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George Skelton: A life sentence for the Golden State Killer was the right move

George Skelton: A life sentence for the Golden State Killer was the right move

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George Skelton

George Skelton

The Golden State Killer is the perfect example of why the death penalty is justified-- and why life in prison is preferable.

Especially in California, where a death penalty sentence is practically meaningless.

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr.-- also dubbed the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist or Original Night Stalker, depending on the community he terrorized-- was among "the worst of the worst."

DeAngelo also admitted to 161 uncharged crimes of rape, attempted murder, robbery, burglary and kidnapping involving 61 victims. There were 42 uncharged rapes. These crimes weren't prosecuted because the statutes of limitations had long ago expired.

During the 1970s and 1980s, DeAngelo would break into couples' homes at night while they were asleep, force the woman to tie up her husband or boyfriend with shoestrings, then bind the woman. He'd place saucers and cups on the man's back as an alarm system and warn that if he heard them rattle, everyone in the house would be killed.

He'd drag the woman into another room and rape her repeatedly, sometimes witnessed by her children. He threatened to cut the ears off one little girl if she screamed. Meanwhile, he ransacked the house and helped himself to refrigerator snacks.

In the end, DeAngelo would kill the couple anyway by shooting or bludgeoning them-- with a pipe wrench or a sprinkler head or a fireplace log.

"What's so frustrating," Orange County Dist. Atty. Todd Spitzer told me, referring to the prosecutors' and defendant's agreed-upon sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole, "is that if anyone is the poster child for the death penalty, it's DeAngelo."

Opponents of capital punishment argue that it's administered unfairly and sometimes against people who may be innocent. They also point out that people of color, the poor and those with mental illness are disproportionately executed.

But none of that applies to DeAngelo. There's no question of his guilt, not just because he confessed, but because DNA linked him to the crimes unequivocally. Moreover, he's white, middle class and college educated-- a former policeman fired for shoplifting. DeAngelo had plenty of opportunity.

His life was spared not out of mercy, but because of practicalities.

Prosecutors from six counties decided unanimously not to seek the death penalty for several sound reasons.

Most importantly, they traded an unlikely future execution for DeAngelo's agreement to admit committing not only the charged murders and kidnappings, but all the rapes and other crimes that legally couldn't be prosecuted.

That was important for the rape survivors and victims' families. They'll have an opportunity to speak directly to DeAngelo when he is formally sentenced on Aug. 17.

If prosecutors had not agreed to life imprisonment, Spitzer says, DeAngelo "never would have admitted to the crimes. The admissions were significant."

That raises another point often argued by supporters of capital punishment: The possibility of the death penalty is needed as leverage to persuade killers not only to plead guilty, but to confess to other unsolved murders they committed and disclose where bodies were left.

There's another reason for not seeking the death penalty for DeAngelo. At 74 and appearing frail-- although some prosecutors believe he's faking frailty-- it's very doubtful he would have lived long enough to be executed.

"It would have taken 10 years to go to trial and the trial would have lasted two years," Spitzer says. "Then there'd be 20 to 25 years of appeals. ...

All those years of legal proceedings would have cost taxpayers many wasted millions and court systems' precious energy and time.

Better to quickly send DeAngelo into the general prison population, where most inmates have cellmates and must work for pennies.

Thankfully, DeAngelo's prosecutors made the wise decision to save many millions of tax dollars and years of time-- and obtained 187 confessions.

Regardless of the life or death sentence, the depraved DeAngelo will die behind bars.

George Skelton, Los Angeles Times

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