In the Case of Joseph DeAngelo, Justice Has Not Been Served
My victim impact statement in the Golden State Killer case: he is a hallmark of white privilege.
This is a copy of my written statement. You can watch the whole thing here via the local news’ Facebook page. My part begins at roughly 21 minutes. Inside scoop, I did two things at the beginning, spoke to the judge about lawyers to help me relax and transition. And then, what you may not know, is we caught DeAngelo bitching to his lawyers as court ended on Weds. Apparently he was tired of looking at the “same six spots” to avoid eye contact with us. He was pissed because his peripheral vision kept spotting us! So I had to play with that. I mean…I couldn’t resist. I wanted him to know, we knew. We heard. We laughed.
Good afternoon Your Honor. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address the court.
My name is Jennifer Carole. I am here on behalf of Lyman and Charlene Smith. Lyman was my father and Charlene was my stepmother.
I am also here on behalf of my brothers, Jay and Gary Smith, my father’s brother, Donald Smith, my mother, Marjorie Smith, my grandparents Lyman, Wilma and Lila, my daughter, and my nephews. They have trusted me with representing them throughout this process.
It’s a responsibility I take extremely seriously.
Let’s start at the beginning.
It was a gorgeous spring day in March of 1980, when my younger brother, Gary, arrived at my dad and Charlene’s house to mow the lawn. At just 12 years old, he already demonstrated tremendous self-discipline. He took pride in earning his own spending money. It was around noon when he entered the house. He immediately knew something wasn’t right. He made his way to the back bedroom, my parents’ room, and the digital alarm clock was going off.
It had been buzzing for at least 72 hours. Three days.
The comforter, pulled-up over the two bodies that lay in the bed, hid most of the horror. I suppose I could thank Joe for that courtesy, but then that would be perverse, wouldn’t it? Because there was nothing courteous about what had happened in their home. The walls splattered with blood and grey matter. The bed saturated with their bodily fluids. Gary gently lifted the corner of the comforter to find my dad’s head, face down in the pillow, cemented to the fabric by blood. His blood.
An ungodly amount of blood.
I just recently learned it represented nearly all the blood that was contained in his body.
Gary let the comforter drop, knowing he’d find the same on Charlene’s side of the bed. He picked up the phone to call for help. In that moment, my 12-year-old brother acted with incredible bravery and courage. Brave because he didn’t know what would happen next. Courageous because it took strength to stay focused and to do whatever he could for his dad and stepmom.
It might interest Joe to know, that a child, finding his parents, brutalized beyond imagination, didn’t not grow up to be a bad person. It’ might interest Joe to know, we are capable, as humans, of making good choices and despite seeing all that he saw that Sunday afternoon, Gary did not become a perpetrator.
As it happened, Mom went to check on Gary that day, wondering if he’d made it up the hill on his bike to dad’s house. She rolled-up on a scene that took her breath away. Police, yellow crime tape and word that her son was with Judge Lewis and his wife, Claire. They had found Gary, alone, sitting on the outside wall of my dad’s house, patiently holding it together while the police swarmed around him. I will forever be grateful for their kindness and quick response.
Meanwhile, my other brother, Jay, and I were at home waiting for my mom to come back. We assumed she was running errands. Jay was 15 and I had just turned 18. As soon as her car stopped in the driveway, Gary ran into the house and back to his room; he was crying. My mom was ashen. Jay and I turned our focus to her.
“Your dad and Charlene are dead,” she said. I didn’t realize it then, but in that moment, our lives changed forever.
Joe might be surprised to learn I was a suspect for two days.
I still don’t know how it was possible since Charlene had been raped.
I don’t know how it was possible because the force used to kill them exceeded my five-foot two-inch stature.
I don’t know how it was possible that anyone thought I could in any way manifest the level of hate required to execute two people I loved. Apparently horrific, unimaginable crimes have a way of creating unintended consequences.
