Joseph DeAngelo typically crept into his victims’ homes under the cover of night. On Tuesday, he faced them in the light of a Sacramento courthouse.
It was the first in three days of testimony from dozens of women and men about the trauma of surviving the crimes committed by DeAngelo, better known as the Golden State Killer, who terrorized California during the 1970s. Survivors say the violence prompted moves, divorces and left them with an unshakable fear, but also a desire to help those with similar experiences.
“I never felt safe for many years. I was always looking over my shoulder expecting someone to jump out at me,” said Patricia Murphy via a statement read by her daughter. “He punched me in the face and broke my nose. I had a concussion from falling backwards and hitting my head on the pavement … I did what I had to do to stay alive.”
DeAngelo raped Murphy, then a 29-year-old mother of two, in her parents’ home, drank her father’s beer and ate snacks from the pantry before stealing her car. The attack left her with post-traumatic stress disorder and fearful of any loud noises, her daughter said.
“It is my hope that you punish him to the full extent of the law for the horrific crimes he committed. He truly is an evil monster with no soul.”
Her daughter added, “He’s not feeble,” referring to his behavior in the courtroom, which prosecutors have said is an act. “And he’s also a pedophile, and a rapist and a murderer.”
The Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, had long been one of America’s most notorious unsolved serial killer cases, until law enforcement identified DeAngelo using DNA in 2018. DeAngelo, a 74-year-old former police officer, pleaded guilty in June to 13 murders that spanned the state from the Sacramento suburbs to Ventura, as well as 13 kidnapping-related charges, and admitted to dozens of rapes in northern and central California between 1976 and 1979 that he could not be charged with due to the statute of limitations.
The people who waited four decades for answers are speaking as part of a sentencing hearing. DeAngelo will be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on Friday morning as part of a plea deal that spares him the death penalty. In attendance Tuesday were some of the family members of those he killed, the survivors of his sexual assaults as well as family members, some of whom spoke on victims’ behalf.
Judge Michael Bowman urged the speakers to take their time. “Remember, you waited a long time for this. There is no need to hurry.”
Pete Schultz, who was in the home during the attack on his mother, Wini, spoke for her. “I was 11, my sister was five and we were sleeping peacefully with our mother. You remember me?” Schultz said, looking directly at DeAngelo, who sat, masked and in an orange jumpsuit, between his attorneys. DeAngelo tied him to a bedpost until his hands turned blue and locked his sister in a bathroom and then “performed horrific acts” on Schultz’s mother.
“We have all survived because of her bravery and resolve to do whatever it took to save herself and her family,” Schultz said, adding that they have lived with the trauma for decades. After that night, his father went to bed with a baseball bat and his sister would sleep under her bed.
“While we have all suffered for 44 years, your suffering, sir, has just begun,” he said. “May she enjoy the sun on her face, the love in her heart, listening to her grandkids talk on the phone and sleep well tonight knowing you are gone and the boogeyman is done.”
That DeAngelo was arrested while living in Citrus Heights, one of the communities he had terrorized years earlier, was particularly difficult for the victims.
“For decades he lived free in the same neighborhood that I lived in, as well as many others. He was free while each of his victims and their families lived in pain, often nearby,” said Kris Pedretti, who at 15 became the 10th victim of DeAngelo, then known as the East Area Rapist, when he raped her in her home in a Sacramento suburb in 1976. “Who knows how many times I passed him in the grocery store, or sat near him at a restaurant, oblivious to the fact that the rapist who took so much from me was only a few feet away.”
Tuesday began with the survivors of the Sacramento assaults speaking in chronological order during the day-long hearing. Survivors of attacks in the Bay Area and Central Valley will speak on Wednesday and families of the murder victims are scheduled to appear in court on Thursday before DeAngelo is sentenced. The courtroom will include socially distanced seating and for the first three days will be primarily reserved for those speaking, though the hearings will be live-streamed. Those in attendance had their temperatures taken before entering the court.
Along with family and friends, several of those giving victim impact statements had fellow survivors sit in the courtroom as they spoke, a testament to how close the group has grown in the two and a half years since DeAngelo was arrested, though some have known each other much longer. They have developed friendships, gathering before and after hearings and on milestones such as the first anniversary of his arrest, supporting each other in court and facing media coverage, such as the new HBO documentary I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, together. They typically meet at Pedretti’s home, congregating in a sprawling garden dotted with oak trees and a lone palm, or at the residence of Carol Daly, who worked as a detective on the case in the 1970s.
“We visit each other and get together and just have fun. It’s an environment of complete acceptance and understanding that enables you to just be yourself,” said Gay Hardwick, who, along with her husband, Bob, was attacked by DeAngelo in 1978.
Hardwick, who will speak on Wednesday, sat in the courtroom as a supporter for Kris Pedretti when she spoke, along with Pedretti’s sister, husband and daughter; Carol Daly; and Jennifer Carole, whose father and stepmother, Lyman and Charlene Smith, were murdered by DeAngelo in 1980. Carole says the friendships she has gained have been a silver lining and made it easier to attend court appearances.
“When we walked in, I knew everybody,” Pedretti said of a June hearing. “[It] was absolutely un-intimidating, it felt safe, I could look around and see my friends and that was super reassuring.”
Daly also spoke Tuesday morning on behalf of one of DeAngelo’s victims. “The monster has been unmasked and is no longer of any consequence. I am leaving him behind. The nightmare has ended, he is the one forever alone in the dark,” Daly said, reading from the statement.
Pedretti was among the first survivors to speak on Tuesday, describing her journey from a teen who was violently attacked four decades ago, burdened by shame and unable to talk about what had happened, to a woman who now offers support to people who have survived sexual assault. She said before the hearing she hoped to show DeAngelo that he did not win.
“He tormented me and told me over and over again he would kill me and I believed him. At three different times that night, I thought I was going to die,” Pedretti said in her remarks, looking pointedly at DeAngelo as she said his name. “DeAngelo stole my formative years. He stole my youth, my innocence, my faith and my trust. Who could I have grown up to be? I guess I will never know.”
She added: “Your secrets have been exposed. Your double life is over. The world – and I mean the entire world – knows who you are and what you did. You will forever be known as a repulsive coward who hid behind a mask of evil.”
In some of the final testimony of the day, five family members of Debbie Strauss, a survivor of the East Area Rapist who died of cancer in 2016, spoke on her behalf, describing Strauss as a kind and loving person.
Bowman wiped away tears as Strauss’s daughter described how the attack eventually destroyed her parents’ marriage, left her mother afraid to be alone at night and forced her to act as a parent to her young siblings. Her father, whose statement was read to the court by a victims’ advocate, said the guilt he felt from that night was “crushing”.
Strauss’s mother and sister, Sandy James, both showed a photo of Strauss to the court, with James demanding that DeAngelo look at it. He did not.
“You took the sister I knew from me that night. I have also been broken through this nightmare. With time I will heal, I will be OK. Debbie didn’t get that chance,” she said.
Strauss’s mother directed her final words at DeAngelo. “The legacy you leave for your children and your grandchildren is one of a serial murder, a serial rapist, a serial thief and a serial terrorist,” she said. “Unlike your victims whose pleas for their life were ignored, your plea was granted. What a despicable piece of humanity you are. Today, Joseph DeAngelo, you have been defeated.”