A Sacramento Superior Court jury began deliberations today in the penalty phase of the Richard Joseph Hirschfield murder trial.
Jurors must decide whether Hirschfield, 63, will be sentenced to the death penalty or life in prison without parole as a result of his conviction last month for the Dec. 20, 1980, abduction and murders of UC Davis "sweethearts" John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, both of whom were 18. He also was convicted of a sexual attack on Gonsalves. The two were kidnapped after they had worked on a production of The Davis Children's Nutcracker. Their bodies were discovered two days later near Lake Natoma.
In today's closing statements, the prosecutor urged a Sacramento jury to deliver the death penalty to Hirschfield, saying it is "the proper, fitting, commensurate punishment for what this man did and who he is."
"This is not on you," Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet told the jury, anticipating defense arguments to play on any guilt that members of the panel might have about imposing capital punishment. "This is on him."
Defense attorney Linda Parisi asked the jury to show Hirschfield mercy. She argued that he suffered from brain damage, that he lived in an abusive household as a child and that he grew up as "an outcaset," the product of a step-father's rape of a young teen-aged, girl.
"Two killings and adding another killing to it -- it does not help," Parisi told the seven-man, five-woman panel. "It does not restore. It's not where justice is found."
Bladet said the horrific nature of the abduction, the sexual attack and the killings themselves in which two victims had their throats slashed and Riggins was further bludgeoned in the head was enough to merit the death penalty. She cited as further aggravating circumstances Hirschfield's convictions on 12 felonies related to his home invasion and sexual attack on a woman in Mountain View in 1975, his conviction of molesting two girls in Washington State in 1996 and the molestation around the time of the sweetheart murders of a close family member who was between the ages of 5 and 8.
"Who he is is a violent habitual criminal, a sexual predator," Bladet said of Hirschfield.
Bladet also cited Gonsalves and Riggins as young people who had already contributed their time and energy to improving their community. She described Riggins as someone who hoped to develop improved prosthetic devices and Gonsalves as a person who at age 18 -- unknown to her parents -- had volunteered to be an organ donor.
"These kids were as good as good gets, and they were robbed from each and every one of us, not just their families," Bladet said.
Assistant Public Defender Ken Schaller began the argument to save Hirschfield's life in the 20 minutes before the noon recess. He asked the jury to not be influenced by prejudice or public opinion. He also said of the child molestations in Washington should not be enough of an aggravating factors to bring on the death penalty. He said the Washington molestations involved "a very minimal amount of force used."