By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - A former California police officer who lived a double life as the "Golden State Killer" was sentenced to life in prison on Friday for a string of 1970s and '80s murders and rapes that were solved through the use of public genealogy websites.
A Sacramento County judge granted prosecutors' request that Joseph James DeAngelo, 74, serve life in prison without the possibility of parole following emotional statements from victims or their family members in open court.
A seemingly frail DeAngelo showed no emotion during the nearly two-hour sentencing, held in a makeshift courtroom inside a ballroom at Sacramento State University so that victims and family members could spread out amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When given the opportunity to speak, DeAngelo rose from a wheelchair, took off a mask, looked around at surviving victims and relatives of those he murdered and said: "I've listened to all your statements. Each one of them. And I'm really sorry to everyone I've hurt."
Prosecutors afterward said they did not think DeAngelo's apology was sincere. They also showed video of him in his jail cell, climbing on a desk and standing on one leg while cleaning, which they said proved he did not need to use a wheelchair.
In June, DeAngelo confessed to 13 murders and 13 rape-related charges for crimes carried out between 1975 and 1986 as part of a plea deal with prosecutors sparing him from a potential death sentence.
DeAngelo, whom a prosecutor on Friday called a bogeyman who haunted California for decades, also publicly admitted to dozens more rapes for which the statute of limitations had expired. Prosecutors said he invaded 120 homes across 11 counties during his crime spree, initially identified with a series of rapes and murders around the state capital of Sacramento.
The identity of the Golden State Killer remained a mystery, his crimes unsolved, for decades until DeAngelo's arrest in Sacramento County on April 24, 2018.
Investigators tied DeAngelo to the crimes using a then-novel technique of tracing him through family DNA from commercial genealogy websites.
Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert pushed for decades to find a way to solve the cold case that shook the state and region.
DeAngelo's crimes, she said, had traumatized generations in the capital region. "For folks in Sacramento that lived through this, I hope you open the windows tonight and feel the breeze," she said.
Prosecutors from counties where he carried out his crimes told Judge Michael Bowman that he deserved no mercy.
"Over four decades - that's a long time to wait for justice," said Diana Becton, the Contra Costa County District Attorney, where some of DeAngelo's crimes occurred.
Bowman said he had no power to determine what type of prison DeAngelo is sent to.
"But the survivors have spoken clearly - the defendant deserves no mercy," he said, as those in the courtroom burst into loud applause.
Courtney Strouse's mother was raped by DeAngelo in the 1970s, and until her death in 2016 she awoke repeatedly during the nights to check on her children and make sure all doors and windows were locked, Strouse said.
Strouse said she had learned to live in constant fear, but that Friday's sentencing brought some relief.
"It's nice to have the bogeyman gone," she said. "It's like a fable you're told all your life about the bogeyman and now he's gone."
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Brad Brooks; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Alistair Bell, Cynthia Osterman, Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)