The Golden State Killer began hearing victim impact statements Tuesday from women he raped, with testimonies scheduled to continue through Thursday, when Orange County’s victims will have their say.
The victim impact statements preceding the sentencing of Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, began with some of the many victims he raped when he was known as the Visalia Ransacker and then later as the East Area Rapist and original Night Stalker.
DeAngelo admitted his guilt June 29 to a string of murders, rapes and other crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, stretching from Sacramento County to Orange County, and is expected to be sentenced Friday in Sacramento to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty to 13 counts of first-degree murder and murder during the commission of rape, robbery and burglary, 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery with sentencing enhancements for the use of a gun and a knife. He also admitted to committing crimes for which he could no longer be prosecuted because of a statute of limitations — such as attempted murder, kidnapping to commit robbery, rape, robbery, first-degree burglary, false imprisonment and criminal threats.
Some of the victims had family members read their statements.
One of the East Area Rapist victims recounted how his attack on her in Sacramento County on June 18, 1976, changed her life.
“I was a normal young woman of 22, happy and carefree, and the only dark spot in my young life was the death of my mother 18 months earlier,” she said. “I was vivacious, loved life and I was shy.”
She said “the devil incarnate” broke into her home when she was alone that night, “blindfolded me, tied me up, threatened my life with a knife and raped me.” She said she became “fearful, suspicious and hyper-vigilant” afterward.
“My sense of safety was shattered, the ringing of the telephone would invoke terror,” she said, because he called her to “taunt her” after the attack.
Another woman said DeAngelo raped her when she was 15, with her sister tied up in the next room. The two were home alone for the first time while their parents were out of town.
“I was hit several times on the head before I was tied up and gagged,” she said. “We were both threatened and I was raped several times.”
She and her sister suffered numbness in their hands for weeks after the attack because of how tightly they were bound, she said, and recounted the terror of the ensuing years of her high school days as the East Area Rapist continued preying on victims.
“Everyone was scared,” she said. “Big headlines in both local newspapers, helicopters flying overnight… Constant reminders of the rape and fear that would never go away.”
She said she continues to check doors and windows multiple times to ensure they are locked before she goes to bed, saying she still doesn’t “feel safe in a locked house alone.”
In 2004, a nun at her local parish helped her “forgive” her attacker, so she could move on from her trauma.
“It’s not about letting him off the hook or forgetting the rape. The forgiveness is for me and my peace of mind, something I badly needed,” she said.
Another victim recounted how DeAngelo attacked her from behind on Sept. 4, 1976, while she was separated from her husband and struggling as a single mom of three children. She said her attacker broke her nose and she sustained a concussion when her head slammed into the driveway as she fell backward, but DeAngelo shook her awake with threats and raped her at knifepoint.
“The lump on my nose never went away,” she said. “I learned to accept it as a part of my face.”
On Thursday afternoon, DeAngelo’s Orange County victims are scheduled to have their say.
DeAngelo pleaded guilty in June to 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 in May 1986.
On the day of DeAngelo’s plea bargain, Harrington’s brother said it was a “totally surreal experience” to hear his sister’s killer admit his crimes.
Ron Harrington said he and his family still support the death penalty for DeAngelo, but believe the plea deal is the best form of justice they could get.
“This is the most amount of justice and most amount of closure we could ever obtain,” he said. “This guy is absolutely the worst of the worst… He is truly the poster child for the death penalty.”
The Harringtons, who lived in a single-story home in the gated Niguel Shores community, were attacked in their bedroom, according to 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.
Keith Harrington was a medical student and Patrice a pediatric trauma nurse, according to Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer, who said DeAngelo bludgeoned the couple to death and left the binds on the bed.
“They were newlyweds, having been married only three months,” Spitzer said, noting that Keith’s father, Roger, found the bodies.
Investigators in 1996 matched semen at the crime scene to the killer in the two other Orange County cases. 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.
Witthuhn was attacked between 11 p.m. on Feb. 5, 1981, and 2 the following morning. 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.
Witthuhn’s husband, David, had been admitted to an area hospital due to a stomach virus, so she was alone for the night. After she visited him at the hospital, her spouse called her to make sure she arrived home safely.
“That was the last time he spoke with her,” Spitzer said as he took DeAngelo’s guilty plea on June 29.
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.
Cruz 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.
An ultraviolet light spotlighted semen on the victim, according to Pool, who said the cause of death was “crushing skull fractures.” No murder weapon was found, but a pipe wrench in the backyard was missing.
Cruz’s family had gone on vacation to Mexico, leaving her home alone. One of the victim’s male friends visited her because she was afraid to be alone.
“About 11 p.m., prior to his leaving, they heard noises outside the house,” Spitzer said. “They attributed the noise to a cat or a washer and dryer.”
Spitzer turned to the defendant and said, “You, Mr. DeAngelo, unlawfully entered the Cruz residence… You attacked her, you beat her and you raped her… You murdered her in the first-degree, bludgeoning her multiple times in her face and head.”
Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten noted in June that DeAngelo admitted 161 crimes involving 48 individual victims in 32 crime scenes.
Various prosecutors from across the state read detailed descriptions of DeAngelo’s crimes, starting with the murder of 45-year-old Claude Snelling on Sept. 11, 1975, in Visalia. DeAngelo shot and killed Snelling as he attempted to rescue his daughter, who the killer was trying to kidnap.
DeAngelo also pleaded guilty to attempting to kill Detective William McGowen on Dec. 10, 1975, as the then-Visalia officer attempted to arrest him for a series of burglaries attributed to the “Visalia Ransacker” from April 1974 through December 1975.
DeAngelo admitted to the beating deaths of Goleta residents Debra Manning, 35, and Robert Offerman, 44, on Dec. 30, 1979, in their home in Santa Barbara County, and the beating deaths of Gregory Sanchez, 27, and Cheri Domingo, 35, both of Goleta, on July 27, 1981. DeAngelo also raped Manning and Domingo.
DeAngelo also pleaded guilty to bludgeoning to death Charlene and Lyman Smith, both of Ventura, with a fireplace log on March 13, 1980. Lyman Smith, a 43-year-old former deputy district attorney, and his 33-year-old wife were found dead by his 12-year-old son. The killer also raped Charlene Smith and stole some of her jewelry, prosecutors said.