SACRAMENTO, CA - After years of delays, Richard Hirschfield is finally standing trial for the 1980 murders of UC Davis sweethearts John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves.

A decade ago, Hirschfield, now 63, was linked by DNA to the killings while serving time in Washington State for sexually assaulting a child.

"We feel intensely relieved and excited to being the process of some justice and resolution to this awful, awful thing," said Gonsalves' older sister, Andrea Rosenstein. "We also feel angry that it's taken so long."

In opening statements Tuesday, Sacramento CountyDeputy District Attorney Dawn Bladet prepared the jurors to hear about sloppy police work in the early days of the investigation.

But Bladet insisted the evidence would make it easy for them to arrive at a guilty verdict.

"This defendant, Richard Hirschfield, committed those murders," Bladet concluded.

Hirschfield's attorney, Linda Parisi, implored jurors to take a critical look at the evidence and not be influenced by the emotion that will certainly grip the courtroom during the expected four-month trial.

The bodies of Riggins and Gonsalves were found in a ravine near Lake Natoma just before Christmas 1980. Gonsalves had been raped.

The smoking gun in the case is a blanket recovered from the couple's van nearby that was initially thought to be of no evidentiary value.

Improved technology in later years determined the blanket contained semen linked to Hirschfield.

Parisi indicated she would be challenging the chain of custody of the blanketbefore its significance was appreciated.

Both sides previously fought bitterly over a suicide note left by Hirschfield's brother Joseph, who killed himself in 2002 one day after being questioned by Sacramento authorities.

Although Joseph Hirschfield's notesaid he was present when the couple was killed, he blamed his brother for the actual murders.

Judge Michael Sweet previously ruled portions of the suicide note would be allowed as evidence in the trial.

by George Warren,

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