Forsberg Trial: Guilty of Killing, Butchering, Burning His Wife

Less than 15 minutes after first-degree murder is taken off the table by the O.C. District Attorney's office, the jury comes back with the more serious of the remaining options.

ORANGE COUNTY, CA -- Richard Gustav Forsberg, better known as "Rick" to his neighbors and the friends of his wife of 39 years, Marcia, was found guilty Monday of murdering her and gruesomely destroying her body.

Forsberg wearing a medium blue checked shirt with khaki pants—and absent a belt—watched the court clerk read the verdict. There was little noticeable reaction.

It was busy day for jurors, who heard more than eight hours of interviews during the five days of testimony in which Forsberg described beating wife Marcia Ann Forsberg to death and, scared of being caught, dismembering her body and burning it.

The seven-man, five-woman jury had a busy morning in Orange County Superior Court as deliberations began their second day. Just over two hours in, about 11:15 a.m., the jury returned to Judge William Froeberg's courtroom on the 10th floor of the courthouse and indicated they were hung at 10-2 on the charge of first degree murder.

They returned to the jury room. After a 30-second conversation between prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh and defense attorney Calvin Schneider III, Baytieh said he would take first-degree murder off the table as an option. There was a short delay as Baytieh created a new verdict form. New instructions were given to the jury and they returned for deliberation at 11:27 a.m.

By 11:35, they had reached a verdict of murder, which by default is second-degree murder. The other option was voluntary manslaughter, the charge the defense was hoping for from the outset.

Forsberg, 63, of Rancho San Margarita, will receive 15 years to life in state prison and will be eligible for parole in August, 2025. He will get some credit for time served since confessing to Orange County Sheriff investigators in a Palm Springs hospital room on Aug. 30, 2010.

  • 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'
  • Day 5:
  • Day 6: Not A Quick Conviction
  • Video: Prosecution Calls Forsberg 'Self-Centered'
  • Video: Forsberg Defense Asks A Simple Question
  • Video: Prosecution's Closing Appeal For Justice

First-degree murder carried a maximum penalty of 25 years to life. Manslaughter is 11 years with a release after serving 85 percent of the sentence.

Sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 1. Forsberg will have 60 days from that point to appeal, if he chooses.

Marcia's younger brother, Tony Litoff, appreciated the decision.

"From the incredibly focused and tireless efforts of the Orange County district attorney's office and sheriff’s departments, to the court and jury, all of us that hoped for justice and closure for so long simply cannot thank these people enough," Litoff wrote in a statement. "The prosecutor, his marvelous support staff, the detectives—what an incredible effort we witnessed.
"We're all going to take a step back, release a big sigh of relief and let the closure process begin."

The jury was one-sided from the outset, having reached an 11-1 decision in favor of first-degree murder within two hours of taking the case Thursday, 9 a.m., to determine the fate of the longtime Coast Community College administrator.

Jurors who spoke to attorneys after the verdict was read indicated that one of the females on the jury "wanted to give Forsberg the benefit of the doubt that what he had done was based on anger."

After the first day of deliberation, jurors had three days off before returning to court and thought the time away from the graphic testimony would change her perspective, but time only made her more resolute.

"It was maddening," said one juror.

"She shut down," said another.

By mid-morning, another female juror switched up, making it 10-2 in favor of first-degree murder. They came to the conclusion that continuing to try to convict Forsberg of first-degree murder was hopeless.

Still, all jurors appeared to be comfortable with their ultimate decision, and Baytieh praised them for it. "This was a hard trial to listen to—dismemberment, decapitation, cut her torso in two," said Baytieh, who has never had an acquittal against him in 46 cases.

Because the trial was so graphic, Froeberg offered jurors counseling at the conclusion of the trial.

As a means of practicality for a 63-year-old defendant, Baytieh said he didn't want to retry the case in order to get a first-degree murder conviction, that Forsberg will serve a life sentence for second degree.

It was the second trial Baytieh has won in which there was no body, which is rare in Orange County—maybe a half-dozen such trials, he said. 

Forsberg confessed to pummeling his wife on Feb. 9, 2010, with a nightstand figurine—a six-armed Hindu goddess weighing between 16 and 24 ounces—after a late-night argument. He said Marcia Forsberg lay in bed and said something dismissive to him, then turned away from him and pulled the covers over her, an act that "triggered a rage" in him.

After striking her between three and five times, Forsberg said he dismembered and decapitated her body and stored the body parts in a freezer he purchased. He rented an RV, and a second freezer to transport the parts in, and burned the limbs and head 10 days later at various campsites at Lake Piru in Ventura County. He returned the following weekend to burn the torso, which he had subsequently quartered with a bone saw he had purchased.

Forsberg told friends and family that Marcia was visiting a friend in Arizona to work things out while the couple underwent marital discord—a ruse he maintained for six months until concerned friends filed a missing persons report.

Virtually all the evidence that a murder took place was Forsberg's confession.

Marcia was 60 at the time, and has suffered through a series of health issues, including breast cancer and fibromyalgia. Her failure to keep in contact with a strong network of Nordhoff High classmates and Friends of the Rancho Santa Margarita Library is what prompted the suspicion. One witness indicated that Marcia never missed sending a card on her birthday, and when after 40 years she did not send a card, she knew something was wrong.

After investigators interviewed Forsberg at his office on Aug. 24, 2010, he bolted for the desert and attempted to commit suicide by overdose in a Palm Springs resort on Aug. 26.

The murder came on the 42nd anniversary of the Ventura College sweethearts' first date, an anniversary that was celebrated each year.

In the rebuttal portion of his closing argument, Baytieh showed a business card that indicated Forsberg had been with a prostitute earlier on Feb. 8, and implied that was the reason for the argument. Forsberg had confessed to many trysts in massage parlors over the previous three years, and that he and his wife had not had sex for the previous 11 years.

Schneider spoke briefly with Forsberg in a holding cell before leaving court.

"He was pleased that they did not convict him of first-degree murder and he has accepted their decision that what he did was second-degree murder," Schneider said.

"You can't have a victory in this type of case. A lady lost her life and a man ruined his life in a moment of haste and anger."

One of Marcia's classmates, Richard Ingles of Santa Clara, attended every day of the trial and was in court for both days of deliberation—the only person to do so.

"I don't see how they could have come up with anything less than they came up with," said Ingles, who felt justice had been served by the verdict.

Some of Baytieh's closing testimony showed Marcia's photo and "1030" on a video screen. That, he said, was the number of days since her death that Marcia Forsberg had been denied having a funeral.

Ingles indicated that there will be at least one memorial service for Marcia, either in Rancho Santa Margarita or in Ventura County where she is from. 

A classmate from the 1967 graduating class at Nordhoff and a neighbor in their youth, Ingles said he expects at least three or four victim impact statements at Forsberg's sentencing: "All negative as far as he's concerned."


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