It is the stuff crime t-v shows are made of and it is playing out in a Sacramento courtroom. A murder trial where it all comes down to DNA and the work of our California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) members who are criminalists with the state Department of Justice (DOJ). In this case, it is a double murder, the killings of two UC Davis students 32 years ago.
Last week, CSLEA member and DOJ criminalist Steven Myers testified in the murder trial of Richard Hirschfield. He told the jury Hirschfield's DNA profile is a one-in-240 trillion match to body fluid connected to the murders of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves back in December 1980.
"The suspect in this case was identified through a cold hit at California DOJ's DNA databank 22 years after the crimes took place," said John Miller, senior criminalist and president of the Association of Criminalists for the California Department of Justice (AC-DOJ).
The defendant in this murder trial is 63 years old and is accused of slashing and bludgeoning to death Riggins and Gonsalves, both 18. He is also accused of raping Gonsalves.
Criminalist Steven Myers took the case back in 2002, when detectives went to him with Hirschfield's blood and saliva samples. Within 3 months, detectives had their answer. Hirschfield was a match. The accused killer was locked up in the state of Washington for a sex crime at the time. He was then charged with the murders of Riggins and Gonsalves. The murder trial is now in its sixth week. Hirschfield faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
"This is another example of the importance of forensic DNA analysis, because two murders from 1980 had virtually no chance of ever coming to trial without it," said Miller. "This just highlights the importance of the DNA database, and shows how vital it is to make sure that perpetrators of serious crimes are included in it. By having their DNA on file, we can stop them much sooner, before they have a chance to commit more violent crimes."
There are more than 200 DOJ criminalists and they spend every working moment laboring over crime scene evidence, putting together the pieces that link perpetrators to their victims, giving police and prosecutors the scientific, forensic information they need to lock up those who steal, rob, rape or kill.
"That DNA database has proven to be a gold mine and who isn't in awe of our DOJ criminalists?" said CSLEA President Alan Barcelona. "They take the most microscopic samples, some dating back decades, and solve some of the state's most horrific crimes. I'm proud of the heroic work they do. "
Miller is in agreement, "Criminalists performing DNA and other forensic crime scene work literally save lives."
Great job, DOJ criminalists and criminalist Steven Myers! California, all of its crime fighters and all of its residents, are lucky to have you!