Golden State Killer Pleads Guilty to Decades-Old Goleta Murders

Notorious Serial Murderer and Rapist Joseph DeAngelo Pleads to 13 Homicides Across California

Former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo admitted he was the Golden State Killer on Monday morning, pleading guilty to four murders and two rapes committed decades ago in Goleta. | Credit: Courtesy

Joseph James DeAngelo admitted he was the Golden State Killer on Monday morning, pleading guilty to four murders and two rapes committed decades ago in Goleta. They are among the 13 first-degree murders and nearly 50 rapes he will admit to committing between 1975 and 1988 at a hearing in Sacramento. Grisly accounts of the crimes were heard from prosecutors from Tulare, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties before the court took its first break.

The hearing was specially called to accept 74-year-old DeAngelo’s guilty pleas in exchange for life in prison instead of the death penalty. Prompting the decision to let DeAngelo plead was COVID-19 and the advanced ages of DeAngelo, his victims, and the witnesses. Lengthy preliminary hearings for evidence before trial were expected to take months and survey 100 witnesses. Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman told DeAngelo his plea would result in 11 consecutive life sentences for the murder charges and 15 concurrent ones on the kidnap charges. He was also to admit his guilt to acts that were as-yet uncharged in seven counties.

Santa Barbara County Chief Deputy District Attorney Kelly Duncan presented a detailed account of DeAngelo’s breaking into the Goleta homes occupied by Robert Offerman and Debra Manning in 1979 and Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez in 1981. She recounted in brief, grim detail how they’d been tied up, the women raped, the bullet or blunt trauma wounds they sustained, and which ones caused their death.

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The Santa Barbara DA’s Office was one of nine at the hearing that represented the wide swath of California that DeAngelo terrorized between 1975 and 1988. The hearing continued with depictions of DeAngelo’s increasingly violent and sadistic crimes from the attorneys for Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, San Joaquin, Yolo, and Alameda counties, when the unknown killer was called the Visalia Ransacker, the Original Night Stalker, and the East Area Rapist.

Thienvu Ho of the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office led off the hearing. Even police detectives in retirement continued to comb through the DeAngelo case, Ho said, because it had held such a grip on their communities as DeAngelo committed burglaries, rapes, and murders relentlessly. The killer’s DNA had been left at scenes in Ventura and Santa Barbara — and collected and preserved — and a match was made in 2018 through his family members. Officers in Sacramento County picked up DeAngelo’s trash using an empty garbage truck, Ho said, recovering a tissue that held the evidence needed to charge DeAngelo.

Joseph DeAngelo, 74, and his three defense attorneys wore face shields at his plea-bargain hearing in Sacramento on Monday, June 29, 2020.

DeAngelo sat in a wheelchair at a table with his three attorneys, his mouth agape, responding to Judge Bowman’s questions in a quavering, hoarse voice: “Guilty … I admit.” DeAngelo and his attorneys wore clear face shields in the ballroom of Sacramento State University, which was converted to a courtroom to hold the victims, victims’ families, attorneys, and press present amid COVID distancing requirements. The four at the defense table had their faces covered with face shields. Judge Bowman and the bailiffs wore black face coverings when not speaking.

DeAngelo is a former police officer, and Ho accused him of gaming the system, of “feigning feeble incoherence.” When DeAngelo was stopped for shoplifting a hammer and dog repellent in 1979, Ho said DeAngelo pretended to have a heart attack and then fought with store security. He screamed incoherently and wheeled maniacally in a chair, but DeAngelo later told detectives he’d acted crazy to avoid getting in trouble, said Ho. He was subsequently fired from the Auburn Police Department.

When DeAngelo was brought in for questioning in 2018, alone in the interview room, DeAngelo began to talk to himself, Ho said. DeAngelo was recorded saying he’d “done all those things” and stating he’d “pushed Jerry out and had a happy life. … I did all those things. I destroyed all their lives.” The week earlier, Ho said DeAngelo had ridden his motorcycle on the highway, weaving in and out of traffic in “sophisticated” surveillance avoidance techniques. He’d “vigorously” gardened and “jumped in and out of his truck” just hours before his arrest.

The procedures of the day included Bowman asking defense counsel if they concurred with the other attorneys’ statements. They did in every instance during the morning’s hearing. 

Debbi Domingo McMullan (left), the daughter of Cheri Domingo, and Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley, at Joseph DeAngelo’s plea-bargain hearing in Sacramento on June 29, 2020.

The agreement included a sentencing hearing, scheduled to take place for the week of August 17-21, at which victim statements will be heard without limit to time or content. Santa Barbara’s District Attorney Joyce Dudley commented that she believed delaying DeAngelo’s admissions would be a case of “justice delayed is justice denied.” She expressed her thanks to Sacramento DA Anne Marie Schubert and her staff’s efforts in bringing justice to many of the victims and families, which “many of them rightfully believed … would never come.”

Cheri Domingo’s daughter, Debbi Domingo McMullan, is one of the victim family members who has spoken publicly about the murders, appearing in Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark — which dubbed DeAngelo the Golden State Killer — now made into a series streaming on video. McMullan tweeted, “We are in the home stretch” recently, and noted on June 16: “My mother, had she lived, would have turned 74 a few days ago. Instead, her murderer has lived … to the same age. Rest in peace, Mom & Greg. It’s almost over.”

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