I do know the police were likely desperate. They pursued every lead. I had to take a lie detector test. The irony is not lost on me since I’m guessing Joe did not have to take a lie detector test. The story was reported in the newspaper and the people in Ventura, my friends, my teachers, my neighbors, knew I had been a suspect.
I was an 18-year-old young woman, barely an adult, and a suspect in my own father’s murder.
Your Honor, I ask you to imagine what that does to a kid. I lived with that shame for decades.
Writing a victim impact statement, after forty years, is not an easy task.
Looking at the guidance provided, this statement has three objectives: to explain the physical, emotional, and financial effects of the crime.
Let’s discuss the physical impact. I had migraines, depression, anxiety, but I was able to cope and move forward. My brothers also were physically resilient. Thankfully, I can let this one slide. In fact, my family is remarkably healthy, thank God. Other than the true victims, my dad and Charlene, we have no physical scars.
Financially, the situation is somewhat similar. In 1980, we had a lot of crime-related expenses. I paid for almost all of them out of my share of my dad’s life insurance. Alas, after 40 years, I don’t have receipts.
I didn’t expect a long game.
But Joe did.
Joe and his wife worked hard to ensure he’d be destitute at this point. Based on their efforts, he has no assets to attach. And a fact check: it’s also unavailable to my family because these crimes happened in the years before victims were offered restitution. Yep, there are no financial damages I can claim.
That means I’m left only with describing the emotional impact.
Your Honor, I’m not sure I can do that. But I will try.
I’ve struggled to write this statement because it’s nearly impossible to know what would be if Joe didn’t rape, torture, and beat my parents to death. How might they have changed the world? Who might I have become? How do I know what might have been?
Assessing the impact is challenging.
Your Honor, my dad shares a resume that’s extremely close to yours. Law school, some work in the DA’s office, then private practice including litigating as a criminal defense attorney. He was hoping to be appointed by Jerry Brown, to a seat as a Superior Court Judge.
Exactly where you sit.
Joe might find it interesting to know my dad once sat where his attorneys sit. Lyman defended a man facing the death penalty. He knew the man was guilty of rape and murder, yet he believed in the system that said his client was entitled to a defense. My dad faithfully championed our democracy and the rule of law.
Charlene, just 33, was ready to have kids. Coincidentally, the same age I was when I decided to start a family. I had known Charlene since I was five years old. As my dad’s new secretary, she arrived with enthusiasm and style. I thought she was the hippest thing on earth — short skirts, long hair, huge smile, and a decade younger than my parents. She was the epitome of the mid-1960s in all coolest ways. I wasn’t thrilled a few years later, when my dad left my mom for Charlene, but by age 18, I realized how happy she made my father and I respected their relationship.
So, what if they had lived?
They were building a new home in Santa Paula. I believe they would have had kids — half-siblings I would have adored. My dad, a democrat with political ambitions, would have likely been appointed to the bench and then later, he would have run for office. I have no doubt he would have won. As a political junky, I likely would have participated in his campaign and who knows where that might have taken me.
My life may have been extremely different.
But of course, this is an abstraction. Magical thinking. A fantasy.
Of course, that’s not what happened.
Because of this crime, I’ve lived my life anchored by reality. I don’t spend much time thinking about what-could-have-been.
Instead I focus on what is and what can be.
Let’s turn to the what is. These are truths. Truths that are the direct result of Joe’s behavior.
It is true that my family doesn’t talk about what happened. I do, but they don’t.
As you might imagine, it’s a lonely journey for me but I fear it’s even more lonely for my brothers. They hide it away, much like the jewelry Joe melted down and kept in that antique stove in his garage. An ugly dark secret that’s only shared with people they trust.
My grandfather adored his two sons with every ounce of his being. When Joe killed my dad, my grandpa barely recovered. His sons were the proof of his hard work and commitment to their future. He was so damned proud of my dad.
My uncle, my dad’s brother, lost his best friend. My dad was his big brother and they were close. Two loquacious boys from Idaho who liked to fish. Although my uncle speaks a lot slower than my dad ever did.
