Richard Gustav Forsberg, the Rancho Santa Margarita man who bludgeoned his wife as she lay in bed with her back turned to him, then dismembered and burned her body, was sentenced Friday to 15 years to life in prison.
It may be as good as a death sentence for Forsberg, 64, who covered up the killing of 60-year-old Marcia Ann Forsberg by telling friends and family that his wife of 39 years was with an out-of-state friend during the couple's dissolving marriage.
Marcia Ann Forsberg was killed, Feb. 9, 2010, in the bedroom of their Cascada Drive townhome. "Rick" Forsberg , of second-degree murder. The jury was hung on whether it was first degree murder, which the state was going for, but needed less than a half hour to convict after the more serious charge was taken off the table by the Orange County district attorney.
Forsberg's attorney, Calviin Schneider, had been arguing for manslaughter. A first-degree murder conviction would have carried a 25 years-to-life sentence.
The prosecutor in the case, senior deputy district attorney Ebrahim Baytieh, called Forsberg a coward and read a statement from Marcia's brother, Tony Litoff.
"Your actions to deceive us and eliminate all traces of your wife of 40 years are truly unforgivable in any society," Baytieh read. "You now have every minute for the rest of your life to realize the pain you inflicted on Marcia is equal to the pain her mother, her brother, and her friends will feel every day of their lives as well."
The Forsbergs were married 39 years, but had a troubled marriage. Marcia was in ill health, having battled breast cancer and fibromyalgia. Testimony, much of it in the form of Forsberg's oral and video confessions, as well as an interview with investigators who were still trying to determine what happened to his wife, uncovered that the couple had not had sexual relations for about 10 years, and that Forsberg had spent the previous three years in the company of massage parlor prostitutes.
Although Forsberg said he could never remember what the argument was about after he returned from an HOA meeting on Feb. 8, 2010, that preceded the killing, Baytieh revealed during his closing argument a business card from one of those massage parlor women indicating Forsberg had been with her earlier that day.
The following day, Feb. 9, was to have been the 42nd anniversary of the couple's first date which they annually celebrated. Yet between 12 a.m. and 1 a.m. on that anniversary, Marcia Ann Forsberg lay dead in her bed.
Her husband said Marcia had said something dismissive to him at the end of a lengthy argument, which triggered a rage; he grabbed a small statue from the nightstand weighing no more than 24 ounces and, in a darkened room, proceeded to hit her with it up to five times. When the lights came on, he discovered what he had done.
What transpired after that was gruesome, but Forsberg said: "Everything else was incidental."
A former Coast Community College District administrator, Forsberg then set about destroying all the evidence. He dismembered Marcia's body and stored it in a freezer in the garage; the following weekend, he rented an RV and took it to Lake Piru in Ventura County and burned much of the body.
He returned home, cut the torso in quarters and went back to Lake Piru the next weekend to finish what he called a cremation.
The only traces of Marcia that investigators could find fit on a cotton swab that was run between the seams of the freezer in which she was stored.
"My mother held in her heart the never-ending hope that the relationship with her daughter would strengthen and improve with the passing of time—as only time itself could allow for," Baytieh read in Superior Court Judge William Froeberg's courtroom on behalf of Litoff. "Instead, those daily dreams and hopes are replaced with sleeplessness and nightmares of images that her only daughter will never rest in peace. Because of your callousness, her thoughts are filled with the constant reminder that Marcia will never receive a decent and proper burial.
"I speak on behalf of my 86-year-old grieving and emotionally sheltered mother, I speak for my bewildered distant family members, and also on behalf of my sister's wonderful and loyal lifelong friends, all of whom struggle to make sense of your senseless act of murder. You have stolen something very precious from each and every one of us."
It was Marcia's friends who triggered the dominoes that brought Forsberg to justice. She was active in a book club at the Rancho Santa Margarita Library and was active socially—at least online. But when the birthday cards from her stopped arriving and emails weren't responded to, friends knew something was wrong despite Forsberg's message that his wife had "gone ostrich" by burying her head in the sand to figure things out.
They filed a missing persons report, and when investigators interviewed Forsberg in August, 2010, his ruse became unraveled. Seeing the writing on the wall, and overcome that the jig was up, he set out for Palm Springs where he attempted to kill himself with an overdose of various pills.
Having failed in that endeavor, he reached out to investigators to confess while in the hospital.
Five of Marcia's friends also made statements to the court.
"Although a monstrously cruel and calculated effort was made to eradicate Marcia's entire existence, there is one thing that could not be obliterated—our memory of her," said Nancy Eckert, who was part of their "Bard Buddies" Shakespeare club at the library.
They were reading the entire works of Shakespeare in order.
The judge also referred to the victim's love of reading before handing down the defendant's punishment.
"The longer I am in this business, the less I understand," Froeberg said. "The facts of this case are just beyond comprehension ... It almost sounds like an Edgar Allan Poe story."
Although Forsberg did not speak, his attorney did. Schneider said his client has tried to help follow inmates while in custody.
"It's hard to imagine," Schneider said, "how a man like Mr. Forsberg got to this position in life."
—City News Service contributed to this story