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Should sickness & remorse from older offenders be accepted?

Joseph DeAngelo, otherwise known as the “Golden State Killer”, was given life imprisonment last Tuesday. The 74-year-old confessed to 13 murders and the rape of 50 women, in a grizzly crime spree that spanned the 1970s and 1980s. The crimes which he confessed to did not sufficiently canvass his full criminal history, however many of these additional crimes were outside the relevant statute of limitations and much to the dismay of his countless victims, could not be tried in court.

The serial rapist, who had been known as the “East Area Rapist”, terrorised women throughout the State of California. Testimony provided by victims suggests he often threatened to kill them if they were not silent, as he raped them. DeAngelo’s awful crimes irreparably harmed not just his victims, but also their family, many of whom appeared in the Sacramento Superior Court, and said in no uncertain terms that he should ‘rot in hell’. As to the victims themselves, those of whom managed to survive his attacks detailed how their lives spiralled out of control after DeAngelo had attacked them, with one victim explaining that she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, requiring drugs and alcohol to dull her pain and anguish.

DeAngelo, who spent much of his life victimizing women, looks virtually unrecognisable from his younger self, depicted in the sketches provided by victims. In court DeAngelo, who has evidently lost a considerable amount of weight and looks sickly, was wheeled in by police officers, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a mask. Himself a former police officer, DeAngelo tried to appear penitent in the Sacramento Superior Court, suggesting that he was ‘truly sorry’ for everyone that he had hurt. Yet, can his remorse really be accepted at face value? Moreover, does the extent of his crimes suggest that he is beyond feelings of guilt or repentance?

Judge Bowman of the Sacramento Superior Court certainly thought so, imposing 11 consecutive life sentences without parole, in addition to other sentences, which as he elucidated was the ‘absolute maximum’ that his court was able to impose. For Bowman, the testimony of the surviving victims made it clear, the ‘defendant deserves no mercy’. It has been suggested that the prosecutors would have sought DeAngelo’s execution, but for California’s moratorium on the death penalty.

DeAngelo’s case is famous for more than one reason though, as back in April 2018, he was finally tracked down by police after 40 years of impunity, using a sample from a free genealogy site. Forensic investigators utilised an extraordinary DNA method to catch him, which involved the use of the afore mentioned sample from the genealogy database, to create a family tree that identified him as a suspect, and lead to his subsequent arrest.

Stripped of its gruesome and abhorrent details, if indeed that is even possible, the question posed by DeAngelo’s high profile case is an interesting one… should those who have eluded justice for decades face the full consequences of the law in their latter years, even if they are sickly and purportedly remorseful? Of course, DeAngelo’s case is on the further end of this spectrum, as the extent of his crimes would certainly make him justifiably irredeemable. However, what about offenders who might only have one of DeAngelo’s offences against his name, and are in a similar position to what he is now. If they are truly remorseful, have they suffered enough through years of guilt and shame? Or should the full weight of the law unrelentingly come down on them? Have your say below…

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