SACRAMENTO — Newly uncovered court documents show that Joseph James DeAngelo Jr., the man accused of the notorious Golden State Killer serial murders and rapes in the 1970s and 1980s, was arrested on an unrelated charge in 1996, but was let go.
DeAngelo, a U.S. Navy veteran and former police officer, faces 13 murder charges and 13 counts of kidnapping related to some of more than 50 sexual assaults the Golden State Killer, also known as the East Area Rapist and the Original Night Stalker, is believed to have committed over a span stretching from 1975 to 1986. Following his arrest outside his Citrus Heights, California, home last April, authorities said the only prior arrest they knew of was a 1979 shoplifting incident that led to DeAngelo losing his job with the Auburn Police Department.
He stole a hammer and a can of dog repellent in the incident, according to reports.
The Sacramento Bee, which requested a bevy of court records following DeAngelo's high-profile arrest last year, reported Friday that the records the newspaper received included documents from a lawsuit DeAngelo filed following a 1996 arrest in which he was accused of stealing from a gas station by leaving without paying for some gas.
DeAngelo, then 50, was arrested in an April 16, 1996, sting operation in which law enforcement officials in Placer County targeted people with outstanding warrants by notifying them that they had won free Super Bowl tickets, the Bee reported. The targets were told they could pick up the tickets at a Sacramento office.
DeAngelo was one of the people who responded to the ruse, the Bee said.
He was jailed and released, and the charge against him was later dismissed, the court records showed.
Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office officials said there was no way to know in 1996 that DeAngelo was the murder suspect they and several other law enforcement agencies had sought for so long.
"We had no way of knowing at the time who we actually had in our jail, because the evidence wasn't there, the technology wasn't there," Sgt. Shaun Hampton told the newspaper Friday. "I don't think there's any way we could have known. There was no way for us to identify this person by him simply being in our jail for a few hours."
DeAngelo later sued the gas station manager for false arrest, claiming the gas pump had malfunctioned before he finished pumping the gas for which he’d already paid. The attendant, who the records alleged did not speak English well, reported him as an attempted robber after he demanded cash back for the gas it failed to pump.
"Eventually, the case was dismissed and the court entered an order finding plaintiff factually innocent and sealed the record," the lawsuit said, according to the Bee.
The $1 million suit was eventually settled out of court, the Bee said. William Wright, who sued on DeAngelo’s behalf, told the newspaper he could not remember details of the settlement.
Wright expressed shock upon learning Friday that his client in 1996 was the Golden State Killer suspect. He said he remembered “Joe” as a nice guy who was “very upset about this gas station business.”
"I'd seen the guy on TV, but I never made the connection," Wright told the Bee. "He was very pleasant when he was talking to me."
The newspaper reported that Sacramento County officials did not begin collecting DNA samples from suspects arrested for felonies until a few years after DeAngelo's 1996 arrest. The process became routine statewide after the 2004 passage of Proposition 69, a law pushed by Bruce Harrington.
Harrington’s brother and sister-in-law, Keith and Patrice Harrington, were two of DeAngelo’s alleged victims in 1986, 10 years before his arrest in the gas station incident. The couple were found slain by Bruce and Keith Harrington’s father when he arrived at their home for dinner.
DeAngelo became a suspect in the Golden State Killer case after cold case investigators tried a novel approach to solving the crime -- taking DNA evidence left behind by the killer and comparing it to DNA profiles shared to public commercial databases by people hoping to find relatives they were not aware of.
Detectives were able to narrow down the DNA profiles they found on GEDmatch to close relatives of potential suspects, including DeAngelo. They confirmed they were on the right track after DNA taken from the handle of a driver’s side door on DeAngelo’s vehicle matched the evidence left at multiple Golden State Killer crime scenes.
They verified the match with a direct sample from DeAngelo following his arrest.
Since DeAngelo's arrest, law enforcement agencies across the country have started using the same "genetic genealogy" technique to solve cold cases they have been working for decades. Buzzfeed News reported last month that Parabon Nanolabs Inc., a company that in the weeks after DeAngelo's arrest established a commercial forensic genealogy service, has helped police identify suspects in three dozen cases since last May.
Bode Technology, the largest forensic DNA testing company in the U.S., is launching its own rival service.
Alabama authorities on Monday announced that they had solved the 1999 double homicide of two 17-year-old girls who were found shot to death in a car trunk after getting lost on their way to a party for one of the girls' birthday. Parabon Nanolabs provided the DNA analysis that led to a suspect.
Coley Lewis McCraney, of Dothan, is charged with five counts of capital murder and one count of first-degree rape in the July 31, 1999, deaths of J.B. Beasley and Tracie Hawlett, who were each shot once in the head. McCraney, who was 25 when he allegedly raped Beasley and killed her and her friend, faces the death penalty in the slayings.
South Dakota investigators earlier this month announced the arrest of a Florida woman accused of leaving her newborn son to freeze to death in a ditch in Sioux Falls 38 years ago. Theresa Josten Bentaas, now 57, is charged with first-degree murder in the death of the infant, who the community named Andrew John Doe and buried in a local cemetery after his family could not be located.
Parabon Nanolabs provided the DNA analysis in that case, as well.
DeAngelo is awaiting trial in the Sacramento County Jail, the same facility he was booked into in 1996.
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