A police informant who was central to a now-discredited theory of murder in the killings of two UC Davis students 32 years ago reaffirmed today that one of four defendants charged but later released in the case admitted to him that he and another of the original suspects were responsible for the slayings.
Raymond Gonzales, a long-time operative for assorted Sacramento area law enforcement agencies, said that Richard Thompson told him that he and David Hunt committed the Dec. 20, 1980 murders of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves.
DNA extracted from a semen-stained blanket in Riggins van, however, excluded Hunt, Thompson and two others originally-charged defendants, and Yolo County prosecutors were forced to drop charges on them. The Sacramento DA's office, meanwhile, charged Richard Joseph Hirschfield with the murders, based on the DNA evidence, and it was in his trial that Gonzales testified today as a defense witness. Hirschfield faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
Gonzales, now in his mid-to-late 60s, said that Thompson told him in a Los Angeles hotel room that he and Hunt abducted Riggins and Gonsalves from a Lucky's market in Davis and that the two of them killed the 18-year-old college freshmen. Defense attorneys were precluded from asking about why they think the so-called "Hunt Group" killed the students -- to make it look like a copy-cat killing because Hunt's half-brother, Gerald Gallego, had recently been arrested for the similar slayings of two Sacramento State students. Gallego was later convicted and died on Nevada's death row.
"He was pretty much open," Gonzales said of Thompson's demeanor in their July 1987 conversation in the Hotel Cecil, near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. "He was pretty relaxed. We drank a couple beers at the bar. He was pretty mellow when he talked about the murders."
Gonzales told defense attorney Linda Parisi, "I'm not lying about nothing. You could give me a polygraph test."
On cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet blasted Gonzales' account, particularly the timing of when he said Thompson made the admissions and how his testimony today conflicted with his statements under oath during the Yolo County preliminary hearing in the early 1990s.
Gonzales also testified that his sister had been married to Hunt and that Hunt "did dirt" to her. He said their problematic relationship played a role in motivating him to tell Sacramento sheriff's detectives in the early days of the investigation that Hunt -- a long-time criminal -- may have had something to do with the Gonsalves and Riggins killings.
"It had something to do with it, yes," Gonzales testified.
He also said he was interested in obtaining the $30,000 in reward money for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever killed Riggins and Gonsalves.
Gonzales' testimony is expected to run through the afternoon.