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.