Prosecutors in California said Wednesday they plan to seek the death penalty if the man accused of being the “Golden State Killer” is convicted, despite California currently having a moratorium on executions.
Four of the six California counties prosecuting Joseph James DeAngelo said in court that they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted. Those counties include Orange, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Sacramento. DeAngelo’s charges in Tulare and Contra Costa counties are not eligible for punishment by execution.
DeAngelo, dubbed the Golden State Killer by law enforcement, is accused of at least 13 murders, more than 50 rapes and several burglaries spanning from 1975 to 1986. The suspected killer eluded capture for decades, but detectives arrested DeAngelo in April 2018 after using DNA information from genealogical sites.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed an executive order just last month preventing death penalty sentences from being carried out indefinitely in the state. California has the largest death row population in the country, with 737 inmates, but the state has not executed anyone since 2006 due to legal challenges.
The executive order does not block prosecutors from seeking the death penalty, nor does it block judges and juries from imposing the death sentence. That means prosecutors in four of the six counties DeAngelo is charged in can still request the death penalty.
“We are absolutely thrilled with what has happened today,” said Ron Harrington, brother of Golden State Killer victim Keith Harrington, according to CNN. He said cases like DeAngelo’s are “why we have the death penalty.”
DeAngelo, a former police officer and Vietnam War veteran, has not yet entered a plea. His attorney Diane Howard told The Associated Press that the decision to potentially seek the death penalty “does not further justice and is wasteful.”
Sacramento County’s deputy district attorney said prosecutors will reevaluate the request if the defense provides mitigating evidence.