Joseph DeAngelo, the man alleged to be the long-sought ‘Golden State Killer,’ has been cleared in the 1975 murder of 14-year-old Donna Jo Richmond in Exeter, California. Richmond was beaten, strangled and stabbed 17 times; Oscar Clifton, a convicted sex offender, was found guilty of the murder and sentenced to life in prison, where he died in 2013. The Richmond case was reexamined after DeAngelo, 73, was arrested last year and charged with 13 murders, including the 1975 murder of a college professor in nearby Visalia, while DeAngelo was employed as a police officer with the Exeter Police Department. According to the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office, a conviction review compared a partial DNA profile, developed from semen on the victim’s body, and found it to be inconsistent with DeAngelo’s DNA, but consistent with Clifton’s.
“I am again confident, just as this office was the previous times we reviewed the case, that the countless hours of report analysis, evidence evaluation, court transcripts, and DNA evaluation solidifies that Oscar Clifton tragically and violently ended the life of Donna Jo Richmond in an orange grove the day after Christmas in 1975,” Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward said in a statement.
DeAngelo may have been cleared this time, but California prosecutors believe DNA will ultimately lead to his conviction for a long list of violent crimes committed in six counties in the 1970s and 1980s. He was arrested in April 2018 after evading investigators for more than 40 years, thanks to new familial DNA technology and the use of public genealogy databases that linked him to DNA from the crime scenes. In addition to the 13 murder charges, DeAngelo is also charged with 13 rape-related charges, just a fraction of the 50 rapes investigators long believed were committed by one assailant, known for many years as the East Area Rapist (EAR). (Because of the statute of limitations for sexual assault, the rape-related charges have been filed as kidnappings to commit robberies using a gun and knife.)
In 2001, new DNA technology linked the EAR to 12 murders between 1979 and 1986, which had been attributed to a mysterious serial killer known as the “Original Night Stalker” (ONS). Jointly known as EAR-ONS for many years, the ‘Golden State Killer’ moniker was coined by the late true-crime author Michelle McNamara, whose book, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer, was published two months before DeAngelo’s capture.
In August 2018, prosecutors charged DeAngelo with a 13th murder, believed to be his first, for allegedly shooting Visalia professor Claude Snelling during a botched attempt at kidnapping Snelling’s teenage daughter. Authorities claim that ballistic evidence links Snelling’s murder with a gun that was stolen by a criminal dubbed the “Visalia Ransacker” — now alleged to be DeAngelo — who committed a string of burglaries in the area during the same time frame that DeAngelo was assigned to a burglary task force with the nearby Exeter Police Department. Investigators now believe DeAngelo was the Visalia Ransacker as well.
DeAngelo was with Exeter PD from 1973 to 1976, and the burglaries ended when DeAngelo left to join the Auburn Police Department in Sacramento County, where he worked from 1976 to 1979, the same time frame as the East Area Rapist’s crimes. The EAR’s crime spree stopped when DeAngelo was fired from the Auburn Police Department for shoplifting dog repellent and a hammer. All of the charges against DeAngelo have been consolidated, and prosecutors from Contra Costa, Tulare, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties have agreed to a joint trial effort to be held in Sacramento and led by the city’s District Attorney, Anne Marie Schubert. The case — from early motions through the trial itself — is expected to be among the largest in California’s history, lasting as long as 10 years and costing state taxpayers $20 million. No trial date has been set, Schubert has not decided if she will pursue the death penalty, and DeAngelo has not yet entered a plea, but the parties are due back in court in April.