Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Unit 1012 Cover Photo

Saturday, October 15, 2016

IN LOVING MEMORY OF JOHN RIGGINS (FEBRUARY 18, 1962 TO DECEMBER 22, 1980): An impassioned plea to uphold the death penalty from the mother of one victim, Kate Riggins. Don't let the loss of her son be in vain.


John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves

September 13, 2016 8:47 PM
Proposition 66 will bring much-needed changes; vote ‘yes’

I am the mother of John Riggins. John and Sabrina Gonsalves were murdered in December 1980.

The murderer was sentenced to the death penalty in 2013. He destroyed the lives of our son and Sabrina Gonsalves. Having kidnapped them, he left them to die in a ditch after slitting their throats. The fear and suffering they endured continues to haunt us.

This man was released from prison in the summer of 1980; in December 1980 he murdered Sabrina and John.

His death penalty punishment was the appropriate decision by the jury and judge. This murderer is a very evil man.

It is important to keep the death penalty as an option for law enforcement. Imprisonment for life without parole is not what the murderer of John and Sabrina deserves. Those sentenced to imprisonment without parole have a life less restrictive than the individuals who are sentenced for capital punishment.

Proposition 66 will include changes in prison and speed up the present system to review capital cases. Law enforcement and those in the courts realized the present system needs some changes. Proposition 66 will make those changes.

As a parent and victim I ask you to mark Yes on 66!

Kate Riggins, Pismo Beach

For some, fixing the death penalty means speeding up executions
Scott Shafer | KQED | California Counts
October 05 2016

Kate and Richard Riggins’ son, John, was murdered along with his girlfriend, Sabrina Gonsalves, in 1980. At the time, John was a freshman attending the University of California at Davis.

“They were kidnapped and left in a ditch to die with their throats slit,” says Kate Riggins. The case was unsolved for decades, until a DNA hit led cold case investigators to Richard Hirschfield, who was serving time in a Washington State prison for child molestation.

In 2013, Hirschfield was sentenced to death by a Sacramento jury, 33 years after what became known as “the Sweetheart Murders.” Hirschfield is currently one of nearly 750 people on California’s death row.

For Richard Riggins, the execution can’t come soon enough.

“They’re going to give him a general anesthesia, like people do every day for major operative procedures,” Riggins tells me. “He just isn’t going to wake up. He is going to die in his sleep. So cruel and unusual punishment? Not really.”

On my visit to death row late last year, Richard Hirschfield, the man who killed John Riggins and his girlfriend, told me he wasn’t too concerned about getting an execution date.

“I’m not too concerned about it because I really don’t think that I’m going to be killed,” Hirschfield said through the bars on his prison cell.

Hirschfield has good reason to think that. Since California reinstated the death penalty in 1978, nearly 900 death sentences have been handed down by juries. And yet the state has executed just 13 condemned inmates. The last was Clarence Ray Allen in January 2006. Later that year, federal Judge Jeremy Fogel suspended executions until the state revises the protocol it uses to put inmates to death. There hasn’t been an execution since then.

Even before Fogel stopped executions, legal appeals for death row inmates dragged on for 20 years or more. With that in mind, backers of Proposition 66 are seeking to reduce the time between a death sentence being handed down and carried out.

Proposition 66 seeks to “mend, not end” the death penalty so that decades-long delays are eliminated.

It would do that by changing the procedures governing legal appeals, which are automatic in California. It would also require more  attorneys to accept death penalty appeals cases and train them in how to handle those cases. And it would shorten the amount of time allowed for state appeals and require death row inmates to work while in prison and pay restitution to their victims.

“It’s unconscionable that it should take 25 to 30 years, and that individuals are dying on death row of natural causes, when a jury has said that this (death) is an appropriate sentence for very rare circumstances,” says Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. She thinks Proposition 66 will help deliver more timely justice to crime victims.

Of course not everyone agrees.

“That initiative is a false promise of expediting death sentences,” says Santa Clara University Law School professor Ellen Kreitzberg. She supports Proposition 62, a competing measure to end the death penalty.

“The danger with Proposition 66,” she says, “is it does limit and narrow the ability to present newly discovered evidence, which is how most of these innocence claims are presented in court.”

She and other critics of Proposition 66 think speeding up the appeals process could lead to a catastrophic mistake in California — like executing an innocent person.

