph DeAngelo as a “sick monster,” “horrible man” and “subhuman” who stole their innocence and changed their lives during a more than decade-long reign of rape and murder that earned him the nickname Golden State Killer.
The daughter of one rape victim gave him an obscene hand gesture and cursed him during the first of four days of hearings in Sacramento County Superior Court before he is formally sentenced to life in prison on Friday under a plea agreement that allows DeAngelo to avoid ta death sentence.
Some read statements on behalf of their loved ones who could not testify in person, while others proudly gave their names now that DeAngelo, 74, is heading to prison.
“He and his knife had complete control over me for the next two hours," Patti Cosper, the daughter of rape survivor Patricia Murphy, read from her mother's statement. "He truly is an evil monster with no soul.”
DeAngelo is a former police officer in California who eluded capture for four decades. He was identified and arrested in 2018 by using a new form of DNA tracing.
Nearly two-dozen of his Sacramento County rape victims or their family members confronted him in the courthouse that is otherwise still sealed from the public because of the coronavirus. Others planned to tell Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman on Wednesday and Thursday how DeAngelo’s crimes changed their lives.
“I was a normal 15-year-old kid. I loved going to school, having sleepovers and going to church,” Kris Pedretti told the judge. “My world was small, predictable and safe.”
Then DeAngelo attacked her just before Christmas in 1976.
“I sang ‘Jesus Loves Me’ in my head as I waited — waited to die,” Pedretti said. “The knowledge that DeAngelo will spend the rest of his life in prison for his heinous acts has ended my dark journey so that I may begin a new one.”
Lisa Lilienthal described DeAngelo as a sadistic “boogeyman” as she testified by video about the attack she witnessed on her mother. Until his arrest, she said, “something lingered in the shadows — our sense of normalcy, our sense of safety had been raped too.”
In June, DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 murders and 13 rape-related charges between 1975 and 1986. He alsopublicly admitted dozens more sexual assaults for which the statute of limitations had expired.
All told, he admitted harming 87 victims at 53 separate crime scenes spanning 11 California counties in the plea deal that spares him the death penalty, prosecutors said.
That's more victims than prosecutors disclosed after his admission in June to 161 crimes involving 48 people. The higher number includes those who chose not to participate in having DeAngelo publicly admit to crimes in which he could not be formally charged, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten said.
DeAngelo's nicknames showed the escalation and geographic sweep of his crimes: the Visalia Ransacker, thought to be responsible for about 100 burglaries and one slaying in the San Joaquin Valley farm town; the East Area Rapist; the Original Night Stalker; and finally, the Golden State Killer when investigators finally linked the crimes that stretched across much of the state.
The family of Debbie Strauss, who died in 2016, recounted what became the signature that marked DeAngelo’s crimes after he escalated his attacks to couples instead of single women and girls.
He would force his victims to bind themselves with shoelaces before balancing plates on the man’s back with a warning that he would kill both victims if he heard the plates rattle while he raped the woman.
“He spent hours raining his terror through threats and unspeakable abuse," said Strauss’ mother, Dolly Kreis. “He would leave his victims shaking in fright while he went to the kitchen to eat, only to return and then the abuse and vileness started all over again.”
Sandy James, Strauss’ sister, was among the many speakers who repeatedly tried to rattle DeAngelo by bringing up what they said was his small penis, a description that numerous victims gave investigators when they reported the rapes.
The killer, however, sat silently in an orange jail jumpsuit, staring straight ahead and wearing a mask as protection against the coronavirus.
Some said they believed his day of reckoning would never come.
Among them were two sisters who took turns testifying. Peggy was 15 when she was raped, and Sue was 16 when she was bound and gagged in another room. Neither gave their last names as they described the trauma that still haunts their otherwise successful lives.
“My God, we were just high school kids,” Peggy said, noting that she was stunned when DeAngelo was arrested.
“Finally the end of this trauma is here," Peggy added. "He’s a horrible man and none of us have to worry about him anymore.”