(LOS ANGELES) — In the 1980s, William Evins pleaded guilty to the brutal rape and murder of young Southern California mother Joan Anderson.
But now, the Orange County district attorney’s office agreed to review the murder case after an attorney argued that the suspected “Golden State Killer” — not the man who was convicted — may be behind the brutal crime.
A brutal killing
Anderson, a 28-year-old mother and wife, was raped and killed at her Fountain Valley home in 1979.
Evins was arrested for the crime after a friend testified under hypnosis that Evins confessed to killing her, said innocence rights attorney Annee Della Donna, who is now representing Evins’ daughter.
Two others also testified under hypnosis that Evins’ truck was near Anderson’s home, Della Donna told ABC News Thursday.
Evins was sent to prison, she said, until several years later after California’s Supreme Court ruled that most testimony from hypnotized people was inadmissible.
Evins’ case was ordered dismissed in 1985.
But Evins was promptly re-arrested, she said, because notorious jailhouse informant James Dean Cochrum — who had “free range of the Orange County Jail” at the time — had said Evins confessed to him.
Cochrum was the “most notorious of a notorious group of jailhouse informants,” added intelligence analyst Matt Kelly. “He claims to have overheard … five different people confess to five different murders. Totally unheard of.”
A guilty plea
Evins, who faced a first-degree murder charge, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years to life, Della Donna said.
He would have had time-served for 5 years, so he told his family he hoped to be out in 10 years.
“It sounded like a good deal for him and he took the deal,” she said.
It dates back to 1979, when she was a higher schooler in Fountain Valley — the same time and place of Anderson’s murder.
One night, walking home from her restaurant job, Della Donna said she was nearly abducted.
She said she saw a parked van and a man standing in white underwear with a mask on his face, revealing “bright blue eyes.” He was holding a kitchen knife, she said.
She “took off running” to the nearby fire department where her mother picked her up, Della Donna said.
Two weeks later, she said she saw the same man drive by her house without the mask on, and she got a clear view of what he looked like — what she described as a “young surfer” look.
‘My little red flags went up’
Nearly 40 years went by without much thought.
Until last year, when Della Donna’s daughter had a near-kidnapping experience of her own, and she decided to look into what happened to her close-call from 1979.
During her research Della Donna found the FBI page for the then-unsolved “Golden State Killer” — a cold case that stumped California law enforcement for decades — and that’s when the attorney said she believed the “Golden State Killer” was the man who tried to attack her.
The “Golden State Killer” was believed to have committed 12 murders, at least 50 rapes and multiple home burglaries throughout California, from Sacramento down to Orange County, in the 1970s and 1980s.
He was notorious for his methodical movements and brazenness to stay and snack at his victims’ homes.
“He cut blinds from houses and used as ligatures,” Kelly, who has been investigating the “Golden State Killer,” told ABC News. “Most of the Southern California murders he bound his victims but then take the ligatures with him. That was actually a departure from his MO in Northern California where he would keep people tied up.”
The “Golden State Killer” also targeted his victims base on their proximity to a drainage canal, Kelly said, so he could reach a drainage canal in minutes for an easy escape to cut across the street grid.
“Not everything he did shows up at one crime scene,” Kelly said, “but you have a clustering that is typical of him.”
The “Golden State Killer”‘s identity remained unknown for decades, until this April, when through DNA and genetic genealogy, 72-year-old former police officer Joseph DeAngelo was arrested.
He’s awaiting trial on 12 murder charges.
After DeAngelo’s arrest, to “satisfy my own curiosity that the person I saw in 1979 was in fact the ‘Golden State Killer,'” Della Donna said she decided to investigate every other rape or murder in 1979 in Orange County.
That’s when Della Donna stumbled across the Joan Anderson case — she said Anderson had lived six blocks from her childhood home.
The attorney looked at a photo of Evins and said she immediately knew Evins wasn’t almost attacker — but she kept researching anyway, soon learning of the testimony under hypnosis and the suspicious jailhouse snitch.
“As an innocence attorney, my little red flags went up,” she said. “Way too many discrepancies in terms of lack of evidence against him. … It was just way too suspicious not to look into it.”
So she said she investigated Anderson’s murder more closely, learning the young mother’s “ankles were bound meticulously with a cord that he cut from her window blinds and that he took with him. She was raped, her head was bludgeoned with a hammer.”
The attorney said she also learned Anderson’s killer appeared to mirror the Golden State Killer’s MO: “We found out that the murderer spent hours in her house after the murder. And he had cooked food and eaten food in her kitchen. We found out that upstairs the Andersons had these decorative rum bottles… and a couple of them had been opened.”
Anderson also had a drainage ditch .3 miles from her house, said Kelly.
That “starting ringing bells,” he said, because “that may be the most consistent feature of the houses that DeAngelo attacked — the proximity to drainage canals.”
Della Donna continued with her research, interviewing those who knew Anderson as well as Evins’ ex-wife and daughter.
“We put together a massive factual statement with all of our evidence we found out from interviewing some of these witnesses,” she said, “including there was a gas can on [Anderson’s] counter. And one of the theories police had was Evins gained access to Anderson’s house by this ruse that he had run out of gas — this gas can was important to their case. We found out that gas can was Joan Anderson’s.”
DA to review the case
Della Donna said she’s 99 percent sure that Evins didn’t commit the killing.
Kelly also feels “very confident” that Evins was not Anderson’s killer.
“There’s no evidence [Evins] did it. Did DeAngelo do it? I don’t know. … it’s hard to put probabilities on these things, but it sure looks like he did it. I think he did. But we have to look more carefully at it,” Kelly said. “There’s no reason to think we know about all of DeAngelo’s murders. So if a murder like this happens in an area we know he operated, and has all these points in common with his MO, that needs to be looked at more carefully… and look carefully at the DNA and see if he can be linked to it.”
She’s about 90 percent certain the Golden State Killer was behind Anderson’s murder, she added, and said the “Golden State Killer” expert investigators are open to her theory.
Della Donna submitted her argument to prosecutors several weeks ago and the Orange County district attorney’s office agreed to review Evins’ case, district attorney’s office spokeswoman Michelle Van Der Linden told ABC News.
“It’s their responsibility now to find if there is any DNA [from Anderson’s case] and test it,” Della Donna said. “If there is no DNA then we’re going to look at this case as filing a posthumously writ of habeas corpus to have Evins declared innocent.”
“If any evidence does exist — and they are testing that to see if there’s a different outcome — the Orange County district attorney’s office is ready to follow that in any direction it goes,” Van Der Linden said. “We are interested in seeing justice go wherever it leads.”
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