Sacto 9-1-1
December 2, 2011
Sacramento judge rules Davis 'sweethearts' murder hearings will be open

By Andy Furillo
afurillo@sacbee.com

Attorneys for the man accused of murder in the 1980 Davis "sweetheart" killings failed today in their effort to exclude the press and public from pretrial motions in the case.

The lawyers for Richard Joseph Hirschfield, 62, said that coverage of several potential "inflammatory" issues they expect to arise in the hearings could prejudice their client's right to a fair trial.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge MIchael W. Sweet disagreed, saying that there are several remedies available to ensure that potential jurors are not contaminated by news coverage of the more than 100 motions the lawyers are expected to argue over the next week.

Among the remedies, the judge said, are a questionaire to be distributed among the jury pool and the individual questioning of candidates for the panel if they say they have learned things about the trial that could be prejudicial.

Hirschfield is accused of kidnapping UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, both 18, from the college town the night of Dec. 20, 1980. Their bodies were discovered two days later near Lake Natoma.

The Sacramento Bee joined Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet in opposing the motion filed by defense attorney Linda Parisi and Assistant Public Defender Ken Schaller, the two of whom were joined today by the public defender's DNA expert, David Lynch.

"Obviously, I think he did the right thing," The Bee's lawyer, Karl Olsen, said in an interview after the judge's ruling. "He recognized that any capital case is going to get some publicity. This case, in my mind, doesn't come anywhere close to being the kind of case where you take the drastic step of shutting the doors on the press and public."

Olsen said there have only been two stories in The Bee on the HIrschfield case in the past year and 21 since the defendant was arrested seven years ago. Bladet said there has been no television coverage of the case in the past four years.

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