It is true that Charlene left behind two young godchildren that were her moon and stars. They were so little when Charlene was killed. Tiffany and Brett were benefactors of her generous heart and unstoppable spirit. I can’t imagine how their parents dealt with helping them cope with the loss.
While Charlene’s delightful grandmother, Gladys, doted on her, Charlene didn’t have immediate relatives in her life. But she did have family. It speaks to her character that the Doyle’s, her ex-husband’s family, stayed in touch and loved her regardless of her divorce. She also had her best friend, Jill-Karen and her cousin Caryl and many others who loved her like a sister.
It is true that while Charlene and I struggled to find our way when she transitioned from secretary to stepmom, right before her death, our relationship was starting to change. The last night I saw both Charlene and my dad, we our first “real grown-up talk”.
It was silly and revealing.
We talked about smoking marijuana and boyfriends and going to college! I am so grateful for that Thursday night. It was one week before Joe entered their home.
I still wonder if peeping Joe saw me there that night, laughing and talking. I wonder if for Joe, knowing his victims had kids who loved them was one of the things that fueled his contempt.
It is true that dad and Charlene’s friends, associates and business partners were devastated by their deaths. Many of their friends were the people responsible for investigating the crime. I’m not sure how they coped as they struggled to find the truth among the ruins.
Both dad and Charlene had many meaningful friendships and they always helped others. They were generous that way. I know if I were to lose any of my friends right now, it would be debilitating. If they were lost to murder, it could be crippling. I can only imagine how their friends felt.
There are some, even today, who can’t speak about it. Not even to me.
It is true our friends, the children of Ventura who had relationships with Jenny, Jay, or Gary, were deeply affected by what happened. One of those children is here today. In fact, my dad and Charlene were meant to have dinner at her house that Saturday night. But, of course, they never showed.
There’s no easy way for kids to understand that kind of violence or hate — especially when adults don’t want to talk about it. How does a parent explain this kind of thing to a child?
I didn’t realize what these children experienced until recently. Many have reached out to me to tell me how this hurt their young hearts, about guilt they felt because they didn’t do enough to support us, about carrying this with them their whole lives.
I had no idea.
There’s a reason it’s called a ripple effect.
It is true this case has been part of my entire adult life.
For decades I kept an eye on things related to the crime, but I had to solider on, go to school, raise my kid, grow my career. And then, in April 2018, a text from my friend shattered my reality. A suspect had been arrested.
With Joe’s arrest, my life fell apart.
There was no way for me to ignore it any longer. This was my fight. After years of others telling our story badly, I felt responsible for making sure the truth about dad and Charlene was being shared. I’ve also been committed to pursuing conviction on this case, ensuring a name was finally attached to that infamous DNA string.
I remain compelled to do everything within my power to help them find peace.
It is true that prolific destruction, like what Joe did, creates a cacophony that is unimaginable.
Police, victims, investigators, lawyers, media, and more, creep into your life in ways that are hard to characterize. It’s like the constant bleat of a car alarm: relentless, persistent and of undetermined value.
Well, at least that’s how it feels for me.
While many of the lesser recognized players have been vital and added value, what is challenging is coping with the biggest noisemakers. These are the people who often have the benefit of a larger platform and all too frequently focus on the trivial. These players are energized and compensated for their trade in salacious details, theatrical stunts, and adolescent humor. They are rewarded for their bad behavior.
Maybe that is our fault. We click, we watch, we read, and we relish.
I’ve struggled with this miasma.
What we are doing here today is incredibly serious to me. We are talking about putting a human away for life. That is a serious responsibility and this case has enough inherent drama without needing to create more.
I think my struggle with this dichotomy is absolutely my parents’ fault.
I was raised to respect the rule of law. It’s been a part of who I am from the get-go. I was raised as an advocate; to value human rights and civil rights and to question authority. I learned this from my father and my mother.
And if you look at who raised them, you’ll see it must be in our DNA.
That DNA is powerful stuff.
And finally, in this case, it is true there is no justice.
On June 1st, of this year, as the Black Lives Matter folks marched through the streets of Sacramento, I learned of the plea agreement.
