SACRAMENTO — Several audience members and at least one juror broke down in tears this morning as relatives of murder victim John Riggins described the impact of his death nearly 32 years ago.
“Visualizing the way he died — wrapped in (duct) tape, throat cut, thrown in a ditch, trying to breathe — I wasn’t there, and there was nothing I could do (to protect him) … and I just feel really guilty about that,” Dick Riggins, John’s father, testified today in Sacramento Superior Court.
“I try to dwell on the 18 years we had him,” he added.
John’s mother, Kate Riggins, noted that her first-born son with the distinctive red hair was kidnapped and killed on her 22nd wedding anniversary — Dec. 20, 1980 — and five days before Christmas, forever changing the way her family celebrated both occasions.
“Christmas is no longer a joyous time for us. In fact, it’s very difficult,” she said. “So on Dec. 20 we recognize John and what he meant to us and our family.”
The Rigginses’ testimony came during the first day of the penalty phase of the trial for Richard Joseph Hirschfield, who was convicted Nov. 5 of killing Riggins and his girlfriend, Sabrina Gonsalves, after the couple ushered a performance of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker.”
Their bodies were found two days later — on Gonsalves’ sister Andrea’s birthday — in a ravine near Folsom Boulevard and Aerojet Road, south of Highway 50.
A jury found Hirschfield, 63, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances, and now must decide whether his punishment should be the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Gonsalves’ mother and two sisters were expected to testify this afternoon, along with a niece of Hirschfield’s who says the defendant molested her repeatedly when she was a young child.
In a brief opening statement, Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet urged the jury to consider Hirschfield’s past crimes — including a 1975 rape and 1996 child molests for which he served prison time — as well as the “depravity” of the Riggins/Gonsalves murders as they determine his fate.
“This crime, these murders and this defendant deserve death,” Bladet said.
But Hirschfield’s lead attorney, Linda Parisi, said jurors also should take into account Hirschfield’s upbringing in Colusa, starting with his birth in 1949 after his mother was raped by her own stepfather at the age of 14.
“From his conception, his life has been marked by confusion and chaos and lies and deception,” Parisi said, including family abuse and school bullying — a far cry from the idyllic childhoods of Riggins and Gonsalves.
“You will learn this truly is the tale of two worlds,” Parisi said.
Read the complete story in Tuesday’s Enterprise.