By Raheem Hosseini
California will finally vanquish its most notorious rapist today. But the long-awaited sentencing of confessed Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo belies a fact that the counties where DeAngelo terrorized dozens of women remain incapable — decades later — of solving a majority of sexual assaults.
On Friday, the 74-year-old DeAngelo, who raped and murdered scores of people across the state during the 1970s and 1980s, is due to be sentenced to life in prison. The Aug. 21 sentencing follows three days of searing testimony from survivors and victims’ loved ones, and resolves the legal chapter of California's highest-profile serial killer — known at various times as the Visalia Ransacker, East Area Rapist and Original Night Stalker.
As for the 10 counties where DeAngelo raped more than 50 women and girls, they were unable to solve most violent sex crimes last year.
According to a Capital Public Radio analysis of state Department of Justice crime data from 2019, law enforcement resolved only a quarter of the 3,432 rapes and attempted rapes investigated in Sacramento, Yolo, San Joaquin, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Stanislaus, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Orange counties.
Five of the 10 counties — Sacramento, Yolo, Alameda, Contra Costa and Santa Clara — marked their lowest clearance rates in at least a decade, while Santa Barbara and Ventura marked their-second lowest.
Even San Joaquin County, which had its highest clearance rate in 10 years, only closed 26.2% of the 301 rapes and attempted rapes reported to authorities last year.
According to the FBI and state DOJ, a crime is cleared when an arrest is made or charges are filed — not when a conviction occurs. The agencies also allow for clearances through “exceptional means,” which happens when a survivor declines to participate in an investigation or a suspect has been identified but not arrested due to circumstances outside the agency’s control.
Statewide, rape clearance rates inched upward to 35.9%, their second lowest mark since at least 1985. Rape clearances in California peaked at 53.1% in 1991.
Explaining the numbers
The decline in clearances has occurred as reports of sexual violence statewide climbed in recent decades, reaching a high of 15,500 in 2018 before dipping last year. That’s partially due to the FBI revising its definition of the crime in 2013 to “penetration, no matter how slight … without the consent of the victim.” The California Department of Justice adopted this definition in 2014 and says this led to an increase in reported rapes.
But years after the definition changed, the slide has accelerated for some counties more than others.
Of the 10 counties where DeAngelo perpetrated home-invasion rapes, the one with the bleakest clearance rate last year was Santa Clara, which resolved only 15.4% of the 918 rapes and attempted rapes authorities investigated. The county’s worst offender was the San Jose Police Department, which cleared only 8.9% of the 671 assaults reported to the department.
A San Jose police spokesperson declined to provide comment and called into question the accuracy of the data.
Law enforcement agencies submit their own figures to federal and state agencies for the purposes of uniform crime statistics collection.
Sacramento County, where DeAngelo committed 30 home-invasion rapes in the late '70s and where he was arrested and prosecuted decades later, resolved only 19.9% of 407 sexual assault cases last year — its lowest clearance rate on record.
Sacramento’s worst performing agency is its county sheriff’s office, which cleared 9.3% of 161 reported sexual assault cases last year.
A sheriff’s spokesperson didn’t provide additional information before Capital Public Radio’s deadline.
Orange County, which performed the best, still couldn't crack 50%.
Law enforcement’s inert response to sexual violence comes despite new laws meant to add urgency to these investigations by giving child survivors more time to come forward and quickening the pace by which rape kits must be collected and analyzed.
The lack of formal justice and enduring estimates that more than 75% of sexual assaults go unreported have inspired survivor advocacy organizations to look outside the justice system for answers.
“We know that criminalization does not end sexual violence and because of that, our focus as a coalition in this state and within this movement is to include restorative and transformative alternatives to better support our communities,” Carissa L. Gutierrez, communications manager at California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wrote in an email.
CalCASA sponsored state Sen. Nancy Skinner’s (D – Berkeley) legislation to process California’s backlog of untested rape kits. But more recently, the organization put its efforts into keeping rape crisis centers open during the pandemic and by targeting state funding intended to prevent sexual and domestic violence.
A horrific exception to a terrible reality
Despite the urban horror story that DeAngelo’s crimes conjured, law enforcement authorities and survivor advocates agree that most sexual violence is perpetrated by people known to the victims.
DeAngelo murdered his first victim during a botched kidnapping attempt in Visalia in 1975 and eventually escalated to serial murder, claiming 13 lives. DeAngelo evaded arrest for 40 years, until a task force traced a preserved DNA sample to his Citrus Heights home in 2018.
For three days leading up to today’s sentencing, DeAngelo was carted into a Sacramento courtroom and forced to absorb withering statements from the people he harmed and the relatives of those he killed. On Tuesday, survivors of his sexual attacks in Sacramento recounted with devastating frankness the trauma he inflicted upon them. One of them was Kathleen Jouganatos, identified in court documents as Jane Doe #3.
In actuality, Jouganatos was the 18th woman he attacked in Sacramento suburbs between the summer of 1976 and the spring of 1979.
Jouganatos was 19, engaged and newly employed by the state on April 15, 1977, when DeAngelo invaded her Carmichael home and bound the sleeping couple. The attack “became the worst experience of my life,” she told the court.
During the attack, Jouganatos said she forced herself to pay attention, hoping she “might be able to help the detectives capture the monster.” She dictated a sketch while under hypnosis. She watched an officer hang his head and confide he was on patrol that night, hoping to prevent another attack. She waited for news of her rapist’s arrest.
Instead came news of more attacks, equally bizarre and more brazen. Five the next month, another six that fall and more than two dozen after that. Children tied up as a stranger hurt their parents. Couples shot and bludgeoned in their homes. And then, following the savage 1986 rape-murder of 18-year-old Janelle Cruz in Irvine, no trace for three decades.
Now in her early 60s, Jouganatos told the court that she stopped attending evening college courses after the attack. When DeAngelo was arrested in 2018, the parents who were woken at 4 a.m. to learn what happened to their teenage daughter were no longer alive to hear she was finally safe. Jouganatos told her adult son what happened for the first time and was reminded she had raised a good man.
"I always wondered why I was chosen,” Jouganatos said. “How did this monster find me? How did he choose all of his victims? Over the years, I came to the realization that he thought of us as his victims. But no, we are the survivors. He is the monster."
The former police officer and mechanic sat rigidly in a wheelchair and stared ahead as Jourganatos spoke. A white face covering sat just below his dim, empty gaze. DeAngelo’s next chapter is to wither and die behind bars. That's regarded as an unsatisfying conclusion for some and a fitting end to others.
"Knowing he is sitting in a cell, taken out of society, never to see the light of day again and paying for what he did is justice for me,” Jouganatos shared. “Knowing because of his heinous crimes that helped change our justice system's process for rape victims, along with the use of DNA to help solve cases brings some additional closure for me.”
She concluded, "Time to soldier on."
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