The former cop accused of being the notorious “Golden State Killer” made a dramatic first court appearance on Friday afternoon in a wheelchair.

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was shackled to the chair with handcuffs as he confirmed his name but did not enter a plea.

The balding, unshaven alleged serial killer appeared weak and struggled to answer the judge’s questions.

Asked if he had a lawyer, DeAngelo replied in a raspy voice: ‘I have a lawyer.’

A public defender has been appointed to represent DeAngelo.

The tense courtroom was filled with people who knew many of the suspected serial killers’ 12 murder and 51 rape victims.

During the appearance, he was surrounded by victims and family members of those he raped and killed.

Tissues were passed around among emotional audience members in the front row of the courtroom, who appeared to be members of the victims’ families.

When one attendee was asked by reporters how she felt to see DeAngelo in court, she replied that he looked like “an old man.”

“I feel like justice is starting,” she said.

Police officials indicate that a free-to-use, publicly accessible genealogy and DNA database was instrumental in ultimately identifying DeAngelo.

Investigators knew the killer only through a string of DNA recorded at several of the dozen murder scenes. Shaun Hampton, a spokesman for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, said officials had struggled for years to figure out whom that DNA belonged to. Recently, they tapped genealogical databases that the public uses to search for relatives and ancestors, he said.

Law enforcement sources told The Times that information from the websites dramatically reduced the the size of their search. Eventually they narrowed the investigation to several families listed in the database, with a pool of about about 100 men who fit the age profile of the killer, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Investigators have not said which online sites were used in the investigation, but both and 23andMe (two of the more popular services) said they weren’t involved in the case.

There is speculation that relatives of DeAngelo may have farmed out their genetic information to third party sites, which are less privacy-oriented that the testing sites many of us are familiar with.

…[C]ustomers can themselves choose to export the raw data file from these and other DNA-testing services to a third-party site, such as GEDmatch. These third-party sites are less user friendly than the websites of 23andMe or AncestryDNA, but they offer a more powerful suite of tools. For example, GEDmatch allows users to find profiles that match only one particular segment of DNA. It also lets users who have tested with different services match with each other without shelling out for another one. GEDmatch offers premium tools but is largely free to use.

Using this approach, investigators in another cold case, were able to identify the remains of Ohio’s Buck Skin Girl. Through the DNA of a first cousin, the researchers of the DNA Doe Project were able to identify her as Marcia L. King, whose body found in a roadside ditch near Troy, Ohio, in 1981. In 4 hours, the scientists were able to determine an identity that had remained unknown for nearly 40 years.

While the results of the biological sleuthing in case of the “Golden State Killer” and the “Buck Skin Girl” are certainly gratifying, the discovery of the use of the open database now has genetic testing firms scrambling to address privacy issues.

The public is expressing their concerns upon the disclosure of the use of relative’s data to track down an individual.

I suspect the legal paperwork will be much more substantial for future clients of DNA testing services. However, I believe many people will still sign-up, and police will retain a valuable, new crime-solving tool.

After all, how many people have given up Facebook or Google in the wake of their substantial privacy violating escapades?


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