Change of venue motion withdrawn in 'Sweethearts' murder trial

afurillo@sacbee.comDecember 10, 2011 

Richard Joseph Hirschfield is accused of the 1980 UC Davis "sweetheart" murders.

Lawyers for the defendant in the 1980 slayings of two UC Davis students withdrew their motion Friday to have the trial for their client moved out of Sacramento County.

The attorneys for Richard Hirschfield pulled back the change of venue motion after Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet strongly indicated from the bench that he would deny it.

Sweet told Hirschfield's lawyers their own expert said in a declaration that so much time has passed since the slashing deaths of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves that he "doesn't believe there are sufficient grounds to make a venue change."

Attorneys Linda Parisi and Assistant Public Defender Ken Schaller had said in their motion that pretrial publicity could potentially prejudice the jury pool against Hirschfield.

No survey has yet been conducted on Sacramento County residents to determine their opinions about the killings of two 18-year-old UC Davis students who were kidnapped and slain after attending a Dec. 20, 1980, performance of "The Nutcracker" ballet in the college town.

Sweet said he would entertain the motion again if a high number of prospective panelists show bias against Hirschfield during the jury selection process.

Also Friday, the judge delayed until next month a ruling on whether to allow prosecutors to introduce as evidence portions of a suicide note written by the defendant's brother, Joseph Hirschfield.

Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet said the note contains critical details in which Joseph Hirschfield placed himself at the crime scene.

The letter identified his brother as the killer of the couple, but Bladet had redacted that portion of the note.

Joseph Hirschfield committed suicide by gassing himself with auto exhaust the day after Sacramento County sheriff's detectives interviewed him on Nov. 19, 2002, about the killings.

Defense attorneys said the note was not admissible.

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