Richard Forsberg entered a Santa Ana courtroom looking like it was just another day at the office. Light blue checked shirt, khaki colored pants, dark frame glasses. It could have been casual Friday for the Coast Community College administrator. The only image that didn’t fit were the manacles that held his hands behind his back as an Orange County Sheriff’s bailiff led Forsberg to the defendant’s chair.
He looked eager. He looked relaxed. Yet Forsberg’s day in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday was unlike any other in his life.
Forsberg was about to listen to opening remarks in the murder trial that will determine the extent of his guilt in the killing of his wife of 39 years, Marcia Ann Forsberg, in their Rancho Santa Margarita townhome almost two years ago.
Under the eye of Judge William R. Froeberg, attorneys representing the memory of Marcia Ann and Forsberg took to the floor with their opening statements.
Facing a maximum of 25 years to life, Forsberg, 63, has been charged with murder, and prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh allowed a Power Point presentation to tell the jury what they were dealing with.
“He didn’t just murder her,” Baytieh said. “He didn’t just decapitate her. He didn’t just dismember her. What he left of her is this—nothing!”
A blank screen appeared in the presentation.
“He left of her nothing.”
Baytieh was both explanatory and dramatic as the trial began.
“Selfishness. Betrayal. Deceit. Decapitation. Dismemberment and conduct that is borderline inhumane,” Baytieh said, practically the first words out of his mouth. “The man sitting at the end of this counsel table is a murderer, and he murdered his wife. He acted in the most gruesome and inhumane manner. He did not want to be married anymore. We’re going to give evidence that will make you shake your head and feel disgusted, but it’s what happened.”
He talked for 42 minutes and foreshadowed Forsberg's infidelity over the three years prior to Marcia Ann's disappearance in February 2010, his preference for massage parlors that provided "happy endings."
Baytieh showed video of Forsberg’s confession, including a disturbing revelation to investigators about decapitating and dismembering his wife.
“I was surprised at how easy it was, for the most part,” he said, adding later: “It’s easy to cut a dead person who’s not frozen. It’s very difficult to cut through frozen bodies.”
When asked how many pieces he had cut her into, he began touching different parts of his body to count them off: “Two for each arm, one for each foot, two for each leg, one for her head, and later on I cut her torso in half.”
Baytieh, a senior deputy district attorney who is unbeaten in 45 cases, noticed that that some jurors had dropped their heads and not seen Forsberg touching the different parts of his body, and made sure they were aware of his actions.
The jury and audience, comprised mostly of friends of Marcia’s, were spared any gory visuals because there is no body in the case.
More reserved was Forsberg’s hired attorney, Calvin Schneider III, who said a trial wasn’t even necessary. His client will admit to killing Marcia Ann.
“Not all killings in the state of California constitute murder,” he said. “There’s another level called manslaughter. What the evidence will show, and Mr. Baytieh barely touched on, is that Mr. Forsberg struck his wife in the heat of passion. … In order for one to commit murder one has to have malice. ... My client is here to accept responsibility for killing his wife in the heat of passion and manslaughter. We admit that right now. No trial needed."
The jury will also consider the sentencing in the case. If Forsberg is found guilty of manslaughter, he would face 11 years in prison "and be out in seven," Baytieh said afterward.
Schneider also explained the prosecution's case hinges on Forsberg's volunteered confession, and without it, there's no evidence that a crime was even committed.
"There's not going to be any evidence of physical abuse, no domestic violence between this couple," Schneider said. "No evidence of an affair with an individual person. No economic gain. No motive."
Schneider went on to explain Marcia Ann’s decades of illness, their lack of sexual intimacy for 11 years, and the rage that overtook Forsberg during an argument when she shut him out over their disintegrating marriage.
He took a shower, she went to bed. But the argument resumed when he returned to the bedroom on Feb. 9, 2010.
“At 1 a.m., he’s on her side of the bed, and there’s a figurine that weighs approximately a pound,” Schneider said. “Mrs. Forsberg said something dismissive, something like ‘(Screw) you, you (jerk), go away!’ She turns over and pulls the covers over and turns away from him. She cuts him off. She's not going to talk to him anymore.”
Infuriated, Forsberg then grabbed the statuette and hit his wife “in rapid succession, three to five times, boom, boom, boom” in the dimly lit bedroom, Schneider said.
“He turns up the lights and there is blood everywhere. He checks her pulse and she is dead. He panics. He doesn’t know what to do. … He realizes when he turns on the lights that he hit her in the head. … It was very difficult for Mr. Forsberg to admit responsibility for this.”
Forsberg’s attorney said his client covered Marcia's head and body with towels and took it to the bathtub and filled it with ice.
“Thereafter, there are many sequence of events that he does to cover up what happened and try to avoid responsibility … for the manslaughter that occurred,” Schneider said. “He lies. He lies to police. He lies to friends. He does things to occupy his time. He doesn’t want to to think about" what he put his wife through.
But Forsberg also went through the process of purchasing two freezers, Baytieh said, taking pieces of Marcia Ann to Lake Piru in Ventura County to burn the body: "He didn't just burn her. He was so intent on getting away with this murder he would collect the ashes, the bones, and throw them away. We couldn't find a single piece."
Countered Schneider: He took the ashes and put them on a tree where she grew up in Ojai, and some to the ocean, and he talked to her "and apologizes for what happened. He cannot live with himself after a period of time."
Schneider, who may call two witnesses, said that his client became suicidal with remorse.
Baytieh talked about Forsberg's realization "that the jig is up."
Schneider spoke of Forsberg having no criminal record, no history of violence.
The two men gave jurors plenty to consider.