Murder of Claude Snelling in Visalia is not eligible due to repeal of capital punishment from 1972-1978
By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN
SACRAMENTO—California prosecutors announced last week they will seek the death penalty in the case against the man charged as the Golden State Killer, regardless of what the Governor says.
During a brief court hearing on April 10, four district attorneys involved in the sweeping case against Joseph James DeAngelo read similar statements to this one from Sacramento District Attorney Ann Marie Shubert, whose office is spearheading the prosecution of crimes stretching across six counties over 11 years: “This morning, the District Attorneys of Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange County, Ventura County, Contra Costa, and Tulare met to review the aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the Joseph DeAngelo case pursuant to the death review protocol of Sacramento County. Thereafter, the four jurisdictions with special circumstance allegations—Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange, and Ventura—unanimously concluded to seek the death penalty in this case.”
Their statements come just one month after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order issuing a moratorium on executions during his time in office because he felt the California’s capital punishment system was unevenly and unfairly applied to people of color, people with mental disabilities, and people who cannot afford costly legal representation.
DeAngelo’s charges include murders and kidnappings connected to the Golden State Killer, a name that encompasses crimes committed under three other monikers: East Area Rapist, Original Night Stalker, and Visalia Ransacker. Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office charged DeAngelo, 72, of Citrus Heights, Calif., with the murders of Cheri Domingo and Greg Sanchez as well as Debra Manning and Robert Offerman in Goleta, Calif. Domingo, 35, and Sanchez, 27, were killed in the condo they shared on July 27, 1981. Offerman, 44, and Manning, 35, both doctors, were killed at Offerman’s condo on Dec. 30, 1979. The Ventura County DA charged DeAngelo with the murders of Lyman and Charlene Smith. The couple, ages 43 and 33, were killed in their Ventura home on March 13, 1980. The Orange County DA charged DeAngelo with the murders of Keith and Patrice Harrington, ages 24 and 27, who were killed in their home in Dana Point, Calif. on Aug. 19, 1980. Additionally, he was charged with the murder of two Irvine women, 28-year-old Manuela Wittman and 18-year-old Janelle Cruz. Witthuhn was raped and killed at her house in Feb. 6, 1981 and Cruz was brutally beaten to death in her home in May 4, 1986.
“There is no objection from our office and we stand behind the decision by all four electeds in counties where the death penalty was eligible,” Alavezos said.
Missing from the list of District Attorneys was Tulare County and Contra Costa County. DeAngelo has only been charged with four kidnappings in Contra Costa County, a crime that is not eligible for the death penalty. The four Contra Costa charges stemmed from attacks on Oct. 7, 1978, and Oct. 13, 1978, in Concord; Oct. 28, 1978, in San Ramon; and June 11, 1979, in Danville, according to the complaint. The first murder charge, however, is from Tulare County but is not eligible for the death penalty.
GSK’s first known killing was Claude Snelling, a College of the Sequoias journalism professor who was shot at his home while saving his daughter from the criminal on Sept. 1, 1975. Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos said the Snelling murder is not eligible for the death penalty because there was no capital punishment in California in 1975. Three years earlier, the California Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was unconstitutional. The ruling remained in effect until 1978, when voters approved Proposition 7 to reinstate the death penalty.
“You have to go by what was on the books at that time,” Alavezos said. “We can’t go backwards from a ’78 to a ’75 conviction.”
Alavezos said the Snelling murder does help make two other murder charges from 1978 eligible for the death penalty. Newlyweds Brian and Katie Maggiore, ages 21 and 20, were walking their dog on Feb. 2, 1978 near their home of Rancho Cordova, Calif. when they were shot and killed by GSK. Under the repeal of the death penalty from 1972 to 1978, defendants with multiple murder charges remained eligible for the death penalty. The Sacramento DA has charged DeAngelos with these crimes.
“It becomes relevant to the question and the decision,” Alavezos said.
In all, DeAngelo is charged with 13 counts of murder and 13 felony counts of kidnapping to commit robbery with sentencing enhancements for personal use of a firearm and personal use of a knife during the commission of the offenses. DeAngelo will not be back in court until Aug. 22, 2019 for a status hearing to decide where the case is at in terms of evidentiary discovery and a timeline leading up to the preliminary hearing, where prosecutors prove they have enough evidence for trial on charges filed against the defendant.
“Time is of the essence,” said Alavezos, referring to DeAngelo’s age. If DeAngelo dies before trial, a criminal case cannot be convicted posthumously.
Since 1978, California has spent $5 billion on a death penalty system that has executed 13 people. Three states — Oregon, Colorado and Pennsylvania — have Governor-imposed moratoria on the death penalty and in 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional and “racially biased.”
There are 737 people currently on death row in California. California has the largest death row population in the Western Hemisphere — one in four people on death row in the United States are in California.
The last person to be executed in California was Clarence Ray Allen in 2006. Allen was convicted of three murders and conspired to have eight witnesses killed following the 1974 robbery he orchestrated at Fran’s Market in Fresno. The last person to be sentenced to death was a Tulare County man. Eric Jiminez, a Strathmore gang member who went by the name “Psycho,” was sentenced to death on Nov. 15, 2018 for strangling a man in 2012 and then burning his body and car to cover up the crime.