Story Summary

“Sweethearts” Murder Case

In 1980, 18 year olds John Riggins and Sabrina Gonzales were abducted, their bodies were found a few days later.

Richard Joseph Hirschfield was arrested for the murders. In November 2012 a jury found him guilty of murder.

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The families of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves were given closure as the man convicted of killing the couple was handed the death penalty.

“Emotionally, it was very difficult to sit there,” said Riggins’ mother, Cecelia

Riggins and Gonsalves were killed by Hirschfield in 1980. The killings were dubbed the “Sweetheart Murders.”

The case would go unsolved for more than 20 years until DNA evidence linked Hirschfield to the killings in 2002. He was already serving time in Washington State for a child rape conviction, but was then extradited to California and charged with the murders in 2004.

“Richard Hirschfield is evil. He’s a very evil man,” Riggins’ father, Richard, said outside of the court room Friday.

Hirschfield was convicted eight years later in November 2012.

“You can say, ‘the system took that long?’ I got to admire the people who stayed with it,” Richard Riggans said.



A jury recommended the death penalty for Richard Hirschfield Dec. 6.


When voters went into the booths to reaffirm California as a death penalty state this November, at least two of them were thinking specifically of Richard Hirschfield- the parents of his victims.

“Because I did feel it was appropriate for this very evil man,” said Kate Riggins, whose son John was killed by Hirschfield in 1980.

Today, Hirschfield was condemned to die twice over for brutal slayings of 18-year-old Riggins and his sweetheart Sabrina Gonsalves.

The sentence brings to an end a 32-year old case that saw false leads, failed trials, and a once cold case come hot again with DNA evidence.

Is death a penalty Riggins’ parents wanted?

“Well, he will be much more restricted than it would be if it was life without parole,” said Richard Riggins, John’s father.

At 63, Hirschfield will die of natural causes before ever getting a lethal injection. An execution order in California takes decades to carry-out, and Hirschfield’s defense attorney is already planning her next move.

“Well, we have serious questions about the verdict in light of the fact that the jury was not able to hear a lot of the evidence,” said Linda Parisi.

Local News

Jury Recommends Death Penalty in “Sweethearts Murder” Case


Richard Joseph Hirschfield
File Photo


A jury has recommended a man be sentenced to death in both murder convictions he faces from a crime in 1980.

A Sacramento County jury told the court Thursday afternoon they recommend Richard Joseph Hirschfield get the death penalty in the murder of John Riggins and in the murder of Sabrina Gonzales.

The pair were abducted from Davis in 1980, and found a few days later near Lake Natoma.

The judge has final word on the sentence, after considering the jury’s recommendation. He will sentence Hirschfield in January.

Local News

Jury Reaches Sentencing Verdict in 1980 Murders Case


Richard Joseph Hirschfield
File Photo


A man convicted of killing Davis sweethearts in December 1980 will learn Thursday whether or not he will be sent to death row.

The jury will announce their sentencing verdict for Richard Joseph Hirschfield at 2 p.m. Thursday in a Sacramento County courtroom.

The same jury found Hirschfield guilty of killing John Riggins and Sabrina Gonzales last month.

The two were 18 years old back in 1980 when they were abducted from Davis. Their bodies were found a few days later near Lake Natoma.

Hirschfield faces the death penalty.