A courtroom fell silent Wednesday when the prosecutor flashed on a movie screen the gruesome reality of what a murder trial is all about.
In ghastly color, Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet showed the seven men and five woman on the Richard Joseph Hirschfield jury the autopsy photos of the two people the 63-year-old defendant is accused of killing.
The display took place during the testimony of the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Sabrina Gonsalves. She was slain along with her boyfriend, John Riggins, after they were abducted in Davis the night of Dec. 20, 1980. They were both 18.
Gaping wounds had been slashed across the necks of both victims, probably with a single-edged instrument that could have been a box cutter, Dr. Anthony Cunha testified.
Cunha performed the autopsy on Gonsalves. His examination showed that she had been slashed six times across the throat.
The pictures showed the young woman's head and eyes and and face wrapped in 2-inch-wide silver duct tape, in "mummy-type fashion," the doctor told the Sacramento Superior Court jury. The tape cut off Gonsalves' air passageways through her mouth and only barely allowed her to breathe through her nostrils, Cunha testified.
"She would not have been able to see," Cunha said. "She would not have been able to breathe through her mouth."
Petechial hemorrhages around her eyes suggested she also had been asphyxiated, according to Cunha. He said his autopsy noted the presence of ligature marks across the right side of Gonsalves' neck, and that some sort of possible strangling device "may have provided real compression."
The tape, the possibility of a box cutter and the ligature marks all bore resemblances to the signatures of a Hirschfield rape in Mountain View and its aftermath five years before the killings of Gonsalves and Riggins.
In testimony last week, the victim of the 1975 rape for which Hirschfield was convicted in Santa Clara County testified that he brought along duct tape and a box cutter when he entered her Mountain View apartment. When police arrested Hirschfield, they also found a garrote in his car, an officer testified.
Hirschfield served five years in prison on an indeterminate term before he was paroled five months ahead of the killings of Riggins and Gonsalves.
Their bodies were found two days after their disappearance from Davis, about 30 miles to the east, in a ravine off Folsom Boulevard near Lake Natoma.
Cunha's testimony also detailed some abrasions that Gonsalves had suffered in her genital area, but the doctor said he could not conclusively say she had been raped.
Prosecutors, however, say Hirschfield sexually attacked her. It's one of two special circumstances he faces. The other is multiple murders. The District Attorney's Office is seeking the death penalty.
Although the DA showed the jury the horrific photographs of Riggins in death, as well as Gonsalves, the coroner's testimony detailing his injuries is not expected to be presented in court until today.
The testimony of Dr. Pierce Rooney will have to be shown on videotape because he is one of at least 25 witnesses who have died in the 32 years since the killings.