Four California district attorneys have jointly agreed to seek the death penalty if they win a conviction of an ex-policeman charged with 13 counts of murder attributed to a serial predator dubbed the "Golden State Killer," prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The decision disclosed during a court hearing for the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 73, put the prosecutors at odds with a statewide moratorium on capital punishment declared last month by Governor Gavin Newsom. DeAngelo was arrested in April 2018, capping more than 40 years of investigation in a case that authorities said was finally solved by DNA evidence. The breakthrough came about two months after the case gained renewed national attention in the bestselling book: "I'll Be Gone in the Dark."
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert called it "probably the most notorious" series of rapes and killings in California history, a crime spree spanning 11 years from 1975 to 1986 across multiple jurisdictions. The defendant was an officer in two small-town California police departments during the 1970s.
Schubert and her counterparts from Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties "unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case," her office said in a statement after Wednesday's hearing. DeAngelo is charged with 13 counts each of murder and kidnapping. Twelve murder counts accompany "special circumstance allegations" - such as rape of the victim - that make him eligible for capital punishment, the prosecutors said. The 13th murder count, in Tulare County, does not.
In all, authorities have said DeAngelo is suspected of dozens of rapes and more than 120 burglaries in and around Sacramento, the eastern San Francisco Bay area and Southern California. Four weeks ago, Newsom, a Democrat, said he was imposing an indefinite moratorium on executions for any of the 737 inmates now on death row, the most of any state.
Newsom said he took the action in part because he was deeply troubled by the possibility of putting an innocent person to death as the state moved to toward resumption of executions after developing a new protocol for lethal injections. The governor, whose moratorium angered victims' rights advocates, has since said he was considering a ban on future death sentences. California last carried out an execution in 2006.
Voters passed a 2016 ballot measure aimed at speeding up the process, but that initiative has failed to work, critics say, largely because it lacked additional funding needed to implement necessary reforms.
(With inputs from agencies.)