The “Golden State Killer” Case
Lynn: A California judge is expected to rule today on what evidence to make public in the Golden State Killer case. Joseph DeAngelo is accused of at least 12 murders and dozens and dozens of rapes. His attorney says releasing all the documents could taint the jury pool. So I want to bring in our legal analyst. Page Pate joins me now to discuss. Good to have you.
Page: Great to be here.
Lynn: Thanks so much. So why release this evidence before it starts going to trial? What’s the motivation there?
Page: There’s always this tension between the public’s right to know about a case, especially one like this with their many potential victims involved, and the defendant’s right to a fair trial. So his lawyers are basically saying, “Look, the evidence should be limited to what’s presented in the courtroom and we have not had a chance yet to challenge some of these other allegations that may never be presented in court. So if everybody in the world hears about this case before it even goes to trial, then potential jurors who show up to decide the case may be tainted by that information.”
Lynn: It’s going to be such a tough argument when you have national headlines going back decades. I mean this story was infamous. How do you overcome that?
Page: I don’t think they will. And basically, I think what the judge is doing now is he’s getting both sides together as well as lawyers for the media outlets and say, “Look, I’m going to release some of this information, but I’m willing to redact it. I’m willing to take out certain names, certain graphic details perhaps, to try to protect the defendant’s right to a fair trial.” But the public’s right to know does usually outweigh the defendant’s right to keep everything secret, so we’re gonna see something.
Lynn: And when you touch on a few of the things, names or details, gruesome details that may be redacted, what are some other things that a judge may have concerns about?
Page: It’s evidence of crimes that he’s not on trial for. So you know, there’s all these allegations and no one knows yet, are there going to be more? Because other people are being interviewed. They’re looking back through DNA evidence that they’ve gathered from other potential crimes, so if he’s not charged with a crime, but the public hears about a potential crime, will they have that in the back of their minds that they come to serve on the jury for the crime that he’s actually being charged with. It’s a very difficult balance.
Lynn: And we heard all of the district attorneys involved here so careful about answering reporters’ questions about evidence.
Lynn: They’re really making sure that they rock solid in their case. I mean, why do you think that is? They seemed to have the link, that DNA link that they needed.
Page: Right. Well, that’s exactly why they’re doing that because they don’t want anything to come up to cause this case to be reversed on appeal. And so if you’ve got a very strong case, you’re going to be very careful about what you say in the media. You don’t want to give the defendant some way to appeal a guilty verdict. So I’m also certain the judge has probably put them under not quite a gag order but said, “Look, you need to restrict what you’re saying to the public, otherwise you could put this entire case in jeopardy.”
Lynn: They’re listening, that’s for sure. When it comes to this DNA technology, it’s fairly new. How has it stood up in court so far?
Page: So far, it has stood up. But I do expect Mr. DeAngelo’s lawyers will challenge it. There’s a process that you go through before trial, if you want to challenge particular scientific evidence to show that it’s reliable, that it has a bearing on this case, that’s it’s relevant to the charges, so we’ll see a lot of pre-trial motions and I anticipate that will be one of them, to challenge the use of the DNA evidence.
Lynn: It’s my understanding he hasn’t entered a plea yet.
Page: That’s right.
Lynn: Do you think there’s a plea deal on the table?
Page: That’s possible. Whenever you have a case like this, where there’s strong evidence, you want to avoid a potential life sentence or death penalty, then perhaps the state and the defense can work something out. But given the number of victims in this case, to get everybody on the same page and work this out, I think that may be difficult.
Lynn: Here’s the million-dollar question is really could there be other victims out there.
Page: Oh, absolutely.
Lynn: He’s accused of 12 murders, at least 50 rapes, what do you think the likelihood is, that as we go through this trial, as more evidence, as more people see this trial, since it’s been since the ’70s and the ’80s since it was really in the spotlight, that more people will come forward and say, “Hey, this is what was suspicious. It will link him to other things possibly?”
Page: I think there’s a good chance to that because in this case, we have so many different jurisdictions involved. It’s not like the crimes were focused on one particular city or one particular county. We’re going to many different jurisdictions, some large, some small, so many of these records are not computerizes, they’re still on paper form. You’ve got detectives going through cold case files, I could certainly see new charges being brought.
Lynn: All so interesting, Page Pate, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.
Page: Thank you, [inaudible 00:04:18].
Lynn: You take care.
Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of our firm’s “The Federal Docket” and a contributor to Mercer Law Review’s Annual Survey in the areas of federal law. Tom was named a “Top 40 Under 40” lawyer by The National Trial Lawyers, and is a recognized expert in federal sentencing law. He graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom’s reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.