Testimony in the Richard Hirschfield murder trial is likely to be completed by the end of next week, the judge told the jury at the end of Thursday's session.
"I think we're safe in saying this," Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet told the seven men and five women on the jury. They have put in six weeks of work into the trial of the man accused in the Dec. 20, 1980, killings of UC Davis "sweethearts" Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins.
Defense attorney Linda Parisi told the judge she has four or five witnesses scheduled for Monday, and Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet said she expects to come back with two rebuttal witnesses Tuesday. The attorneys will then sort through the 455 exhibits to see which ones will be officially entered into evidence. Closing arguments may begin the following week.
"It sounds like by Wednesday the evidence will be presented, unless your client testifies," Sweet told Parisi, who did not say if he will.
Hirschfield, 63, is accused of abducting and killing the two 18-year-old victims and raping Gonsalves, after they had helped put on The Davis Children's Nutcracker at the city's Veterans Memorial Theater. Riggins and Gonsalves were discovered two days later in a ravine off Folsom Boulevard, south of Lake Natoma.
Wednesday's session was marked by read-backs of two witnesses who have died since they testified in a 1990 preliminary hearing on four defendants previously charged by the Yolo County District Attorney's Office. Yolo prosecutors were forced to dismiss the case when DNA tests on a semen-stained blanket found in Riggins' van excluded the four. The genetic material came back with a one-in-240-trillion match to Hirschfield.
One of the since-deceased witnesses, Katherine LeBas, said she saw the Riggins van driving on Watt Avenue near Arden Way the day after the students were abducted. Her testimony from 22 years ago conflicted with a retired sheriff's watch commander who said in the Hirschfield trial that he saw the van parked off Folsom Boulevard at 2 a.m. on Dec. 21, about a mile west from where the victims' bodies were found.
At the preliminary hearing, LeBas also identified one of the four charged-but-exonerated defendants as driving the van.
"I had the memory inside of me and I know what the driver of the van looked like," she said in court when she made the identification. "It has never left my mind."
She described herself as a "license plate freak" who focused on the van when she saw its personalized tag. When she tailed the van to get a look at the driver, she said the man behind the wheel slowed down, stared at her "and made this horrible face."
LeBas testified at the preliminary hearing she saw a picture of the van with its license plate in the newspaper the next day. She didn't report it to investigators. Instead, she testified she related her observation to her estranged husband, Albert LeBas, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff's official and onetime law enforcement liaison to former Gov. George Deukmejian.
According to her testimony, Albert LeBas put Sacramento County sheriff's homicide Lt. Ray Biondi in touch with her in March 1981. LeBas testified Biondi didn't seem much interested in her story.
"It was like he didn't believe me to begin with," LeBas testified at the hearing.
By the time she spoke with Biondi, sheriff's detectives felt they had firmly established that the van had been parked on Folsom Boulevard at least since the watch commander's reported sighting of it. That was about 10 hours before LeBas said she saw it shortly after noon on Dec. 21, 1980.