Tuesday, March 31, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

‘Sweethearts’ penalty phase to explore defendant’s past, impacts of victims’ deaths

By
From page A1 | November 18, 2012 |

SACRAMENTO — Observers of the upcoming penalty phase of the UC Davis “sweethearts” murder trial are in for testimony both heart-wrenching and disturbing in nature.

On the one hand, there are the relatives and friends of victims John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, who will talk about the teens’ accomplishments in life and the impacts of their gruesome deaths. In statements to prosecutors, they have spoken of suffering profound grief, depression and deteriorating health since the Dec. 20, 1980, kidnap-murders.

On the other is the past of the teenagers’ convicted killer, Richard Joseph Hirschfield, who, according to court papers filed by Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet, has demonstrated a steady pattern of offenses including rape, child molestation and other acts of violence, even on members of his own family.

Bladet wants to elicit testimony from a sister, a niece and a former stepson of Hirschfield who all say the defendant sexually assaulted them, and remind the jury of Hirschfield’s convictions for a 1975 rape and a 1996 child molestation, which were introduced during the trial’s guilt phase.

An alleged plot by Hirschfield to kill his ex-girlfriend’s new love interest also should be admitted, along with his possession of bombs and other destructive devices at the time of his rape arrest, Bladet says.

Some of the crimes reportedly are outlined in a 266-page journal kept by Hirschfield that Bladet wants to present to the jury as it considers whether the defendant is sentenced to death or life or prison without the possibility of parole.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet is expected to rule Tuesday whether the journal’s contents — which Hirschfield’s lawyers have described as “fictional writings” — should be released to the public prior to the penalty phase, a move that defense attorneys say could potentially prejudice jurors and violate Hirschfield’s right to a fair trial.

The jury convicted Hirschfield, 63, of two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances on Nov. 5, after a two-month trial and about three hours of deliberations.

As of late last week, Hirschfield’s lawyers had yet to file any paperwork detailing the mitigating evidence they plan to present on their client’s behalf, although they previously have said details of his childhood and upbringing likely will be raised for the jury’s consideration.

“We have a pool of individuals we are considering,” including both civilian and expert witnesses, defense attorney Linda Parisi told Sweet on Thursday.

Depending on the issues presented by the defense, Bladet indicated she may call as a rebuttal witness Hirschfield’s own mother, who told a detective “she prayed for her son … to die before he hurt anyone else.”

“She feels guilt for bringing him into the world,” the prosecutor wrote in a motion outlining her penalty-phase case. “In her opinion, he’s not going to change and he blew his chance after he got out of prison for rape.”

Tales of loss

The attorneys sparred for several days last week over the scope of testimony that will be presented during the six-day penalty phase, which begins Nov. 26.

Bladet says she plans to call to the stand both sets of parents — Dick and Kate Riggins and Kim and George Gonsalves. Several of the victims’ siblings also appear on the witness list.

Kate Riggins, Bladet said, will identify photographs of her first-born son and discuss the impacts of his loss on her family. The prosecutor also plans to question Dick Riggins about John’s personality and his aspirations of becoming a doctor, following in his father’s footsteps.

His younger brother, Robert Riggins, “will describe how for a year he would cry in the shower as he did on the day he learned his brother was murdered,” Bladet wrote. “In his life, Robert … has sought friendships with older men, trying to get some of what he lost in losing his older brother.”

Jurors also will hear about the numerous tributes to the slain couple, including an asteroid, a memorial footbridge in the Mendocino County redwoods and Davis’ popular Warm Remembrance Festival, which for years brought families together in Central Park to honor Riggins’ and Gonsalves’ work with young children.

Andrea Gonsalves Rosenstein, one of Gonsalves’ two older sisters, plans to talk about the three children she adopted in honor of her sister, “and for the children her sister was never able to have because of her untimely death,” Bladet wrote.

Her other sister, Terese Attalah, is expected to talk about dropping out of college following the murders “because living in Davis was unbearable,” the motion says. “She suffered from nightmares, insomnia, depression and guilt about surviving when her sister did not.”

Bladet said she also wants Kim Gonsalves to testify about how the slaying of her youngest child affected her husband’s health, to the point she said he suffered a series of strokes.

Parisi objected to the latter, saying she would want to review George Gonsalves’ medical records for proof that the strokes were a direct result of his daughter’s death.

“Certainly that is a product of age … as opposed to this one event,” she said.

The defense attorney said Kim Gonsalves also should refrain from mentioning Thanksgiving 1980 as the last time she saw her daughter and Riggins alive.

Jurors will have just returned from their own Thanksgiving gatherings, Parisi said, and “it certainly runs the danger of causing them to place themselves in the shoes of the victims.”

The trial is moving into the Christmas season — the time that Hirschfield “chose to kidnap and kill these two people,” Bladet retorted. “He stuck with that time frame. … That was in Mr. Hirschfield’s control.”

Sweet said Kim Gonsalves’ testimony should avoid any mention of Thanksgiving, but he will permit her to share her observations of her husband’s declining health.

While other factors may have been involved, the murders were “a catastrophic event … probably the most significant event in these people’s lives,” Sweet said.

“We’re not here to try to sanitize this,” he added. “This is the impact, the loss of these victims.”

— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Where do Davis recyclables go?

    By Felicia Alvarez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    UCD faculty receive lowest pay in the system

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1

    Motive for murder-suicide remains a mystery

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1, 1 Comment | Gallery

     
    Davis sewage to get new digs

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1

    Human Relations Commission hosts Chávez celebration

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A2

     
     
    Davis Flower Arrangers meet Wednesday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    ‘Music as Medicine’ is radio show topic

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    Friendship the topic on radio program

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Forum

    These results were meaningless

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

     
    Survey not representative

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Answers on the green waste program

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    A phone call could have fixed this

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

    Milt Prigee cartoon

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    Some ‘survey’ …

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: B4

    Mayor’s corner: Looking ahead to spring

    By Dan Wolk | From Page: B5 | Gallery

     
    A Little Respect for Dr. Foster

    By Nicholas Kristof | From Page: B5

    Universities need more funding

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B5

     
    Father of the bride snubbed

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    Which experiences count as ‘once in a lifetime’?

    By Marion Franck | From Page: A8

     
    After a month of no TV news, I’m feeling much better

    By Debra DeAngelo | From Page: A8

    Take a hike for your heart

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Sports

    Aggie softball splits doubleheader

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Davis softballers suffer setback, remain optimistic

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Republic stun Galaxy with repeated history

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Bad fourth quarter sinks boys lacrosse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Aggies’ walkoff win clinches series against Riverside

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Burns scores shootout winner to lift Sharks

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B2 | Gallery

    UCD roundup: Aggie women’s tennis dominates at home

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B10 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Millennials are changing our community

    By Rob White | From Page: A9

     
    With new owner, DAC will Get Fit

    By Wendy Weitzel | From Page: A9 | Gallery

    Grant writing for non-profits workshop set

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, March 29, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8