Expert testimony in Hirschfield murder case reflects passage of time

10/12/2012 12:00 AM

10/20/2014 1:33 PM

Thursday's proceedings in the Davis "sweethearts" trial were a reminder of how long the case has been winding its way through Sacramento's criminal justice system.

First, jurors heard from Dr. Pierce Rooney – or at least a videotaped version of him.

The forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on John Riggins – killed with girlfriend Sabrina Gonsalves just before Christmas in 1980 – has died since he testified in the 2007 preliminary hearing to decide whether Richard Hirschfield would stand trial for the murders.

A judge ruled that he should stand trial, and the video of that 2007 testimony was played for jurors who are tasked with deciding whether Hirschfield is responsible for the brutal slayings more than three decades ago.

After Rooney, jurors heard from retired criminologist Ken Mack, who was director of the county's crime lab at the time of the killings.

Mack, who retired in the late 1990s, is elderly and had to be summoned from an in-patient rehabilitation center to testify in court.

And although he – like Rooney at the time of his 2007 testimony – could not recall all details of his involvement in the investigation, Mack was confident in much of his testimony, despite rigorous questioning by defense attorney Linda Parisi, who sought to attack the crime lab and its handling of key evidence in the case.

Riggins and Gonsalves were both 18 and students at UC Davis when they disappeared. Their bodies were found in a ditch off Folsom Boulevard in Sacramento, their throats cut and bodies bludgeoned.

Hirschfield, 63, also is accused of raping Gonsalves. He faces a possible death penalty if he is convicted.

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