At 1:30 in the morning, as looters hid from the police underneath my bedroom window, I cried about losing the possibility of a trial.
I didn’t want much, just a preliminary hearing. It would have at least provided us with more insight into what others knew about Joe and the gallons of blood on his hands. But that wasn’t meant to be.
Predictably, Joe decided to forego his manhood and take the easy way out. Manhood is defined as having courage, strength, and, ironically, sexual potency. It’s not surprising that once again, Joe’s lack of manhood is the spectacle.
As I sat in my bedroom in Sacramento trying to wrap my head around the inevitability of a plea, I found myself saying, again and again: no justice, no peace.
Joe being arrested is not justice.
Joe being in a cage in the county jail for the last two years is not justice.
Joe, sitting here with his blank face and his desperate need to try and ignore what he’s done, is not justice.
Joe spending the rest of his life in prison is not justice.
Joe being executed is not justice.
For me, perhaps the greatest impact these crimes have had on me, as a victim, was coming to terms with this: justice is not possible in this case. And because of that, I won’t have peace.
But that’s okay.
Because as I said earlier, I also focus on what can be.
What can be is an active choice.
We can decide who we are and how we want to live. I choose my path based on how I want to express my humanity. I embrace life with optimism, compassion, and the life-positive expectation that things get better.
I like to think those of us who aspire to do good are legion, especially when compared to the people who choose to live their lives hurting others — and in this case, including hurting his own family.
It might surprise you, that because of this case, a lot of good has happened.
I don’t give Joe an ounce of credit for any of that good; he was merely a tornado, a whirlwind of fury with no purpose. The good is the rainbow that appears after the storm, providing the hope that fuels the people who rush in to help.
The bad lasts just moments.
The good endures.
So let’s take a look at what good will endure.
It is not because of Joseph DeAngelo that we now use DNA to release the innocent and convict the guilty. The good is the law has been changed and as a society we remain committed to ensuring we are doing everything possible to find the truth and convict the guilty.
No, I won’t give him credit but let’s make sure other prisoners who’ve been convicted because of DNA, know they have Joe to thank.
It’s not because of Joseph DeAngelo that sex crimes against women are now taken more seriously. The good is now, with a few exceptions, sexual assault crimes result in more serious consequences for the offenders.
No, I won’t give him credit, but let’s make sure convicts serving time for sex crimes they might have otherwise gotten away with, know they have Joe to thank.
It’s not because of Joseph DeAngelo that we are convicting more rapists, more quickly. The good is laws have been changed, statutes of limitations increased, and we’re now testing more rape kits, faster. In fact, Mariska Hargitay just reiterated the importance of this at the Democratic National Convention last night.
No, I won’t give him credit, but let’s make sure, the additional men incarcerated for rape today, know they have Joe to thank.
It’s not because of Joseph DeAngelo that his victims have gone on to live amazing lives. The good is they have embraced the trauma, found their strength, and are paying it forward to help others.
No, I won’t give Joe the credit, but let’s make sure survivors know that one human being can’t take away their potential, their goodness, and their compassion. [If you are a victim of sexual assault and are looking for a place to start to share, join survivor Kris Pedretti’s private Facebook group. Tell her Jen sent you.]
This case has forced me to think a lot about justice and what it means.
For weeks I struggled to find the answer. I talked with folks from all walks of life. I listened to academics and those in the trenches. After much consideration, I think I finally found my answer.
Justice is about equality.
Justice a reflection of our collective social consciousness. If it aspires to be fair, it should serve us all equally. But justice is meted out at the hands of human beings. As such, it is often capricious and biased. It can bend with compassion or with prejudice. As a result, more often than we care to admit, justice is not equal.
In the case of the People of California vs. Joseph DeAngelo, justice has not been served.
At a time when our culture is seriously assessing its role in perpetuating racism in the criminal justice system, this case is a warning. What’s happened with Joe DeAngelo is the epitome white privilege.
