Former Exeter officer may plead guilty to Golden State Killer crimes

Former Exeter Police officer Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr. may plead guilty to Golden State Killer crimes at June 29 hearing if prosecutors agree to not seek the death penalty

SACRAMENTO – Victims and survivors of the Golden State Killer’s attacks throughout the state in the 1970s and ’80s, many of whom have waited most of their adult lives for justice, may only have to wait a few more days.

The Tulare County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr., a former Exeter Police officer accused of being the Golden State Killer, will appear in court again on June 29 in Sacramento and that they are reaching out to victims and their families as they consider offers from the defense.

“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,” read a joint statement issued by district attorneys from the six counties involved in prosecuting DeAngelo’s case. The letter goes on to state that “victims and their loved ones have a right to be heard” and that their statements will be considered by the court prior to sentencing.

The plea deal won’t affect the sentencing for the murder of Claude Snelling in Visalia, the GSK’s first known killing and the only Tulare County crime that is part of the joint prosecution of DeAngelo.

Just before 2 a.m. on Sept. 11, 1975, an intruder rode to the 500 block of Whitney Lane on a bicycle he had stolen two days earlier. He entered the back door of Snelling’s home and went through Arlene Snelling’s purse before creeping into the room of 16-year-old Beth Snelling. When she awoke, he was on top of her with his hand over her mouth saying that if she screamed he would stab her. When she began to struggle, the suspect drew a handgun, according to the Visalia Times-Delta.

The intruder then forced Beth onto the patio when Beth’s father, Claude Snelling, was awakened from the noise. When he reached the patio door, Claude saw the man dragging his daughter through the back yard. Claude asked the man what he was doing when the suspect threw Beth to the ground, turned and shot Claude twice with a .38-caliber handgun matching one stolen from a ransacking 11 days prior. The suspect then kicked Beth in the head three times and fled the scene. One bullet hit Claude in the side and the other in the chest, fatally wounding him. He was dead on arrival at about 3 a.m. at Kaweah Delta Hospital.

David Alavezos, assistant district attorney for Tulare County, 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.

Alavezos said the Snelling murder did 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.

In a March 4 article, the LA Times reported that DeAngelo was open to pleading guilty to an unspecified number of charges if prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. The plea bargain was mentioned as a footnote in a dismissal motion filed by the public defenders in the case. In a June 15 article, The Sacramento Bee reported that the deal will include 88 crimes, far more than the 26 felonies he is being charged with.

Those crimes could include some of the more than 50 rapes in the greater Sacramento area, over 100 burglaries in Visalia and other unsolved crimes throughout the state. The District Attorney’s Office said it would not comment further on the case until after the June 29 court hearing.

“The prosecution of Joseph DeAngelo involves dozens of victims and crimes that were committed beginning more than four decades ago,” the letter from prosecutors stated. “It was not until the advent of Investigative Genetic Genealogy that we were able to successfully identify DeAngelo as the suspect in a series of rapes, burglaries and murders that spanned 11 counties over more than a decade.”

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. He has not been charged with any rapes, assaults or burglaries because the statute of limitations on those crimes has expired. The statute of limitations for rape is six years from when the crime occurred or after the victim’s 40th birthday. DeAngelo is not being charged with the residential burglaries in Visalia or the shooting of Visalia Police Officer because the statute of limitations on residential burglaries is three years and shooting at an officer is three years.

On the evening of Dec. 10, 1975, VPD officers and detectives were conducting surveillance details in an attempt to capture the Ransacker. During one of the details, Detective Bill McGowen was sitting in the garage of a home in the 1500 block of West Kaweah when he observed a suspicious person pass by a window. According to a May 18, 1977 Times-Delta article, McGowen followed the figure into the backyard of a residence and then confronted him and fired a warning shot to the seemingly unarmed man. The suspect began screaming for the detective not to shoot and then jumped over a picket fence. When McGowen pointed his flashlight in the area of the suspect, the prowler fired at the officer, striking his flashlight. The glass from the light hit the officer’s eye causing moderate injuries, and the suspect was able to flee the area and elude capture. In addition to being the closest anyone had come to catching the GSK, it was also the first time someone had seem him without a mask. VPD said McGowan’s description of the suspect’s face was a crucial piece of the case.

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