Police probe mom, boy’s deaths to serial killer suspect

Police probe mom, boy's deaths to serial killer suspect
The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Latest on a decades-old serial killing and rape case in California (all times local):

6:40 p.m.

Simi Valley police want to know whether the so-called Golden State Killer suspect strangled a mother and her 4-year-old son four decades ago — crimes for which an innocent man spent 29 years in prison.

Police in the suburb near Los Angeles want to check the DNA profile of Joseph DeAngelo, who was arrested this week on suspicion of being the serial killer and rapist who terrorized the state in the 1970s and ’80s.

They want to know whether he might be linked to the deaths of Rhonda Wicht and her son, Donald. She was beaten, raped and strangled. The boy was smothered in his sleep.

The woman’s boyfriend, Craig Coley, was convicted but released from prison last fall after DNA evidence cleared him.

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4:40 p.m.

The lawyer for a former police officer accused of being an elusive California serial killer and rapist said he should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Public defender Diane Howard told reporters outside a courtroom Friday that it feels like 72-year-old suspect Joseph James DeAngelo has already been tried in the press.

DeAngelo has been charged with eight counts of murder.

He did not enter a plea Friday at his arraignment on two of those counts in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Prosecutors say DNA evidence identified him as the Golden State Killer, responsible for the deaths of 13 people and the rapes of dozens of women in the 1970s and ’80s.

DeAngelo appeared in court handcuffed in a wheelchair and was wearing an orange jumpsuit. He has been denied bail.

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3:15 p.m.

Investigators trying to hunt down the so-called Golden State Killer used information from genetic websites a year ago and misidentified an elderly Oregon man as a possible suspect.

Court records obtained by The Associated Press show that in March 2017 investigators in Clackamas County, Oregon, convinced a judge to order the 73-year-old man to provide a DNA sample.

The documents said they used a genetic profile based off DNA from crime scenes linked to the serial killer and compared it to information from genealogical websites. They created a family tree and used public records to identify the Oregon man.

Investigators also cited a rare genetic marker, which the Oregon man shared with the killer, to get the judge to issue the order.

Earlier this week, police say they arrested the right man for a dozen killings and 50 rapes from 1976 to 1986. He is Joseph DeAngelo, a 72-year-old former police officer who lived in the Sacramento area.

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2 p.m.

The man accused of being the Golden State Killer did not enter a plea during his first court appearance.

Joseph James DeAngelo was arraigned Friday in Sacramento County Superior Court on two counts of murder.

He was handcuffed in a wheelchair and five police officers surrounded him as he listened to the judge with his eyes barely open.

A court official read the details of the charges that DeAngelo is facing and a judge asked if he had a lawyer.

In a frail voice, DeAngelo responded, “I have a lawyer.” An attorney from the public defender’s office was with him in court.

DeAngelo appeared in a wheelchair and was wearing an orange jumpsuit.

He has been denied bail.

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1:50 p.m.

The man accused of being the Golden State Killer has been brought into a courtroom in a wheelchair, wearing an orange jumpsuit.

Joseph James DeAngelo is appearing in Sacramento County Court Friday to be arraigned on two counts of murder.

About 80 reporters and photographers were at the court hearing.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has said DeAngelo was in a psychiatric ward of the county jail and has said little. Jones says there’s been “quiet reflection” and mumbling.

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12:10 p.m.

The Sacramento County sheriff says a man suspected of being one of California’s most elusive serial killers is on suicide watch and talking to himself.

Sheriff Scott Jones said Friday that Joseph James DeAngelo was in a psychiatric ward of the county jail and has said little. Jones says there’s been “quiet reflection” and mumbling.

Jones says investigators are sifting through every item, receipt and piece of paper from DeAngelo’s home. They’re searching for any possible clues to tie him to more than 170 crimes authorities believe he may have committed.

Investigators suspect DeAngelo is the Golden State Killer, responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen people and rapes of 50 women from 1976 to 1986.

Jones declined to discuss the DNA method used to identify DeAngelo.

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10:15 a.m.

A genealogical website that police used to track down a man they believe is the Golden State Killer says it had no idea its service was involved in the hunt for one of California’s most elusive serial killers.

GEDmatch said in a statement Friday on its website that it was never contacted by law enforcement or anyone else about the case or the DNA profile that was used.

The Florida-based company pools DNA profiles that people upload and share publicly.

GEDmatch says it has always informed users that its databases can be used for purposes other than genealogical research.

A lead investigator on the Golden State Killer case told the Mercury News that authorities used GEDmatch to find a relative of suspect Joseph James DeAngelo, who was arrested Tuesday.

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7:30 a.m.

One of the main investigators who helped capture a California serial rapist and killer who eluded law enforcement for four decades says his team used a public DNA matching website.

Lead investigator Paul Holes tells the Mercury News in San Jose, California, that one of his team’s biggest tools was GEDMatch, a Florida-based website that pools DNA profiles that people upload and share publicly.

GEDMatch is a free site where users who have DNA profiles from commercial companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can expand their search for relatives.

Major companies, such as 23andMe and Ancestry, do not allow law enforcement to access their genetic data unless they get a court order.

Holes says officials did not need a court order to access GEDMatch’s large database of genetic blueprints.

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12:00 a.m.

Privacy concerns are being raised over investigators’ use of a genealogical website to find the California man they say is a serial killer and rapist.

Joseph DeAngelo was arrested Tuesday after investigators say they matched crime-scene DNA using genetic material stored by a distant relative on a website.

Authorities say it’s an innovative technique that broke open the long-cold case of the Golden State Killer, who slew at least a dozen people and raped 50 women from 1976 to 1986.

But Steve Mercer of the Maryland public defender’s office says it pinpoints a problem: There aren’t strong privacy laws to keep police from trolling such databases.

Mercer says right now, people who submit DNA to be tested to find their ancestors can unwittingly become “genetic informants” on family members.

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