Joe was not shoved or punched or even thrown to the ground when he was arrested. He was treated with dignity he didn’t deserve. Joe was not shot on sight when he was spotted by Visalia Officer Bill McGowen. These are the hallmarks of white privilege.
Joe’s been allowed to attend court in a wheelchair. When he got cold this week in court, he was provided a sweatshirt. That image sits in contrast to how he left my friend Kris, just 15 years old, a week before Christmas, naked, outside in the yard, waiting for him to return and kill her, shivering in the cold, terrified for her life. He’s been allowed to behave disrespectfully toward the court. He doesn’t have one overworked public defender; no, he has three incredibly talented lawyers at his disposal. These are the hallmarks of white privilege.
Joe was a cop. He used those precious skills, designed to protect us from people like him, to commit heinous crimes. Even when he was arrested for shoplifting, convicted, and fired from the Auburn police department, Joe appealed the firing. He didn’t think he deserved to be fired. He even appealed the ruling that upheld the termination. These are the hallmarks of white privilege.
Joe took what he wanted at every turn. He liquidated and transferred his assets. He’s using a public defender. He gamed the system so he could sit here with remarkable legal representation at taxpayer expense. These are the hallmarks of white privilege.
Joe will likely be placed in protective custody when he gets to prison. He won’t be in the general population with his peers. He won’t see a reflection of himself in the faces of other convicts who are just like him. These are the hallmarks of white privilege.
Until a man, as despicable and frankly, worthless as Joseph DeAngelo endures what nearly every other criminal must endure, there is no justice.
And for me, there is no peace.
Your Honor, thank you for giving me this opportunity.
Thank you to the Ventura’s District Attorney Greg Totten, and his team for all they have done.
Cheryl [Temple, the prosecutor], you’ve been more than I could have hoped for: a strong, powerful, empathetic, and brilliant woman who demonstrates why we need more women fighting the good fight. I will never forget you.
Thank you to the defense. It is vital that Joe had a strong defense team so this conviction could stick. [I real life I thanked them a little earlier.]
Thank you Dr. Speth, the Deputy Coroner for Ventura, for taking two semen samples that awful day in March. Honestly, without you, I’m not sure we could have made this case stick. We certainly would not have found him.
Thank you to those in law enforcement who honorably protected the chain of custody and never gave up on this case.
Thank you to those in the media who’ve worked hard to tell our story accurately and with compassion.
Thank you to all my friends — those in this room, those watching and those sending me text messages right now. You’ve provided me with abundant love and support that I honestly can’t describe in words.
Thank you to my incredible daughter. You’ve had to endure a changed woman for the last two years. You’ve watched me struggle, adapt, deal with crazy people, and fight the good fight. You are my center and for a 21-year-old, you have tremendous wisdom, patience, and empathy. I love you, kiddo. Keep making the world a better place. It needs you.
And thank you to my mom. Mom, you took every damn phone call, listened to every rant, comforted me when I was feeling alone, supported me when I was feeling attacked, and counseled me when I couldn’t see the path forward. I love you mom. I’ve dragged you with me every step of the way and I truly could not have done this without you.
I’m going go buy you a bottle of the good scotch.
In conclusion, for all of you out there who have watched and experienced this case and been moved by the horror, the incredible, relentless horror inflicted by Joe DeAngelo, I have an ask.
You know someone who has been sexually assaulted. Go talk to them about it. They want to talk.
Volunteer to support your local cold cases. Those survivors really need you.
Call for help if you notice suspicious behavior. It’s not ing nosy if it’s coming from a good place.
See the people you love. Really breathe them in. Listen to them. Appreciate them for who they are, warts and all.
Be patient. Be kind.
Together, we can move ourselves forward to a better place.
You know a victim of sexual assault. We all do. I encourage you to seek them out and let them talk. They want to talk but the shame cages them instead of their assailant. It’s said we all know a victim yet none of us knows a rapist. This tells you how much work needs to be done. It starts with us being strong and patient enough to listen to those who have been harmed. Start small. Go gently. Give love.