The weak link in Proposition 66 might be funding it. The measure contains no language requiring the state Legislature to spend the money on training additional attorneys to handle death penalty appeals.

San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, president of the California District Attorneys Association,  admits that getting Proposition 66 funded could be problematic, especially with a governor and state Legislature opposed to capital punishment.

“We recognize it’s going to have to rely on the Legislature implementing the will of the people” Wagstaffe says. “And if they do not, well, that is on them.”

Dueling death penalty propositions draw controversy on eve of election
Sarah Moore , KXTV

UC Davis sweethearts Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins, both 18, were brutally murdered in December 1980. Their killer was condemned to death in 2013. Riggins' parents support Proposition 66, which would speed up the execution process in California.

Kate Riggins believes the world would be a better place without Richard Hirschfield.

In 1980, Hirschfield abducted and murdered a young couple – raping the woman – before dumping their bodies in a ravine 30 miles east of Davis.

The man, John Riggins, was Kate Riggins’s son, a UC Davis pre-med student who was taking his girlfriend Sabrina Gonsalves to her sister’s birthday party when somehow they strayed into Hirschfield’s path on a foggy December night. They were only 18, and photos around that time show the beaming couple in the full blush of youth and promise.

“They were young people who would have contributed a great deal to the lives of many,” Kate Riggins said in a telephone interview Monday. “They had ambitions to go into the medical field, and they had such caring feelings about them.”

Riggins and her husband, Richard, had to wait more than three decades to see justice for John and Sabrina. Hirschfield was finally identified by a DNA match to semen found in John Riggins’ van.

But they will never get over the horror of the young couple’s death.

“Certainly a day does not go by that we don’t have these thoughts about them,” Kate said. “As parents, there’s nothing we can do. It just haunts us.”

They support continuing the death penalty in California, and in fact making it more efficient through the passage of Proposition 66. And they don’t trust that life without parole will deliver what it promises. As long as Hirschfield is alive, there’s a chance he can be released, a chance he could commit another crime – the terrible possibility that another family will suffer the heartbreak hers did.

If there is any chance that the thought of the death penalty could dissuade someone like Hirschfield from killing, it’s worth having, she said.

Likewise, Harriet Salarno doesn’t think her daughter’s killer would be any great loss to the world, should he be executed – although he won’t be, as his lawyers managed to save him from the death penalty.

Burns murdered Catina Rose Salarno Sept. 3, 1979 and was sentenced to 17 years to life. For the past 37 years, each time Burns came up for parole, Harriet and her family have traveled to Coalinga to oppose his release.

Catina was only 19, studying at the University of the Pacific, when Burns shot her because she broke up with him.

At the time of Burns’ trial, Salarno would have likely supported a life without parole sentence, had it been available, she said in a telephone interview Monday. But she has since changed her mind. After wrangling with legislators and the criminal justice system in the scope of her work with Crime Victims United, Burns has become mistrustful. Like Riggins, Salarno is concerned that life without parole could be reversed, and offenders released.

Salarno founded the Crime Victims United group after Burns’ trial to help and support others dealing with devastating losses and to lobby for stricter laws against crime.

However, not all victims are in lockstep on their positions on the death penalty.

Some supporters of Prop. 62, which would repeal the death penalty, have lost loved ones to killers who are now on death row.

Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband was killed in the line of duty in 2005, and at the time of the killer’s trial, she asked for the death penalty, thinking it was the right thing.

“But I was wrong,” she said in a video on the “Yes on Prop 62” website.  In a story posted on another death penalty abolition website, Death Penalty Focus, Wilson said she was jubilant when Irving Ramirez was sentenced to death, but as time passed, she wasn’t really feeling any better.

It was only when she began to work on forgiveness that she was able to move on and find peace again.

The Rev. Isreal Alvaran, United Methodist Clergy, said Wilson’s experience is universal.

“I really am mindful of the pain and suffering of people who have lost,” he said in a telephone interview. “The best closure is not to see someone die out of your need for revenge. Forgiveness is healing.”

Alvaran said some killers are people who have been deeply wronged themselves, born into poverty, suffering from racial prejudices – sometimes mentally ill. He believes everyone should have the chance to redeem themselves, and if they are killed, that right is taken from them.

“It’s a moral issue,” he said. “As a person of faith, I believe in the sanctity of life. I believe everyone has a chance to be transformed.”

Copyright 2016 KXTV

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