STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
During the 1970s and '80s, a string of murders terrorized California. The suspect became known as the Golden State Killer. Yesterday in Sacramento, a 74-year-old retired mechanic and former police officer admitted to being the serial rapist and murderer. His name is Joseph DeAngelo Jr., and he pleaded guilty to 13 murders and rapes. NPR's Eric Westervelt has our story today. And we should warn you that this report, which lasts a bit more than three minutes, contains some graphic and disturbing details.
ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Because of the pandemic, the plea agreement hearing was held in a university ballroom turned into a makeshift courtroom. DeAngelo appeared frail in an orange prison jumpsuit and wore a plastic face mask against the coronavirus. He didn't look at victims' families. In detail, prosecutors outlined his long spree of sadistic home invasions, rapes, kidnappings, robberies and murders. After each case, DeAngelo would answer the charges read by Judge Michael Bowman with only the words guilty and, I admit.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MICHAEL BOWMAN: ...Murdered Cheri Domingo, which occurred in the county of Santa Barbara. Violation Penal Code Section 187(a) - murder in the first degree. How do you plead?
JOSEPH DEANGELO JR: Guilty.
WESTERVELT: Sometimes, he'd use a knife, other times a gun. In the case of Cheri Domingo and her boyfriend Greg Sanchez, DeAngelo used a firewood log to bludgeon the couple to death after shooting them. Over and over, he'd use similar tactics. He'd often stalk his victims, break into their homes late at night, then tie up, taunt and terrorize them before raping the women, often repeatedly. He'd sometimes pile dishes or coins on victims' backs. If I hear any noise, if you move, I'll kill you all - he would threaten.
After decades of dead ends, investigators finally caught DeAngelo after connecting old DNA from a crime scene to a distant relative of his using a popular genealogy database. In addition to the murders as part of the plea deal, DeAngelo also admits to more than 60 other rapes where the statute of limitations has run out. In exchange, he'll get life in prison without the possibility of parole.
SANDY JAMES: So this is my sister. She was victim number 26. And she unfortunately passed away two years before this monster was caught.
WESTERVELT: Sandy James, during a break, held up a picture of her late sister Debbie Strauss, who recently died of cancer. Strauss' rape is one of dozens that DeAngelo admitted to but where too much time has passed for him to be prosecuted. James says that amounts to an imperfect yet necessary acknowledgment.
JAMES: It is important, and it's - I think it's the best we're going to get. It's really hard. She should be here. I wish she was here for this.
WESTERVELT: DeAngelo abruptly halted his killing spree in 1986. James says she wanted to hear much more from the killer on that and other mysteries.
JAMES: You know, why? How'd you choose your victims? Why'd you stop? Did your family know? We haven't heard from any of his family. There are a lot of unanswered questions still.
WESTERVELT: Other survivors also wanted more. Many of the victims where he won't be formally charged were called Jane and John Does in court. In the only outburst of the day, Victor Hayes shouted out that he wanted his real name read aloud. In 1977, when he was 21, DeAngelo held Hayes at gunpoint while his girlfriend was raped.
VICTOR HAYES: Well, I waited 43 years for this to happen, right? I don't want to stand up here and hear him admit to something that he did to John Doe number seven. [Expletive] that. I'm not John Doe number seven. My name is Victor Hayes.
WESTERVELT: The judge reminded survivors and family members that they'll have a chance to confront DeAngelo in August at a victim impact hearing expected to last several days. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Sacramento. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.