One of Richard Joseph Hirschfield's lawyers revealed a sliver of the defense team's strategy Tuesday to save the rapist-murderer's life he was the life product of an incestuous rape and of an abusive, chaotic upbringing.
Defense attorney Linda Parisi said in an interview the trouble in her client's life "begins at conception," with his mother being raped by her stepfather.
"Mr. Hirschfield's biological father is also his step-grandfather," Parisi said. He began his abuse of Hirschfield's mother "at a very early age, and culminated in her pregnancy at age 15," the lawyer said.
From there, Parisi told reporters, Hirschfield's father "was physically and emotionally abusive to the children, and certainly to Richard Hirschfield, (who) as the oldest child, took the brunt of that, as well as being exposed to a lot of sexual dysfunction and inappropriate behavior by his father toward his mother and others."
Hirschfield, 63, was convicted Nov. 5 in the bludgeon and slashing murders of UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, both 18. Jurors sustained special-circumstance allegations against Hirschfield in the Dec. 20, 1980, killings, of multiple murders and murdering during the course of kidnapping the two victims and sexually assaulting Gonsalves.
The penalty phase of Hirschfield's trial, to determine whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole, is scheduled to begin Monday in Sacramento Superior Court.
In a hearing Tuesday, Parisi told Judge Michael W. Sweet she intends to call a child development psychologist, a psychiatrist who specializes in brain behavior and another expert on interpersonal violence and the long-term effect of childhood abuse on men.
Parisi also has included Hirschfield's mother on her witness list, as well as people who knew him when he grew up in Colusa.
Hirschfield's mother "finally was able to escape (her stepfather) when she was pregnant with her last child," Parisi said in a hallway interview outside Sweet's courtroom. "She escaped and returned to the Colusa area. It's a tragic story of her sleeping by day and staying awake at night, in a sense standing vigil because she was afraid (Hirschfield's father) would come back and wreak havoc, and in fact he actually did come back and actually was arrested."
No other details about Hirschfield's father were available Tuesday.
The defendant's acquaintances from Colusa will testify "about the fact that he had a very difficult life, and the fact he was raised in a household where his mother was a single mother raising six children."
Parisi said Hirschfield, due to his family circumstances, had been the target of "bullying and taunting behavior" as a young boy. When he grew to be a good-sized teenager, the taunting and bullying stopped, but he was then "ostracized because of his family life," she said.
The penalty phase of the trial "is more about a presentation of who the individual is," Parisi said. "We will be presenting evidence of Mr. Hirschfield's social history. He certainly was raised in a very abusive emotionally, physically and sexually childhood. Very chaotic. It had a significant impact on his childhood development, and that certainly mitigates later conduct, and that's what an individualized penalty hearing is all about, to understand the background."
Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet, meanwhile, announced in court Tuesday she intends to call only one of the witnesses she had previously identified as being victims of uncharged crimes she attributed to Hirschfield. The one witness was one of Hirschfield's nieces whom, according to Bladet, the defendant sexually assaulted when she was between the ages of 5 and 8.
Bladet also will call friends and relatives of Riggins and Gonsalves to testify about the impact of their deaths on their families and community.
Judge Sweet ruled Tuesday he will be making public a journal Hirschfield wrote while in prison in Washington for child molestation. The journal is purported to be his documentation of sexual contact and fantasies he had with and for girls as young as 4 years old, Bladet said in court.
Parisi sought to exclude references to the journal in the penalty phase of the trial, labeling the 200-plus page writing as a work of fiction. The judge said the journal would be available today, with all the names blacked out.