Tony Rackauckas, his prosecutors, his investigators and his crime lab were praised by the district attorneys of Tulare, Ventura, Sacramento, Contra Costa and Santa Barabara counties as they stood by the Orange County DA, who announced Tuesday morning alleged Golden State Killer Joseph James DeAngelo will be tried in the state capital.
“Tony Rackauckas has had and continues to have great insight in our criminal justice system,” Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley said during the press conference in the downtown Santa Ana OCDA office. “He’s done this for decades. He understands how victims feel and he understands how the loved ones of victims feel, and he wants very much to bring justice for all.”
Ventura County DA Gregory D. Totten credited Rackauckas’ office and detectives with connecting the first murder in Totten’s jurisdiction to the Golden State Killer, while Tulare County DA Tim Ward told told the OCDA he was “forever in your gratitude for what you and your amazing team of professionals have brought to the table.”
Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert, whose office will head up the prosecution of DeAngelo, said, “I … want to thank Mr. Rackauckas because, for those folks who do not know in this room, Mr. Rackauckas has a nationally known DNA unit that is second to none. They have knowledge and expertise really at one thing: finding the truth through the use of forensic DNA evidence. There is no doubt that unit and his prosecutors and his investigators and all of those here standing together will continue their role in this prosecution.”
However, all that praise was followed by scorn etched into a press release from Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer with the all-caps headline: “BOTCHED CASES AND OFFICE WIDE SCANDALS CATCH UP WITH DISGRACED RACKAUCKAS.”
Spitzer, who is running to unseat Rackauckas in the November general election, claims that Orange County is the logical place to try DeAngelo because of the number of his alleged murder victims here (four) and the region’s role in crafting legislation and a voter initiative that played roles in nabbing the defendant.
However, a successful prosecution cannot be guaranteed here due to the shoddy way Rackauckas runs his office, Spitzer alleged.
The Golden State Killer’s spree began in the mid-1970s and ended in he mid-1980s. Orange County’s portion of the terror began around 11 p.m. on Aug. 21, 1980, when the wrists and ankles of Dana Point’s Patrice Harrington were tied before the 27-year-old was raped and she and her 24-year-old husband Keith were beaten to death with a blunt object.
While Manuela Witthuhn’s husband was staying overnight in the hospital on Feb. 6, 1981, the 28-year-old Irvine resident’s wrists and ankles were bound and she was bludgeoned to death before her jewelry and various household items were stolen.
The wrists of Irvine 18-year-old Janelle Cruz were bound before she was raped and murdered by bludgeoning on May 5, 1986.
The suspect’s DNA were left behind in each case, according to authorities.
The Golden State Killer case led to the development of the California State Database, which now contains approximately 2 million DNA profiles, as well as the OCDA’s own local database with about 170,000 DNA profiles of people who committed crimes in Orange County. Collecting samples was made possible with the passage of Prop. 69, which was implemented in 2004 after a campaign headed by Bruce Harrington, who discovered the bodies of his son and daughter-in-law in Dana Point.
“I am seriously disappointed that Orange County will not have a trial for the innocent victims here in our county,” Spitzer says in his media statement. “Tony Rackauckas can’t be trusted with a high profile and complex case when he runs his office like a rudderless ship.
“At the same time, I share the grave concern that justice is not attainable and victim protection is jeopardized until Rackauckas can be removed by the voters from office.”
While Spitzer eluded to the foul office culture and jailhouse snitch scandal controversy that has swallowed Rackauckas’ operation, the challenger made no mention of the Golden State Killer case bombshells reported recently by the Weekly‘s R. Scott Moxley. (See “Did Wrongful Conviction Built on Tainted OC Snitch Fuel Golden State Killer’s Spree?” and “Golden State Killer Book Reveals OC Crime Lab’s Deception in Murder Cases.”)
The first story, which ran on OC Weekly‘s Aug. 10 cover, suggests that the OCDA’s office in the early 1980s won a murder conviction for a man who may have been falsely implicated by a jailhouse snitch–and for a killing that DeAngelo may have actually committed.
In the follow-up, Moxley pulls a passage from the late Michelle McNamara’s book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark to show how officials from Orange County’s supposedly impartial crime lab gave conflicting testimony in two murder cases that ended in convictions (and, in the case of at least one, current appellate review).
Rackauckas opened the press conference by saying, “This human predator, DeAngelo, took a path through all of these counties in our state, and wherever he went, he left a wake of terror in his path. He committed vicious, violent crimes throughout all these jurisdictions.”
The OCDA then ticked off reasons why the case will be tried in Sacramento, including how close the state capital is to victims who can testify as well as the defendant’s Citrus Heights home. Rackauckas later called Sacramento “very appropriate” as the site of the case because of its facilities, the location’s convenience for investigators, the shear number and “weight” of all the Golden State Killer cases there and the fact that this was a statewide case and that’s where the state capital is.
The OCDA added that he “does not mean to diminish any victim anywhere” and called the Orange County victims “very, very important to us.”
Schubert, who referred to the Golden State Killer district attorneys collectively as “Team Justice,” further justified the choice of venue by saying, “We have the opportunity to have a single, comprehensive and speedy trial for all victims, and that was an opportunity none of your DAs wanted to pass up.”
She added, “These counties came together with their passion, with their perseverance and with their resources all with one goal in mind: to bring justice for the most significant, probably the most notorious unsolved serial rape killing in California history.”
DeAngelo is scheduled to be arraigned in Sacramento County Thursday on an amended complaint charging all crimes for all jurisdictions together in one case. The 72-year-old faces 13 counts of first-degree murder, special circumstances for burglary, rape and multiple murders and 13 counts of kidnapping to commit robbery. A conviction could send the former cop to prison without the possibility of parole for what’s left of his life.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.