Prosecutors called an unscheduled witness in the Richard Joseph Hirschfield murder trial today who said she saw a man about midnight standing on a street corner near where the bodies of UC Davis "sweethearts" John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves were found.
Regina Hotchkiss described the man as white, skinny and tall, with "very intense piercing eyes." She said he wore a dirty spotted, or possibly muddy, T-shirt on a cold, foggy night. Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet didn't ask Hotchkiss if the man resembled Hirschfield, and neither did Assistant Public Defender Ken Schaller in his cross-examination.
HIrschfield, 63, is facing double-murder charges in the Dec. 20, 1980, slashing and bludgeoning killing of the 18-year-old college students. He also is charged with raping Gonsalves. He faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
Hotchkiss said she and her late sister saw the man at Hazel Avenue and Folsom Boulevard, about four hours after the couple disappeared from Davis. Hotchkiss testified it looked to her as if the man might have been hitchhiking.
She said her sister wanted to stop into a nearby minimart to buy some cigarettes. When they drove back to the intersection, the man was gone, Hotchkiss testified.
"It struck me as odd," Hotchkiss said, that the man wasn't wearing a jacket on the misty night. She said the man's shirt "seemed to have some spots on it," as if they were dirt or mud.
"My sister thought he was waiting for someone," Hotchkiss testified.
Hotchkiss said they saw the man just after the two of them spotted and got out of their own car to examine a van parked about a half-mile to the west. The vehicle belonged to Riggins' family. It had been pulled up onto a dirt area off the street.
"We stopped and looked around to see if anybody needed help," Hotchkiss testified. She said when they looked inside, they saw a bunch of wrapping paper strewn inside that "looked like it had been rifled through." She said they also saw the blanket that prosecutors say contained four semen stains that matched back to Hirschfield.
Investigators also found a deposit of blood in the van's interior that state Department of Justice senior criminalist Meghan Mannion Gray testified today matched the genetic profile of John Riggins.
It is the prosecution's theory that Hirschfield, who had been convicted of a Mountain View rape in 1975, abducted Gonsalves and Riggins, sexually assaulted her and killed them both. Their bodies were found about a mile east of where the van was found and maybe a half-mile from where Hotchkiss said she saw the man on the corner.
Prosecutors also have theorized that somebody drove Hirschfield away from the Folsom Boulevard area near Lake Natoma. HIs brother, Joseph Hirschfield, committed suicide after Sacramento sheriff's detectives questioned him in 2002 about the case. In his suicide note, Joseph HIrschfield admitted that "I was there" and that "my DNA is there."
Bladet today also told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet that she expects to conclude her case by next Thursday, far ahead of the trial's original trial schedule.