There was no doubt about the strategies at play in the murder trial of Richard Forsberg in November.
The state was going for first degree murder, and the defense was going for manslaughter. Admitted it at the outset, in fact. Wouldn't even need a trial, said Forsberg attorney Calvin Schneider III.
But the Forsberg case—he was charged with the 2010 murder of his wife Marcia Ann after 39 years of marriage—was more complicated.
First, there was no body.
Second, the primary evidence against Forsberg was his confession after realizing the cops were closing in on him and his failed suicide attempt.
Third, how do you determine the moment a person wants to kill another?
The most amazing thing about the murder is that it occurred in Rancho Santa Margarita at all. It was only the second murder in the safest city in the state for its size, based on FBI crime statistics. But Forsberg, after telling Marcia he no longer wanted to be with her, beat the ailing 60-year-old woman over the head with a small goddess statue while she lay in bed, turned away from him, during an argument. Actually, it was after she ended the argument by dismissing him.
And that's when he snapped. That's when, in a room with the lights down and her covers up, her dismissal "triggered a rage" and he grabbed the 16- to 24-ounce statue off the nightstand and proceeded to pummel Marcia up to a half-dozen times—not knowing he was hitting her in the head until after the lights came up and he saw the blood.
That's basically what happened, according to his two confessions to investigators, one on audiotape and the other on video.
Chillingly, he added: "Everything else was incidental."
"Everything else" was the coverup that began that morning, Feb. 9, 2010. He used box-cutters to slice Marcia's body into pieces—head, arms, legs, feet—stored them in a freezer for a week, and transported them to Lake Piru in Ventura County. There, he burned most of the pieces.
He returned a week later, after cutting his wife's torso into four pieces, and finished the "cremation," as he called it. He then concocted a story for neighbors and friends about their separation and her staying with an out-of-state friend until they worked things out.
He carried on the ruse for six months until those friends—who knew her lack of communication was out of character—filed a missing persons report.
The only evidence investigators could find that suggested Marcia Forsberg even existed fit within the fibers of a cotton swab; DNA found within the seams of a freezer seemed to match the only DNA found, which was from the sweat of a hat that was in the Forsbergs' Rancho Santa Margarita townhome. It was one of the few things of Marcia's that "Rick" didn't shred or discard in a myriad of trash bins between RSM and Coast Community College in Costa Mesa, where he worked as an administrator.
The Forsberg case also took an eerie turn before it ever began. Lead investigator Steve Swiderski died suddenly in January, at age 46, and Forsberg's attorney, Robert Viefhaus, died from non-Hodgkins lymphoma in July.
The trial lasted Nov. 28 to Dec. 5. The jury of seven men and five women voted 11-1 after a day of deliberation and, after the weekend, 11-1 and then 10-2 in favor of first-degree murder. The hangup was Forsberg's confession—that he didn't intend to kill his wife after their argument.
Prosecuting attorney Ebrahim Baytieh had built a case that Forsberg wanted his freedom, that he had engaged with many massage parlor prostitutes for three years—including the day of the argument that led to her death after midnight. In the six months before everything began to unravel on Aug. 24, 2010, with his questioning by investigators, Forsberg enjoyed his newfound freedom, became more social and went on deep-sea fishing excursions.
Figuring 15 years-to-life was as good as 25-to-life for a man Forsberg's age, Baytieh made it easier on the jury and took first-degree murder off the table. Less than 30 minutes later, jurors rendered a verdict in Judge William Froeberg's courtroom.
Richard Gustav Forsberg, 63, was found guilty of second degree murder of his wife, Marcia Ann Forsberg.