The day after HBO shone a light on the Golden State Killer's survivors, investigators and a crime writer determined to solve the case, the former police officer suspected of the crimes pled guilty to 26 charges — 13 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of kidnapping — in a makeshift courtroom.
Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., 74, appeared Monday in a ballroom at Sacramento State University that served as the courtroom, which could accommodate for social distancing guidelines for more than 150 people, including victims, victims' families and media amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
He was arrested in 2018 for rapes and murders in the 1970s and '80s throughout California. Entering the guilty pleas saves DeAngelo from being sentenced to death for 13 murders and 13 kidnapping-related charges. He is suspected of committing more than a dozen murders and 50 rapes.
DeAngelo Jr. had remained almost silent in court since his 2018 arrest until he repeatedly uttered the words “guilty” and “I admit” in a hushed and raspy voice as part of a plea agreement that will spare him the death penalty for a life sentence with no chance of parole.
HBO's six-episode docuseries "I’ll Be Gone in the Dark," which premiered Sunday, examines the Golden State Killer's crimes, features interviews with survivors of his attacks and traces Michelle McNamara's personal investigation into the assailant for her book of the same name, published nearly two years after the author's death in 2016.
Comedian Patton Oswalt, married to McNamara from 2005 until she died, serves as an executive producer and is featured in the project, for which Liz Garbus ("Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper" and "Lost Girls") is a director and fellow executive producer.
The Golden State Killer to plead guilty to murder, rape charges
Oswalt told USA TODAY in an interview last week, that he felt sold on the docuseries, which coincidentally began filming around the time of DeAngelo's arrest, after being approached by Garbus. He remembered he "handed everything over" to her "and just trusted for her to build the narrative as best she saw, because I’m too close to it personally to have the objectivity to form a narrative."
But Oswalt said he hasn't been able to finish watching the completed series, which includes footage of McNamara with their young daughter Alice, now 11, and endearing moments from their relationship.
"It just cuts so close to home, but seeing the moments – it’s bittersweet, because I’m seeing little Alice being a little goofball, but then I know what’s coming for her," he said. "It makes me really sad."
Oswalt said he and McNamara shared an interest in true crime, though his taste is "more sensationalistic" while McNamara, who authored the website True Crime Diary, focused on "the investigators and how they put the crimes together. Hers was much deeper and more elevated than mine."
He said her devotion was inspiring.
"She had doggedness and dedication in sticking with investigating these unsolved murders," he said, "even when certain investigative alleyways she would go down would lead to a brick wall, she would then dust herself off and keep going."
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"I’ll Be Gone" depicts McNamara's commitment to the case – how she hunkered down in a hotel room with the case files from the rapes with her phone turned off, away from her husband and child.
"I wanted to make sure that she had hours and hours and hours (with me saying), 'I don’t want you having to think about anything else,'" he said.
"Patton was a real supporter of her writing and her work," Garbus said, "and I think you just see a lot of love and care there, and that’s very heartwarming in a very dark story."
Oswalt referred to McNamara's reliance on prescription medication (a partial cause of her death, in addition to a heart condition) in the documentary.
"There was a lot of sleeplessness and insomnia," he says. "There must've been days where she was like, 'I'll take Adderall in the morning, I'll take Xanax and Vicodin to get to sleep 'cause this is for a bigger purpose than me.'"
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Survivor Kris Pedretti recounts fearing for her life, when she was repeatedly raped in 1976 at 15. She remembers the perpetrator told her "If you scream, or move, I will put this knife through your throat, and I'll be gone in the dark."
The trauma greatly affected Pedretti.
"It was just a few hours," she says, "but it changed everything."
Should DeAngelo have faced the death penalty, a fate he avoided with his guilty plea entered Monday? .
"What matters to me is what matters to those survivors," Garbus said last week, mentioning rapes he couldn't be charged with due to the statute of limitations.
Oswalt also demurred.
"I don’t feel like I should have an opinion right now," he said. "I just hope whatever is the worst thing for him, that is what happens to him."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Golden State Killer suspect admits guilt after HBO docu-series airs