Suicide note admitted as evidence in Sacramento trial of 1980 killings

01/24/2012 12:00 AM

10/20/2014 1:28 PM

A judge ruled Monday that part of the suicide note that Richard Hirschfield's brother wrote can be admitted at the trial of the man accused in the 1980 sex murders of UC Davis students Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins.

The brother, Joseph Hirschfield, asphyxiated himself with automobile exhaust outside his Beavercreek, Ore., home in 2002, the day after Sacramento County sheriff's detectives questioned him in the Gonsalves-Riggins case.

"I was there," at the scene of the 18-year-old college sweethearts, Joseph Hirschfield wrote in the two-page letter he penned to his wife.

Prosecutors think the brother's admission will help convince jurors that Richard Hirschfield also was present at the kidnapping, the sexual assault and then the slashing deaths of Riggins and Gonsalves.

Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet argued that Joseph Hirschfield's statement becomes even more important when combined with evidence that he lived close by where the bodies were discovered near Lake Natoma.

It also comes into play with expected trial testimony that a second vehicle was spotted trailing Riggins' van in the area where the bodies were found. Riggins and Gonsalves were abducted Dec. 20, 1980, in Davis and their bodies were discovered two days later in the Lake Natoma area, 35 miles away.

Bladet declined to comment on the judge's ruling, but defense attorney Linda Parisi said her side was "very disappointed" with the ruling from the bench by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet.

Parisi said she is considering appealing the judge's ruling. Such an appeal, however, is not expected to add to the trial's long delay. Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 19.

Although the judge ruled that Joseph Hirschfield's admission to his own presence at the crime scene does not violate hearsay rules, he did find that the brother's added statement in the suicide note that Richard Hirschfield killed Gonsalves and Riggins is inadmissable. He excluded that portion of the note.

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