California prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty if they convict the man suspected of being the notorious Golden State Killer who eluded capture for decades.
The move comes less than a month after Governor Gavin Newsom announced a moratorium on executing any of the 737 inmates on the nation’s largest death row.
Mr Newsom’s reprieve lasts only so long as he is governor and does not prevent prosecutors from seeking nor judges and juries from imposing death sentences.
Prosecutors from four counties briefly announced their decision during a short court hearing for Joseph DeAngelo.
He was arrested a year ago based on DNA evidence linking him to at least 13 murders and more than 50 rapes across California in the 1970s and ’80s.
He stood expressionless in an orange jail uniform as prosecutors from Sacramento, Santa Barbara, Orange and Ventura spoke.
Although prosecutors from six counties were in court for the four-minute hearing, charges in those four counties include the special circumstances that could merit execution for 12 of the 13 murders under California law.
His lawyer, public defender Diane Howard, criticised seeking the death penalty against a 73-year-old man, saying in an email that the decision “does not further justice and is wasteful”.
With a multi-county prosecution team including more than 30 people, she cited a Sacramento County estimate that the prosecution would cost taxpayers more than 20 million US dollars (£15 million).
DeAngelo has yet to enter a plea and his trial is likely years away.
Prosecutors would not comment after the hearing, but Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said several prosecutors and family members of murder victims planned a news conference on Thursday to denounce Mr Newsom’s moratorium.
An announcement from Mr Spitzer’s office said victims’ families “will share their stories of losing their loved ones and how the governor’s moratorium has devastated their pursuit of justice”.
The serial killer would sneak into suburban homes at night, authorities said. If a couple was home, he would tie up the man, place dishes on his back and threaten to kill both victims if he heard the plates fall while he raped the woman.
“These are horrific crimes. Our sympathies are with the victims and families who have suffered at the hands of the Golden State Killer,” Mr Newsom’s spokesman Brian Ferguson said in a statement acknowledging that the governor’s executive order does not affect the ability of local prosecutors to make charging decisions.
California has not executed anyone since 2006, but Mr Newsom said he acted last month because 25 inmates had exhausted their appeals and court challenges to the state’s new lethal injection process were potentially nearing their end.
He endorsed a repeal of capital punishment but said he could not in good conscious allow executions to resume in the meantime knowing that some innocent inmates could die.
He also said he was exploring ways to commute death sentences, which would permanently end the chance of executions, though he cannot act without permission from the state Supreme Court in many cases.
- Press Association