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Golden State Killer pleads guilty to first-degree murder of 13

Last Updated Jun 29, 2020 at 2:01 pm EDT

Joseph James DeAngelo, charged with being the Golden State Killer, appears in Sacramento County Superior Court in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, March 12, 2020. Superior Court Judge Steve White approved prosecutors' request to take more DNA samples from DeAngelo, over the objections of his defense attorneys. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A former police officer who terrorized the Sacramento region as a serial rapist and went on to kill more than a dozen people across California and then evaded capture for decades pleaded guilty Monday to the first of 13 murders.

Joseph James DeAngelo Jr. had remained almost silent in court since his 2018 arrest until he uttered in a hushed, raspy voice the word “guilty” to killing a community college professor in 1975, the first homicide in his decades of burglaries, rapes and other crimes that were later dubbed the work of the Golden State Killer.

DeAngelo acknowledged at the beginning of the hearing that he would plead guilty to 13 murders and acknowledge dozens of rapes that are too old to prosecute in exchange consecutive life sentences and no chance of parole.

The frail-looking 74-year-old sat in a wheelchair and spoke behind a plastic shield to prevent possible spread of coronavirus.

It was decades before investigators connected a series of assaults in central and Northern California to later slayings in Southern California and settled on the umbrella Golden State Killer nickname for the mysterious assailant whose whose crimes spanned 1974 through mid-1986.

The mystery sparked worldwide interest, a bestselling book and a six-part HBO documentary,”`I’ll Be Gone in the Dark,” that premiered Sunday.

It was only the pioneering use of new DNA techniques that two years ago led investigators to DeAngelo, who was fired from the Auburn Police Department northeast of Sacramento in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. He previously had worked as a police officer in the Central Valley town of Exeter from 1973 to 1976, near where the Visalia Ransacker struck more than 100 homes south of Fresno.

Investigators painstakingly built a family tree by linking decades-old crime scene DNA to a distant relative through a popular online DNA database, confirming the link only after surreptitiously collecting his DNA from his car door and a discarded tissue.