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Forsberg Murder Trial: At Long Last, A Question Answered?

Jury begins deliberation today following impassioned closing arguments that will determine the fate of Rancho Santa Margarita's Richard Forsberg, who is accused of killing his wife of 39 years, Marcia Ann Forsberg.

In the final moments of the final comments made by an attorney in the murder trial of Richard Forsberg, prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh held up a business card.

It was, he said, the answer to a question that had loomed over Forsberg’s audio and videotaped confessions heard over the preceding days.

Several times, Forsberg had told investigators he couldn’t remember what the argument was about that caused him to grab a 1- to 1 1/2-pound figurine off a bedside nightstand and pummel his wife in the head until she was dead.

Yet Baytieh said Forsberg could remember campsite numbers where he burned the dismembered pieces of her body, could remember the sporting goods store where he purchased a bone saw had just recently opened, could remember the dimensions of a tub he bought to use as a sled to move his wife’s body from an upstairs bathroom to the garage, could remember the dimensions of the freezers he purchased to store the pieces of her dismembered body until he could safely burn it.

“The truth always comes out,” Baytieh said, calling out Forsberg as a self-centered murderer. “Do you see what’s on this card?”

He held it out in front of the jury. Handwritten on a massage parlor business card—allegedly one of the places Forsberg achieved his “happy endings” as part of three years of infidelity— was “Julie … sexy lady … nice body” along with a date: Feb. 8, 2010.

The following day was the 42nd anniversary of the first date between “Rick” and Marcia Forsberg, one they celebrated annually. Yet before Feb. 9 was an hour old, Marcia Forsberg was dead.

The card was found in a bag—tucked away in the garage when found by investigators—containing condoms, other business cards, phone numbers and notes about Forsberg’s liaisons.

 “That’s why he says ‘I can’t remember what the argument was about,' because of this baloney about the infidelity—the day before their anniversary,” Baytieh said on Wedneday during closing arguments. “That’s why he killed his wife. She was of no use anymore. He murdered her.”

It was part of Baytieh’s effort to prove to jurors that Forsberg committed first degree murder and not manslaughter, which is what attorney Calvin Schneider III has angled for from the outset of the five-day trial.

Jurors begin deliberation Thursday in Orange County Superior Court under the direction of Judge William Froeberg, and must determine if the confessed murder—no physical remains of Marcia Forsberg have been found—was willful, deliberate and premeditated.

According to jury instruction, "the defendant acted willfully if he intended to kill. ... acted deliberately if he carefully weighed the considerations for and against his choice and, knowing the consequences, decided to kill. ... acted with premeditation if he decided to kill before completing the act that caused death."

Schneider tried to paint the picture that Forsberg acted in the heat of passion after a buildup of frustration over his sexless marriage and thus committed voluntary manslaughter, which applies if it's determined the defendant "was provoked. ... As a result of the provocation acted rashly and under the influence of intesne emotion that obscured his reasoning or judgment; and the provocation would have caused a person of average disposition to act rashly and without due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than from judgment."

Those kinds of decisions the jury makes will play an important role in Forsberg’s fate. At 63 years of age, first-degree murder will carry with it a penalty of 25 years to life and would essentially guarantee he dies in prison. Second degree murder would be 15 years and voluntary manslaughter would be 11, but he could be out in seven.

  • Day 1: Forsberg Trial Begins Today
  • Day 1: 'What He Left Of Her Was ... Nothing!'
  • Day 1:
  • Day 2: 'What Do You Do With A Dead Body?'
  • Day 3: 'Everything Else Was Incidental'
  • Day 4: 'Both Sides Rest'

While Baytieh appealed for common sense, that was Schneider’s best argument as well.

“If Mr. Forsberg made a decision to kill his wife, he’s not going to hit her with a figurine,” Schneider said. “The object that you use is not going to be a one-pound, six-armed figurine. You’re going to use a gun. … Think about the object that he used. … You take a gun. You take a knife. Maybe you take a baseball bat. But you don’t pick up a figurine with the intent to kill. Maybe you pick up a figurine with the intent to assault, to commit battery.”

Schneider showed photos of the Forsbergs' home on Cascada and noted there was no furniture in the front room or pictures on the walls, and the refrigerator was kept in the garage. He touched on Marcia's continuing health issues, and the onset of bickering that had begun in December of 2009.

"it was a roommate relationship with ineffective communications," Schneider said. "By the look of the house you can tell they're walking on eggshells. ... They started having issues and it culminated in this event."

Schneider said that Marcia had a social outlet, her friends—about a dozen of them were in the courtroom—but Forsberg's social outlet was his wife.

Schneider went through elements of Forsberg’s confession and pointed out the ways in which he might have been immoral but he wasn’t a killer, that he expressed remorse throughout the process following his attempted suicide.

Baytieh countered the onset of remorse came with Forsberg’s crumbling story about his wife’s whereabouts. For six months he told friends and family they were having marital discord and Marcia was visiting a friend in Phoenix to work things out. As Orange County Sheriff investigators began to close in, Forsberg went to Palm Springs and attempted to kill himself with a drug overdose of Ambien, Soma and Flexeril.

Before doing so, he wrote letters to his family and an investigator which Baytieh said painted the college administrator as “self-centered,” noting that Forsberg never wrote a note to his wife's family apologizing for his actions.

Instead of saying he killed her, Baytieh said Forsberg wrote: “I assisted her in dying and feel responsible.”

“Why would he minimize what he did,” Baytieh asked. “He writes this thinking he’s not going to get up” from his suicide attempt.

Baytieh explained that in a letter to Forsberg’s parents, he wrote: “I feel responsible for Marcia’s death and I’m so troubled I would rather die than go on living.”

“Baloney,” Bayteih said, noting that Forsberg had with him his passport and that it wasn’t necessary for entrance into the afterlife.

Baytieh continued his assault, noting Forsberg’s typed letter that says “I was angry, scared, frustrated and very scattered in my thinking.”

He then showed a photo taken April 11, 2010—two months after the killing—of Forsberg smiling and holding up his catch on a fishing trip to Catalina.

“That’s him,” Baytieh said. “Really broken up.”

Forsberg referred to destroying his wife’s body as a "cremation" and that he had dispersed some of her ashes in Ojai, at the base of a tree, and in the ocean while talking to his wife’s spirit.

Baytieh pulled a quote from one of Forsberg’s interviews: “I scooped up the top layer of ash and took it to the dumpster that was in the campground. … He comes up with a story about putting her ashes in the ocean. He wanted to get rid of every piece of evidence—you think he’s going to go back with a bag of ashes with him?”

Baytieh at one point told the jury that he paid Forsberg a huge compliment "by calling him a human being because what he did to his wife is inhumane."

With about a dozen of Marcia's friends and former classmates from Nordhoff High in Ojai present, Baytieh asked the jury about remorse.

"Remorseful? That business card tells you all that you need to know," Baytieh said. "Do you think there's a little bit of humanity left in him? She was supposed to be safe. It's the place she's supposed to feel safe—in bed next to her husband of 39 years, they'd been together 42 years, on their 42nd anniversary."

Instead, according to Forsberg's own testimony, she said something dismissive to him and turned over and pulled the covers up.

It "triggered a rage," he said.

And then he reached for the figurine.

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