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Alleged Golden State Killer to face trial in California for wave of attacks

Joseph James DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer, will be tried in Sacramento County on more than a dozen murders committed up and down California during the 1970s and 1980s. MUST CREDIT: Sacramento County Sheriff's Department

Prosecutors in California said Tuesday that they will try the 72-year-old man accused of being the Golden State Killer in a Sacramento County court, opting to use one case to seek accountability for a series of vicious attacks that terrorized much of the state in the 1970s and 1980s.

The case had mystified investigators for decades - until earlier this year, when they suddenly announced the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo, a former police officer. After DeAngelo was taken into custody outside Sacramento in April, officials revealed that they had found him - "the needle in the haystack," they said - by taking DNA from one of the attacks, plugging it into a genealogy website and piecing together family trees.

In a complaint filed in Sacramento Superior Court, officials listed a series of crimes they said DeAngelo carried out, including 13 felony counts of murder with special circumstances; in six of those counts, he also is accused of rape. The violence listed in the complaint stretched for more than a decade, from the 1975 killing of Claude Snelling in Tulare County to the 1986 rape and killing of Janelle Cruz, 18, in Orange County.

The decision to try DeAngelo in Sacramento and merge all the cases was announced by the district attorneys for the six counties where the attacks occurred; all of them signed the complaint.

"This human predator, DeAngelo, took a path through all of these counties in our state," Tony Rackauckas, the Orange County district attorney, said at a news briefing. "Wherever he went, he left a wake of terror. . . . He committed vicious, violent crimes all throughout all of these jurisdictions."

Rackauckas said he had never heard of so many cases merged into one prosecution, something he believes is "unprecedented, certainly in our state."

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A public defender for DeAngelo did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. DeAngelo is expected to appear in court Thursday for an arraignment.

If convicted, DeAngelo would face life in prison without parole, but he also could face the death penalty, though prosecutors said they had not yet made a decision about pursuing capital punishment. In addition to the murder charges, he also faces 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery.

Rackauckas said that since a large team continues to investigate what happened across the state, "there could be other charges filed."

DeAngelo's arrest in April was a stunning development in the decades-long hunt for an attacker also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Nightstalker. Police eventually realized that the different waves of violence were carried out by one person, whom they described as cruel, malicious and able to avoid detection. DeAngelo was a police officer at the time the violence began, though he was later dismissed for shoplifting.

The search for a suspect eventually shifted to a painstaking effort to sift through thousands of relatives who could be linked to DNA recovered at one of the crime scenes. That pointed to DeAngelo, police said. In April, officers grabbed a discarded item from DeAngelo, checked the genetic material and found a match.

After DeAngelo was arrested, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert recalled the fear that pervaded the capital region during her childhood in the late 1970s, when the attacks were ongoing. She said "it wasn't a matter of if he was coming, it was when."

On Tuesday, Schubert stood before reporters and discussed how the suspected attacker would stand trial in that same area. Schubert said she could not provide a definitive timeline for the trial, but she said authorities hope to move quickly given how long ago the attacks were - and the ages of all involved.

"We recognize that this case will not be something that goes to trial really quickly," she said. "But we also expect and hope that we move this process through efficiently because we do have witnesses and victims that are aging."

This article was written by Mark Berman, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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