Richard Joseph Hirschfield will be removed from Sacramento within the next 10 days. He will be sent to San Quentin's death row on an execution order rendered Friday to the man who killed two young lovers at Christmastime more than 30 years ago.
Hirschfield, 64, stared impassively during his two-hour sentencing hearing in Sacramento Superior Court. He looked straight ahead, sometimes directly at the people who were so repulsed by him that one even refused to mention his name. They called him "monster." They said he sickened them.
Occasionally, Hirschfield conversed with his lawyers, and they promised appeals that likely will last so long he will never face execution.
The loved ones of his victims, Sabrina Marie Gonsalves and John Harold Riggins, said they would prefer Hirschfield die by lethal injection, but they expressed satisfaction that justice finally caught up with him.
"The whole family is incredibly excited, incredibly relieved, ready to move on with their lives, and just really miss Sabrina and not really think about him, not think about him at all," said Andrea Rosenstein, Sabrina Gonsalves' older sister and roommate.
Rosenstein said she couldn't even say Hirschfield's name, not after the horror he wrought the night of Dec. 20, 1980.
Back then, Gonsalves and Riggins were working as volunteers for the Davis Children's "Nutcracker" at the Veterans Memorial Theater. They were headed for Rosenstein's birthday party after the show, bringing the ice cream. They were going to surprise her with a present of a popular new "bundle-up" blanket.
Somewhere, probably outside the women's apartment on Alta Loma Court, Hirschfield overpowered the two 18-year-old UC Davis sweethearts. He forced them into Riggins' van and they wound up in a ravine 30 miles away, near Lake Natoma, on land that is now the Folsom Auto Mall. Hirschfield wrapped them in duct tape. He sexually assaulted Sabrina. He cracked John's skull. He slit their throats and left them to die in a wet ravine.
The blanket bought as a birthday gift was found to be stained with sperm that matched Hirschfield's DNA, making it easy for a jury to convict him of murder, kidnapping and sexual assault on Nov. 5. They recommended the death penalty on Dec. 6.
On Friday, defense attorney Linda Parisi again argued to Judge Michael W. Sweet that he improperly restricted Hirschfield's lawyers from pursuing the theory that three ex-cons from San Quentin and one of their girlfriends killed the college students to cover the tracks of serial sex killer Gerald Gallegos, who had been jailed shortly before the Gonsalves and Riggins slayings.
Sweet again rejected the theory, which had been pursued in Yolo County and abandoned in embarrassment in 1993, after the DNA tests implicated Hirschfield, who wasn't identified until 2002 and charged in 2004.
The judge denied Hirschfield's request for a new trial, and he also swatted away the murderer's motion to modify the jury's recommended sentence of death.
With his voice wavering in emotion, Sweet detailed Hirschfield's plan of murder, its execution, the killer's past as a rapist and child molester (although the conviction on the latter charge has been since overturned). The judge said aggravating factors far outweigh any mitigation that the defense cited in Hirschfield's difficult upbringing or the suggestion his brain was abnormal.
"The terrifying methods used to subdue and kill these two young innocent persons are so horrendous, so evil, that the weight of this factor alone is simply overwhelming and dispositive," Sweet said from the bench. "Considered with the defendant's violent criminal history, death, and not life, is the just and appropriate punishment."
From the witness stand, nine speakers expressed feelings of pain and loss. They told of hurt that takes on a physical manifestation, that inserts paranoia into the way they have raised their next generations. Sabrina's father, George Gonsalves, said in a letter read by his son Steve that his life has been "unbearable" because of his failure to protect his baby daughter. They spoke of the sweetness of John and Sabrina's romance, how it captured the youngest children in the family who sang to them the night of their deaths. They mourned society's loss of a future engineer and a physical therapist.
In addition to the pall left on the families at Christmastime every year, the murders ruined the wedding anniversary of John's parents, Richard Riggins and his wife, Cecelia. The killings took place the night of their 22nd anniversary. They did not celebrate Nos. 23 through 54.
"We acknowledge our John on that day," Cecelia Riggins said. "We only have tears."
Sweet ordered Hirschfield to death row. Then he turned to the relatives who packed his courtroom, along with a half-dozen jurors from the trial and one of the largest media crowds to gather at the courthouse in at least five years.
"I recognize there is nothing I can say that can adequately convey anything that will console you," Sweet said. "Your lives have changed permanently in the worst possible way. You have endured so much. The tortured history of this case must have taken away any hope you had that the person responsible for these acts would be discovered and held to answer.
"Hopefully, with the jury's verdicts in this case," he continued, "they have provided you some measure of closure and comfort, and that justice has and will be served."