Prosecution builds case against Hirschfield

10/02/2012 12:00 AM

01/27/2013 10:59 AM

Prosecution witnesses in the Richard Joseph Hirschfield murder trial on Monday put him in the town where two college students were abducted at about the time when they disappeared and in a restaurant a half mile from where their bodies were found.

They also established a dynamic between him and a reputed accomplice – Hirschfield's brother who killed himself when investigators closed in on them.

And witnesses had him saying he did something so bad he'd have to kill somebody if he divulged what it was that he had done.

A woman remembered a chilling encounter on an isolated ranch. A cousin recounted a head-scratching visit from the suicidal brother. And a DNA expert held firm that she did everything right when she came up with the genetic profile that prosecutors say matched Hirschfield's.

In all, the prosecution's case came on like a freight train Monday against Hirschfield, 63, who is facing the death penalty in the Dec. 20, 1980, slash-and-bludgeon deaths of 18-year-old UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves.

Among the highlights, an old friend from Colusa County who went to college at UC Davis testified to Hirschfield's presence in town. David Jones told the Sacramento Superior Court jury he went to grade school and high school with Hirschfield and let him sleep on his couch in Davis in the early 1970s.

Jones testified he in lived in Davis until 1979. Toward the end, he said he lived in a duplex on Benicia Court – a block away from where where Sabrina Gonsalves lived. Jones couldn't remember if Hirschfield visited Benicia Court, but Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet suggested in her questioning that Jones said exactly that to DA investigator Ron Garverick, who is slated to testify later.

Nancy Shein, a former roommate of Jones', told the jury she worked at the Wild Oats gift shop in Davis from 1976 to 1980. She said she couldn't help remembering Hirschfield coming into the store. "He was pretty scruffy, that's why I remember," she said. Shein said "it's possible" the visit took place in 1980.

Hirschfield's former sister-in-law, Bobbie Lee Keaton, established his connection to the area where the victims' bodies turned up two days after they went missing.

Keaton had been married to Hirschfield's late brother, Joseph, the one who killed himself in November 2002 after Sacramento County sheriff's detectives interviewed him about the killings. Keaton said Joseph Hirschfield served in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Mather Air Force Base. She said she and Joseph lived at the Centennial Estates Mobile Home Park on Mills Station Road from Dec. 15, 1980, to April 1981.

Their home was eight miles from where the bodies were found. But Keaton put the brothers even closer, in Rudy's Hideaway, on Hazel Avenue at Folsom Boulevard, just a half-mile from where the bodies were discovered.

In a 1981 conversation between the brothers, "It seemed like Richard was needling Joseph," Keaton testified. "He was talking about this place they went and had a good time, and next time maybe they should bring me." She said it sounded to her like Richard was alluding to the two of them hitting on women at the place, and that Joseph "fidgeted" when Richard asked, "Don't you think we should take Bobbie to Rudy's Hideaway next time?"

In assessing the brothers' relationship, Keaton testified, "Richard was very dominant, intelligent, dominant. Joe was pretty quiet."

Their cousin, Robert Gomes, in his testimony described Richard as "more of a leader," who "intimidated" the younger Joseph.

Gomes' older brother, Daniel, told the jury he lived about 20 miles from Joseph Hirschfield in Oregon at the time of his cousin's death. Gomes said Joseph showed up unannounced at his house the night of Nov. 19, 2002, to return a Microsoft CD program he had borrowed.

"Then he said he had to go," Daniel Gomes testified.

The next day, Joseph Hirschfield committed suicide by inhaling automobile exhaust. He left a note for his wife saying "I was there" and "I've been living with this horror for 20 years." She is scheduled to testify this week. Prosecutors say that had he not died, Joseph Hirschfield would have been charged as an aider and abettor to murder.

Also Monday, another old Colusa County acquaintance said Richard Hirschfield came to visit him in 1981 or 1982. "He told me that he'd been to prison for having bomb-making materials and a silencer," Gene Beauchamp testified. "He said, 'If they would have gotten me for what I really did, I'd still be there." Asked what that was, Hirschfield, according to Beauchamp, replied, "If I told you what I did, I'd have to kill you."

Beauchamp's stepdaughter testified that about a year later, when she was 17, she was home alone on their isolated ranch in the wide-open country north of the town of Colusa when she saw Richard Hirschfield's car driving down the dirt road leading to their house.

Kimi Marie Baxter testified that she called her father on the phone. When Hirschfield pulled up, "I told him my father was on his way." The defendant left just as quickly, saying, "I've got to go."

At the outset of Monday's proceedings, state Department of Justice criminalist Ellen Myra Clark concluded her testimony from last week about how she established a genotype from semen stain extracts on a blanket found in John Riggins' van, which had been abandoned not far from where the bodies were found.

Assistant Public Defender David Lynch cross-examined her hard on her procedures, but Clark strongly maintained that she came up with the right DNA profile.

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