Sacto 9-1-1
November 1, 2012
Defense attorneys say Hirschfield didn't kill UC Davis students

Defense attorneys for Richard Joseph Hirschfield argued today that he was not responsible for the Dec. 20, 1980, killings of UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, telling jurors that it was a group of desperadoes once charged in the case who were responsible for the murders of the couple.

Assistant Public Defender Ken Schaller said there were enough reasonable interpretations that could be drawn from several pieces of evidence and witness testimony in the eight-week trial to raise enough doubt to clear Hirschfield, 63, in the deaths of the 18-year-old victims.

Several times during his closing argument in front of the Sacramento Superior Court jury, Schaller quoted testimony from witnesses in the case who gave descriptions of a man at a supermarket where Riggins and Gonsalves may have been, of somebody driving the van in which the victims were slain, of a man standing on a street corner near where the bodies were found. Then he flashed pictures on a movie screen in the courtroom and suggested the description was a better match for former suspect David Hunt than it was for Hirschfield.

Schaller also cited what he said were admissions by Hunt's one-time crime partner, Richard Thompson, suggesting they killed Riggins and Gonsalves. The lawyer said some pieces of physical evidence taken from the crime scene, including a criminalist's visual comparison on a strand of hair found on Riggins' sweater that did not exclude David Hunt, exonerated Hirschfield.

"Those are clearly reasonable intepretations," Schaller said. "They are reasonable conclusions. And therefore, you must choose the conclusions that point toward innocence, and the only proper verdict in this case is not guilty."

Another assistant public defender, David Lynch, told the jury to guard against bias on the part of the criminal experts who testified that DNA taken from a semen-stained blanket found in a van in which prosecutors say Hirschfield sexually assaulted Gonsalves was a one-in-240 trillion match. The experts' objectivity is suspect, Lynch said, because "they all chose to become prosecution lab workers."

Hirschfield is charged with the two murders, with the added special-circumstance allegations that he killed during the course of rape, kidnap and oral copulation. The multiple killings also represent a special circumstance allegation, any of which could result in the death penalty for Hirschfield if he is convicted.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



About Sacto 9-1-1

Sacto 9-1-1 is a blog on crime and emergency services news in the Sacramento region.

Send feedback on Sacto 9-1-1 to Assistant Metro Editor Anthony Sorci at asorci@sacbee.com

Subscribe to Breaking News Alerts

Arrest Logs

Sacto 9-1-1 Q&A

Bee reporters answer questions about area crime news, trends and other issues. QUESTION: A couple of years ago, a Sacramento tax attorney named Roni Deutch was the target of an investigation by the California Department of Justice. She was accused of bilking clients out of millions and defying a court (Read More)

More Questions and Answers
See all the crime Q&As
Submit your question

April 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
    1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30      

Monthly Archives


Kim Minugh on Twitter

Follow "Kim_Minugh" on Twitter

Local Agencies on Twitter

Categories