Richard Joseph Hirschfield sat impassively today while a Sacramento judge sentenced him to the death penalty for the murders of UC Davis "sweethearts" John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves more than three decades ago.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet told Hirschfield that pending the outcome of his appeals, "you shall be put to death by a manner and means prescribed by law" for the Dec. 20, 1980, killings of the two 18-year-olds who were abducted after working as volunteers on a production of the Davis Children's Nutrcracker.
His voice waivering, Sweet told the parents of the two murdered students, "I recognize there is nothing I can say that can adequately convey anything that will console you, that your lives changed permanently in the worst possible way. You have endured so much. The tortured history of this case must have taken away any hope you had that the person responsible for these acts would be discovered and held to answer.
"Hopefully, with the jury's verdicts in this case, they have provided you some measure of closure and comfort, and that justice in some small way has and will be served," Sweet said.
Hirschfield, 64, was convicted Nov. 5 after a two-month trial of special-circumstance allegations of multiple murders, murder during the course of kidnapping and murder during the course of a sexual assault.
It took jurors less than four hours of delberations to convict Hirschfield and only 2 and 1/2 hours on Dec. 6 to recommend capital punishment in the penalty phases of his trial.
Nine relatives of the Riggins and Gonsalves addressed the court during Hirschfield's sentencing hearing.
In a statement read to the court, Sabrina Gonsalves' father, George Gonsalves, said that he understood that the decades-long appeal process that marks capital cases in California likely means that Hirschfield will never be executed. But Gonsalves still implored the judge to give Hirschfield the death penalty. Gonsalves also asked that if he is dead before the execution, that a surviving family member stand in as a witness if Hirschfield ever is put to death.
"At least I know his sentence will reflect his crime," George Gonsalves said in the statement read from the witness stand by his son and Sabrina's brother, Steve.