Prosecutors in Sacramento County are preparing to craft a plea deal for the accused Golden State Killer that would allow the 73-year-old defendant avoid the death penalty, sources said Monday.
Defense attorneys in the past have offered up Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.’s plea of guilty to a string of murders across the state, including four in Orange County, but now the plea bargain has gathered momentum because most of the victims in the case now favor it, a source told City News Service.
Just a few relatives of victims have voiced opposition to the plea deal as they wish prosecutors to continue seeking the death penalty for DeAngelo of Citrus Heights, the source said.
Prosecutors on the case announced in April 2019 they would seek the death penalty for the defendant, who is charged with 13 murders.
Multiple issues have cropped up in the case with many witnesses dying, the source said.
“Some key witnesses are 80 years old or above,” the source said, adding that includes many detectives who worked on the killings.
Support in recent weeks among the families of the victims has been “overwhelming” for a plea deal, the source said.
The next hearing in the case is June 29 in Sacramento County. It is possible the plea may be taken that day and victim impact statements will be made over several weeks of hearings, the source said.
In Orange County, DeAngelo is accused of killing 24-year-old Keith and 28-year-old Patrice Harrington on Aug. 19, 1980, in Dana Point; 28-year-old Manuela Witthuhn in Irvine in February 1981; and 18-year-old Janelle Cruz in Irvine on May 5, 1986.
The Harringtons, who lived in a single-story home in the gated Niguel Shores community, were attacked in their bedroom, said Investigator Larry Pool of the Golden State Killer task force.
Their bodies were found on their blood-spattered bed with ligature marks on their wrists and Patrice’s ankles, Pool wrote in a probable cause declaration.
Their killer left the binds on the bed. It appears he tied their hands behind their backs, covered them in a comforter and slammed a blunt object over their heads, Pool said.
Investigators in 1996 matched semen at the crime scene to the killer in the two other Orange County cases, Pool said. The identity of the killer remained unknown until 2018 when investigators used a public genealogy database with DNA recovered from an item discarded by DeAngelo, former Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas previously said.
Witthuhn was attacked sometime between 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1981, and 2 a.m. on Feb. 6, 1981, when investigators believe she died, Pool said.
The cause of death was skull fractures from a beating, Pool said, adding that her parents discovered her body in a sleeping bag when they went to check on her. There was no evidence of a struggle and she had ligature marks on her wrists and on her right ankle.
Cruz was killed about 5 p.m. on May 5, 1986, in her bed in her Irvine home. Blood covered her head and neck and she was partially covered by her blanket, Pool said.
She had hemorrhaging in her eyes and bruises on the bridge of her nose, according to Pool, who said the killer knocked out three of her teeth — with two found in her hair.
She had no ligature marks on her wrists like the other victims, but there were abrasions, leading investigators to speculate her killer squeezed her wrists so hard he left a mark, Pool said.
Her lower lip was swollen, her tongue bitten. An ultraviolet light spotlighted semen on the victim, according to Pool. No murder weapon was found, but a pipe wrench in the backyard was missing.
Her cause of death was “crushing skull fractures,” he said.
DeAngelo is also accused in the killings of Lyman and Charlene Smith in Ventura on March 13, 1980; Cheri Domingo and Gregory Sanchez in Goleta on July 27, 1981; Robert Offerman and Alexandria Manning in Goleta on Dec. 30, 1979; Brian and Katie Maggiore in Rancho Cordova on Feb. 2, 1978; and Claude Snelling in Visalia on Sept. 11, 1975.
DeAngelo has also been linked to the so-called Visalia Ransacker burglaries from April 1974 through December 1975, a spree that ended with the attempted murder of Visalia Police Department Officer Bill McGowan as he tried to apprehend the suspect, Pool said.
DeAngelo is additionally alleged to be the East Area Rapist, suspected in 52 attacks in Contra Costa, Sacramento and Santa Clara counties from June 1976 through July 1979, Pool said.
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