A judge issued but immediately stayed a bench warrant Thursday for a former Davis police detective who prosecutors say has refused to respond to a subpoena to testify in the murder trial into the killings of two college students 32 years ago.
Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet requested the warrant from Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet to compel the trial appearance of the former detective, Fred Turner, in the murder trial of Richard Joseph Hirschfield.
Bladet said marshals served Turner with a subpoena at his residence in Washington state. Turner had been scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday's first day of trial, but he did not show up and has not been in contact with the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office. Bladet did not say when she now intends to have Turner testify.
The stay on Turner's bench warrant would presumably be lifted if he fails to appear in court.
As a Davis police detective, Turner was the key investigator who pursued a theory that four other people were responsible for the Dec. 20, 1980, killings of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves.
The theory was discredited and Yolo County prosecutors were forced to dismiss charges against the four when DNA taken from a semen stain on a blanket in the victims' van excluded them. Prosecutors say the genetic profile matched Hirschfield.
Although the prosecution is expected to elicit only limited testimony from Turner, his appearance would likely provide defense attorneys Linda Parisi and Ken Schaller with their first opportunity to bring in the old Yolo County theory of the case.
Parisi and Schaller have proferred the theory as the first line of defense for their 63-year-old client. It holds that David Hunt, charged with the students' murders in 1989, organized a murder party to provide an alibi for his half brother, convicted serial sex slayer Gerald Gallegos, who was in custody at the time of the Riggins-Gonsalves slayings.
Also on Thursday, Bladet put on two former sheriff's criminalists who testified about the evidence they collected the day the bodies of Riggins and Gonsalves were discovered in a ravine off Folsom Boulevard about 30 miles east from where the couple were last seen in Davis.
With help from Bladet, one of the criminalists, Michael Linn Kidwell, cut open a box and then a bag inside it and pulled out of it one of the most important pieces of evidence in the case. It was the bundled-up blanket found in the van that contained the semen stain.
"This is a blanket," Kidwell testified, as he stood up and spread out the red, white and blue quilt and showed it to the jury.
In her cross-examination of Kidwell, defense attorney Parisi questioned him about his handling of the blanket 32 years ago and how he documented it. Parisi said in her opening statement at the trial's outset that authorities may have improperly maintained a "chain of custody" to ensure the integrity of the evidentiary value of the blanket and other items that had been retrieved.
The blanket, for example, had remained stored in a sheriff's property room for eight years before it was submitted to a crime lab for the serological examination that found the DNA.
In other testimony, the prosecution took a step toward establishing a tighter timeline on exactly when Riggins and Gonsalves were killed. The couple were last seen between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Dec. 20. Although their bodies were not found until two days later, a Folsom police officer testified Thursday that a witness reported seeing what in all likelihood was their van at the ravine site the night they disappeared.
The witness, Carl White, is on the prosecution's witness list, but it is not clear if he will testify at the trial. According to the prosecution, White told Folsom police he saw the van in the area of the ravine about 9:30 p.m. the night Riggins and Gonsalves were abducted. White came forward the next day, after word of the disappearance and pictures of the van hit the news.
The former Folsom officer, Richard Lavagnino, said he went out to the ravine with White late on the night of of Dec. 21 – before the bodies were found – and looked around in the dark in the area where the witness said he saw the van. In examining a diagram of the ravine, Lavagnino pointed out that he came within feet of the bodies but did not see them.
"I checked the area real good, but I couldn't see anything because of the fog and the brush and the trees," Lavagnino testified.