Lawyers in the Golden State Killer case believe they have reached a deal under which suspect Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. will plead guilty to 88 murder, rape and other charges at a June 29 hearing and avoid a death penalty trial with a life sentence imposed instead, four sources have told The Sacramento Bee.
Details of the agreement, which has not been formalized in court documents filed in the case, still are being worked out, as is the final decision on where the hearing will take place.
Hearings in the case to date have been held in a cramped courtroom on the first floor of the Sacramento County Main Jail that can accommodate only several dozen people.
But with hundreds of spectators expected — including numerous victims, their relatives and media from around the world — officials are looking for a setting large enough to allow for social distancing because of COVID-19 concerns.
The venue is not expected to be in any of the Sacramento Superior Court courtrooms because there are none large enough for such a hearing.
Instead, officials are focusing on large public buildings in Sacramento that may be used.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert, whose office is leading the prosecution effort, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment Monday.
The agreement, which sources said could be thrown off by DeAngelo’s unpredictable nature, is the result of months of negotiations as Sacramento public defenders have sought a way to convince prosecutors in Sacramento, Contra Costa, Orange, Santa Barbara, Tulare and Ventura counties to agree to a deal that scraps plans for a preliminary hearing that was set to begin in August.
Among his alleged victims, DeAngelo is accused of killing two Goleta-area couples: Drs. Robert Offerman, 44, and Debra Alexandria Manning, 35, who were slain on Dec. 30, 1979, in their condo on Avenida Pequeña just west of North Patterson Avenue south of Cathedral Oaks Road; and Cheri Domingo, 35, and Gregory Sanchez, 27, who were killed on July 27, 1981, in a residence on Toltec Way, less than a half-mile away.
DeAngelo also is believed to be the suspect in an attack that occurred on Oct. 1, 1979, when a third couple was attacked in their home on Queen Ann Way, also in the same area. They managed to escape.
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley told Noozhawk she could not comment on any plea negotiations.
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to consider any offer from the defense, given the massive scope of the case, the advanced age of many of the victims and witnesses, and our inherent obligations to the victims,” Dudley said in a press release.
“This is an active prosecution, and we will have no further comment until we are in the Sacramento Superior Court on June 29.”
Prosecutors had been pressing to get the preliminary hearing, which would have included 150 witnesses testifying over eight to 10 weeks, under way as soon as possible because many victims and witnesses are in their 80s or older.
The public defenders have made plain from nearly the start of the case that they wanted to find a way to resolve it without a death penalty trial, and the fact that DeAngelo is 74 and California’s death penalty is under a moratorium imposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom made it easier for prosecutors to agree not to press the issue.
DeAngelo currently faces 26 counts in Sacramento Superior Court, including 13 murder counts: two in Sacramento, one in Tulare County, four in Orange County, four in Santa Barbara County and two in Ventura County.
He also faces 13 kidnap for robbery charges stemming from a series of rapes — nine in Sacramento County attributed to the “East Area Rapist” and four in Contra Costa County.
But the agreement being hammered out envisions DeAngelo also admitting guilt in another 62 crimes attributed over the years to assailants variously known in California as the Visalia Ransacker, Original Nightstalker and Diamond Knot Killer.
DeAngelo, a former Auburn police officer, was arrested in April 2018 after a decades-long search for a suspect in the crimes that struck 10 California counties from 1974 through mid-1986.
Schubert, the Sacramento district attorney, had made finding a suspect a priority and spearheaded the use of DNA evidence from old crime scenes to create a new investigative technique that plugged that evidence into genealogical websites looking for a match.
Eventually, investigators found a potential relative on a website called GEDmatch.com and began building out a family tree of that individual that led them to Citrus Heights, where DeAngelo had been living for years after being fired from the Auburn Police Department and becoming a truck mechanic.
The case has drawn worldwide attention, spawned a best selling book and is the subject of a six-part documentary series on HBO scheduled to debut June 28, the day before DeAngelo’s next scheduled hearing.
Noozhawk Executive Editor Tom Bolton contributed to this report.