The young blonde in the front row and the middle-aged guy in jeans in the back came from opposite positions on the death penalty.
"I don't believe the government should kill anybody," said she.
"I believe if someone commits a murder, they no longer have a right to live," countered he.
Despite their differences, the man and the woman shared one thing in common as a result of their firmly held views on the death penalty: Both were eliminated as potential jurors in the upcoming capital murder trial of Richard Hirschfield.
In their search for the conscience of the community, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet and the prosecution and defense attorneys probed to find jurors whose opinions fit within the law on how capital punishment is applied in California.
For openers, the jurors had to agree that they would be capable of voting in favor of the ultimate punishment if the circumstances demanded it. But at the same time, they had to agree to be open to falling back to a sentence of life with no chance of parole if mitigating circumstances such as a defendant's precrime background or post-offense rehabilitation merit it.
Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet and defense attorneys Linda Parisi and Ken Schaller stipulated to the removal of the blond-haired woman and the blue-jeaned man, as well as a few others with similarly strong opinions, both pro and con.
The potential panelists' detailed responses about the death penalty highlighted the jury selection process for two days this week in the upcoming murder trial of Hirschfield, 63, who is accused of murder in the Dec. 20, 1980, "sweetheart" killings of UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves.
Charges against Hirschfield include two special-circumstance allegations multiple murders and murder in the course of a sexual attack. If he is convicted of the murders and the allegations are found to be true, Hirschfield could be sentenced to death. At the least, he would be sentenced to prison for the rest of his life with no chance of parole.
Jury selection is expected to conclude Tuesday when the 82 remaining prospects out of an initial pool of 414 take their seats in front of Sweet. So far, the pool has been whittled down through hardship excuses and "for cause" challenges, such as an impassioned opposition to the death penalty law or a refusal to consider alternatives.
In Tuesday's final stage of the jury selection process, the lawyers will proceed to the "knockout" round. It's where the prosecution and defense are each afforded 20 "peremptory challenges" they can use to kick off jurors for any or no reason whatsoever.
Besides the 12 members of the jury, the two sides must also agree on eight alternates.
Opening statements are slated for Sept. 4.
While the questionnaires and face-to-face examinations delved into other aspects of the prospective jurors' lives, the key questioning came down to their experiences with the criminal justice system and their opinions about capital punishment.
"If somebody did something really heinous, then yes, I think they should get the death penalty," said a woman whose father-in-law works for the FBI. She grouped child killers and mass murderers on her list of the heinous, along with "people with no conscience, where it is obvious there is no state of mind to be part of civilization."
Could she drop down to life without parole, Parisi asked, if child abuse or other trauma affected the upbringing of the killer? "It depends," the juror said. "It goes on a case-by-case basis with me." Parisi did not challenge the potential juror and she made the final 82.
Another prospect returning for Tuesday's session was a woman who had a cousin who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The woman said she testified at the penalty phase of her cousin's trial, about his childhood, and "it wasn't a pleasant experience." She said her cousin died on San Quentin's death row. The lawyers kept her in the pool.
One woman who made the cut, a relative of a retired, hard-nosed local judge, said of Hirschfield, "I hope he's innocent." So did a man who said he suspected the prosecution and defense attorneys were "building a career" while "poor Mr. Hirschfield, he's left out in the cold."
A retired Hollywood screenwriter voiced concern that the criminal justice system "makes it too difficult to punish the guilty." He arrived at that view, he said, in part, by watching the O.J. Simpson trial. "Technicalities," the man said, led to the acquittal of the former football star.
"What I would hate to have happen is to sit here four or five months, do my job, and find Mr. Hirschfield innocent (when) my gut feeling is that he's guilty," the man said.
As for the death penalty, "I would have to hear something very mitigating very compelling" in Hirschfield's background, the juror said, to not vote for death if they find him guilty. The lawyers kept this juror in the pool.
The lawyers agreed to disqualify a state correctional officer who knew in his questionnaire exactly how many inmates are housed on death row. Another correctional officer who works a general population yard at California State Prison, Sacramento, is still on the list.
Two prospective jurors were neighbors and close friends who live a few houses apart. One was kicked out because Sweet, the judge, agreed with Parisi that the panelist was too locked into a death penalty. The other is still alive for a possible jury pick.
A woman whose ex-boyfriend knocked her down with their baby in her arms and went to prison for it remained in the jury pool; she said she leans in favor of the death penalty "but would not always vote for it." A woman whose boyfriend's son is in prison for shooting three people was dismissed because she could envision only a "one-tenth of 1 percent chance" that she wouldn't vote for death if Hirschfield is convicted.
The lawyers allowed a man to stay whose adoptive father killed his ex-wife and her lover when he found them in bed together. This prospective juror is an ex-police officer who once dodged a bullet; he said the shooter was convicted of attempted murder.
One woman described her brother as "a petty criminal for dirt-bag kinds of things." She decried his many trips to prison on plea bargains and said "he's never been really prosecuted." She made the 82 when she said she wouldn't vote for acquittal to avoid the death penalty and that in a penalty phase she would not automatically vote for or against capital punishment.