Patton Oswalt: Golden State Killer Deserves a Fate Worse Than Death
The comedian and husband of the late “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” author reveals to “The Last Laugh” podcast what he hopes happens to the “Golden State Killer.”
After the crime writer Michelle McNamara died of an accidental drug overdose four years ago, her husband Patton Oswalt worked through his grief to get her definitive book on the man known as the “Golden State Killer” to print. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was published in February 2018 and instantly became a hit bestseller. Two months later, police arrested the man they believe is responsible for at least 12 murders and 45 rapes throughout the state of California in the 1970s and ’80s.
While 73-year-old Joseph DeAngelo awaits trial, Oswalt is still working to preserve his late wife’s legacy by executive producing a new six-part documentary series for HBO based on her book.
On this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the stand-up comedian tells me that director Liz Garbus, whom he calls “probably one of the best documentarians working today” came to him with the idea. “To her credit, I didn’t see how it could be a series,” he says. “But the way that she mapped it out, it’s astounding. Yes, it’s Michelle’s story, but it’s also the story of the case, the story of the killer and then most importantly, the story of the victims.”
“I’ve met a few of the survivors and it’s just the most humbling experience to see them so vital and alive and present,” Oswalt adds. Several of them have been attending the pretrial hearings and have said that DeAngelo won’t return their gaze. They’ve told Oswalt that makes them “feel so good to see him reduced to this just hunched-over guy who can’t look around.”
In the immediate aftermath of DeAngelo’s arrest, Oswalt talked openly about wanting to visit DeAngelo in prison. But two years later, he has not been able to bring himself to confront the alleged killer face-to-face.
“I didn’t express interest in meeting him,” Oswalt clarifies. “What I expressed interest in was getting to ask him the questions that Michelle never got to ask.” He suspects that instead of answering those questions, DeAngelo would be “unable to even look at me” and just get up and leave the room.
“So it’s not that I want to meet him,” he says. “That’s a very egotistical and wrong thing for me to ever want. It should be victims that should be allowed to sit down with him. It should be the investigators or it should be the journalists that worked on the case. All I’d be doing is transmitting information. It would have nothing to do with me.”
Prosecutors in the case announced last year that they would seek the death penalty for DeAngelo, despite the fact that California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a moratorium on executions in the state. More recently, DeAngelo’s lawyers indicated that he would be willing to plead guilty in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Oswalt says when I ask for his opinion on the matter. “Obviously, there’s a part of you that’s like, well, he killed people, he should be killed.” But if it’s “closure” people are after, he warned against taking the route of capital punishment.
“Michelle was very anti-closure, the idea of closure,” Oswalt says of McNamara. “She thought that was a myth that actually ended up doing more harm than good.” Victims who think they will feel better when their assailant is put to death often “still feel horrible,” he explains.
“You shouldn’t think in terms of death being the ultimate penalty, you should find out for these people, for these killers, for these criminals, what do they value the most?” Oswalt asks. “Figure out what that is and then take that away from them. Because what he took from these women was decades of peace of mind. He took away a normal life. He took away a chance to exist in the world. He took that away for seconds of pleasure.”
“So if he most values being alive, then absolutely he should be put to death,” he continues. “But are there other things he values more and can those be taken away?”
As an example, he points to footage that emerged of notorious serial killer Richard Speck near the end of his life in prison, being “passed around” to other inmates among other degradations.
“In a weird way, maybe that was a punishment even more fitting than death for someone like him who wanted to reap that kind of pain and vengeance in the world,” Oswalt says. “For some of them, I don’t think death—they don’t care. That wouldn’t create the kind of terror of losing their freedom. Maybe that gets you closer to closure.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Star of Devs and Parks and Recreation, Nick Offerman.