Rape, molestation victims testify in Hirschfield murder trial

afurillo@sacbee.comOctober 4, 2012 

Three women who say Richard Joseph Hirschfield raped and molested them told a Sacramento jury Wednesday about a history that prosecutors say included his abduction and murder of two UC Davis students 32 years ago.

When they finished their stories, a fourth woman testified about the suicide of Hirschfield's brother, Joseph, of carbon monoxide poisoning the day after Sacramento County sheriff's detectives came up to Oregon 10 years ago and asked him about the sex killing of Sabrina Gonsalves and the collateral homicide of her boyfriend, John Riggins.

A month into his capital murder trial, Hirschfield, 63, in his dark suit and blue shirt and gray beard, shot glances at the movie screen in Sacramento Superior Court to see photographs of the man convicted of raping a woman in Mountain View in 1975 and of molesting two little girls in a Renton, Wash., public swimming pool in 1996.

The pictures were of himself, in earlier days – younger, but of what prosecutors described as the same sexual-predatory proclivity that ran through and beyond the Dec. 20, 1980, slashing and bludgeon killings of the 18-year-old Gonsalves and Riggins. Along with murder, Hirschfield also is charged with raping Gonsalves. He faces the possibility of the death penalty if he is convicted.

The Mountain View victim said she was home with her younger sister and the sibling's boyfriend when they came back from taking out the trash and to see a man she later identified as Hirschfield in her apartment with a stocking mask over his head and a gun with a silencer on it in his hand.

"He said he just wanted bread," the woman said. When she told Hirschfield she didn't have any money, she testified he tied everybody up and said, "Who wants to be raped?"

Hirschfield first approached the younger sister, but the witness told jurors she intervened and told him, "If you have to rape somebody, please don't rape her. Rape me." And he did, she said.

Former Sunnyvale Police Officer James A. Brice said he arrested Hirschfield days later. Investigators found a .38 revolver in Hirschfield's car, plus a silencer, a nylon stocking, a garrote and a note that mentioned "a cute fox" who lived a mile and half away.

Sentenced to an indeterminate term, Hirschfield served a little more than five years in prison. He was paroled about six months before Gonsalves and Riggins were abducted on a foggy Saturday night in Davis. Their bodies were found two days later about 30 miles east, near Lake Natoma.

About 16 years later, Hirschfield surfaced again – at a Seattle area public swimming pool and horse riding complex called the Aqua Barn.

Two women who then were 11- and 9-year-old girls testified Wednesday that the man they identified as Hirschfield approached them in the pool to see if they wanted to play.

"He described things he could do, and we didn't see anything wrong with it," testified the older woman, now 27.

She said the idea was for him to "launch" the girls into the air for splashdowns into the water. She said in the course of thrusting the girls skyward, Hirschfield's hands ventured into places they didn't belong. She said she told her mom that night, and that she called the police.

The other woman, now 25, said the touching "became sexual." When she left the pool, she said Hirschfield was waiting. She said he told her he was sorry, but that he also threatened her.

"I was very scared he would find me and hurt me," the woman testified.

A Kings County jury convicted Hirschfield of child rape and child molestation, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2005 reversed the verdict on grounds the trial court erred in rejecting Hirschfield's request to represent himself.

The reversal came after Hirschfield was charged and arrested in Sacramento in the Gonsalves and Riggins murders.

Once victims had finished testifying Wednesday, Hirschfield was confronted by the sister-in-law he never met. Lana Hirschfield had been married for four years to his brother, Joseph Hirschfield, who, at age 47, committed suicide the day after the Sacramento detectives asked him about the Davis killings.

Lana Hirschfield described her marriage as "wonderful," until the Nov. 19, 2002, day when the detectives first came to the couple's ranch in Beaver Creek, Ore., saying "they were investigating the involvement of a possible family member in a crime."

She said when the detectives left, she called Joseph at his job as a mechanic at a Cadillac dealership in Beaverton. She said he came home early that night, "upset" and "very red-faced."

She said he poured himself a drink, then visited a cousin before coming home. She said they talked about the police visit, but that he told her he wasn't involved, "and I was relieved."

The next morning, Lana Hirschfield said, her husband went about his morning routine, then told her goodbye and that he loved her. "A few minutes later, he came back and told me goodbye again."

The next day, she found his body in his car in their barn. He had music on the stereo and a bottle of whiskey she had given him for a special occasion. She found his suicide note on the front seat. They showed a redacted version on the courthouse projector.

"I have been living with this for 20 years," it said. "I was there … My DNA is there. I am so sorry, but it is in the past and no way to go back. I wanted to tell you last night but I couldn't bare (sic) to see the hurt in your face … I'm playing our song and missing you so much."

The trial resumes today in front of Judge Michael W. Sweet.

Modesto Bee is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service