On March 12, Joyce Dudley got a heads-up call from Gavin Newsom’s office that the governor was about to declare a moratorium on death row executions in California.
Less than a month later, in the case of accused serial murderer and rapist Joseph James DeAngelo, however, Santa Barbara’s district attorney joined other prosecutors in announcing they would seek the death sentence for the alleged “Golden State Killer.”
As fallout reverberates from Newsom’s surprise, controversial move, Dudley’s action illustrates the complex legal, political, and social crosscurrents and consequences of Newsom’s assertion of solitary executive authority over an issue that has been fiercely debated for decades across the state.
“I have every right to keep prosecuting cases that are death-penalty eligible,” the district attorney told the Independent. “This doesn’t change my life.”
A SENTENCE RARELY SOUGHT: The DeAngelo case is only the second in which Dudley has sought the death penalty since her first election in 2010; the other is the prosecution of Pierre Haobsh, accused of murdering Goleta acupuncturist Dr. Henry Han, his wife, and his daughter in 2016. Haobsh is scheduled for trial next year.
She said the horror and time span of DeAngelo’s alleged crimes, which include four murders in Goleta amid a statewide spree in the 1970s and ’80s that is believed to have included more than a dozen slayings and at least 50 rapes and 100 residential burglaries, convinced her it was the right thing to do.
“Given the duration [and] the extent of the cruelty, viciousness, and callousness of his body of work, I’m very comfortable that this case merits it,” Dudley said.
On April 10, Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Scott appeared in court in Sacramento, where the far-flung Golden State Killer cases are being consolidated, and joined prosecutors from three other counties to announce they would seek the death penalty.
Since then, several of Dudley’s conservative colleagues have bitterly attacked Newsom over his March 13 order granting reprieves to all 737 inmates on death row.
“The district attorneys of the state of California took an oath to uphold and follow the law,” Michele Hanisee, president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles, who is seeking a death sentence for a serial killer in that county, told the New York Times. “I think the governor probably did too, but he doesn’t care.”
Todd Spitzer is the DA in Orange County, one of the three jurisdictions that Dudley joined in pursuing the execution of the Golden State Killer. Spitzer recently appeared at a press conference with families of murder victims to announce a “victims of murder justice tour” around California in an effort to pressure Newsom to rescind his order.
“Governor Newsom took a knife and stabbed it into the heart of all these crime victims standing here today, and thousands of crime victims who received a lawful death sentence in the state of California by a jury,” Spitzer told reporters.
JOYCE’S TAKE: Dudley, who joined the DA’s office in 1990 and prosecuted violent felonies for many years, said it “breaks my heart” to see families emotionally afflicted by Newsom’s executive order.
“They feel revictimized,” she said, like “the rug is [being] pulled out from under them.”
Unlike Spitzer and others, Dudley is equable about Newsom’s action and believes the governor, a fellow Democrat, has every right to declare a moratorium — as she still has the right to seek the death penalty and voters have the right to affirm in the future the support for the law they upheld in two recent statewide elections.
“I am not a dogmatic person — every branch has its own responsibility,” she said.
“The voters had a clear decision to make, and we still have the death penalty. But the governor gets to decide whether he’ll sign those [death] warrants,” Dudley added. “I have a different role, and I’ll do what I think is in the best interests of the people of Santa Barbara County.”