'Sweethearts' trial now set for March

afurillo@sacbee.comJanuary 14, 2012 

With rulings pending on key motions, jury selection for the Davis "sweethearts" murder trial is now tentatively set to begin on March 19.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael W. Sweet on Friday scheduled two dates for later this month to resolve two of the stickier issues in the case against defendant Richard Hirschfield.

Sweet had initially intended to have ruled on the motions by Friday, but he has since been swamped with additional briefings by both the prosecution and defense.

The judge is expected to rule in a hearing set for Jan. 23 on whether prosecutors can admit a suicide note written by the 61-year-old defendant's brother, Joseph Hirschfield. In the note, Joseph Hirschfield said he was at the scene of the killings 30 years ago of UC Davis students John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves at a ravine near Lake Natoma. The brother said in the note that Richard Hirschfield killed the couple.

Deputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet initially said in court papers she intended to redact the portion of the note where Joseph Hirschfield said his brother did the killing. She now wants to bring in the brother's identification of Richard Hirschfield as the killer.

Defense attorneys oppose the admission of any portion of the note.

Sweet scheduled another hearing for Jan. 30 on the defense effort to blame the killings on four people who had been charged by the Yolo County District Attorney's Office. Prosecutors in Yolo were forced to dismiss the case when DNA from a semen stain found on a blanket in Riggins' van didn't match any of the four suspects.

A 2002 DNA test on the stain came back to Hirschfield, prosecutors said. He was charged in 2004.

Riggins and Gonsalves were kidnapped Dec. 20, 1980, in Davis. Their bodies were later discovered in the ravine 35 miles to the east.

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