Golden State Killer trial to begin in spring

Sacramento judge sets preliminary hearing date for May 12 in the case against former Exeter Police Officer Joseph DeAngelo who is believed to be the Golden State Killer

By Reggie Ellis

SACRAMENTO — The case against the Golden State Killer, who is a former Exeter Police officer, is finally moving toward a trial but it could delay a trial involving another Exeter officer.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White set a pretrial hearing for March 12 and a preliminary hearing for May 12 in the case against Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., the man who is being charged with 13 brutal murders and 13 kidnappings stretching from Southern California to the greater Sacramento area from 1976-1986. 

The judge’s decision to set a preliminary hearing date was met with applause in the courtroom on Jan. 22 and one man even yelled out “Amen!”, according to reports from the Sacramento Bee. Judge White made the decision despite pleas from DeAngelo’s defense attorneys that they needed at least another year to wade through more than a quarter of a million pieces of evidence and prepare for trial. The judge called the request to delay the trail until 2021 “unreasonable” after DeAngelo’s attorneys entered a plea of not guilty for the 26 felony counts.

The 74-year-old DeAngelo has been held in the Sacramento County Jail since being arrested nearly two years ago on April 24, 2018. He was last in court on Aug. 22 for a settlement conference prior to last Wednesday’s hearing and continues to look noticeably thinner with each court date. If DeAngelo dies before trial, a criminal case cannot be convicted posthumously.

step in the case as it will be the first time evidence will be presented in court. At the haring, the prosecution will call witnesses and introduce evidence, and the defense can cross-examine witnesses. The judge then determines if there is enough evidence to take the each of the counts to trial. 

Present at the preliminary hearing will be David Alavezos, assistant district attorney for Tulare County. District Attorney Tim Ward said Alavezos has led Tulare County’s role in organizing the discovery of evidence in preparation for trial, particularly for the 1974 murder of Claude Snelling, a COS journalism professor who is believed to be the GSK’s first murder. Ward said it was essential to begin the trial process as soon as possible in order to memorialize witness testimony, as many of them are getting older, and to ensure DeAngelo doesn’t die in prison prior to a verdict.

“This is a remarkably complex case and we have an overriding obligation to move this forward for the victims and their families,” Ward said.

Justice Delayed
Alavezos is also the prosecutor in the case of Erika Sandoval, who is charged with murdering her ex-husband and Exeter Police Officer Daniel Green. Sandoval has already admitted under oath to shooting and killing Green at his Goshen home on Feb. 6, 2015 but her case was declared a mistrial by Judge Joseph Kalashian after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on an 11-1 vote on Dec. 3. 

Ward said his office had already begun the process of retrying the case as the evidence, charges and penalties will remain the same. Alavezos will likely be squaring off against the same defense attorney as well. Ward said Dan Chambers, who represented Sandoval in the first trial, told the court at a Jan. 24 hearing that he was in talks with the defendant’s family to represent her again. Ward said he expects to know who will represent Sandoval by March 6. 

The plan was to begin the retrial this spring but that timeline may be delayed with Alavezos spending more time in Sacramento on the GSK trial. The next phase of the case will be jury selection sometime this spring or summer. Ward added that the prosecution will argue the same theory in the next trial as they did before. The biggest difference will be when they address the nude photographs Sandoval claims to have found in Green’s home safe but were not found by officers nor admitted as evidence during the trial. 

Snelling Murder
Last April, prosecutors in the GSK case announced they would seek the death penalty for each of the murders except his first one in Tulare County. 

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. Alavezos told The Sun-Gazette last year that 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.

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