The words of Richard Gustav Forsberg were again the focus of testimony Monday in his trial for the murder of his wife of 39 years, Marcia Ann.
Forsberg, 63, seated next to attorney Calvin Schneider III inside Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana, listened and watched without any emotional display on the trial's third day as his audiotaped confession to the crime concluded and his videotaped confession began.
The jury was told by Judge William Froeberg it would likely hear closing arguments on Wednesday.
The audiotape was recorded covertly on Aug. 30, 2010, shortly after Forsberg had been cleared by doctors following a suicide attempt by drug overdose four days earlier in a Palm Springs resort. From there, Forsberg was driven to Santa Ana, where he was interviewed by Orange County sheriff investigators Steve Swiderski and Mike Thompson.
In between the two presentations by prosecutor Ebrahim Baytieh, jurors heard witness testimony about the RV that Forsberg rented and drove to Lake Piru in Ventura County, the two freezers he purchased to store his wife’s body and the thrift stores to which he donated the new appliances, and the bone saw that he purchased in a Westminster sporting goods store. All of that testimony supported what Forsberg told investigators.
Forsberg is accused of killing his wife in their Rancho Santa Margarita townhouse in the early morning of Feb. 9, 2010, by striking her several times in the head with a statuette from her nightstand. Although he could not recall the subject matter, Forsbeg said they had argued and she turned away from him and pulled the covers over her while she lay in bed. Standing at her side, he promptly reached for the Hindu goddess figurine and pummeled her “four or five seconds later ... in rapid succession.” He then concocted a story that the couple had separated and she had gone to live with a friend in Arizona, which he told over the next six months—until a missing persons report was filed by Marcia's friends in August 2010.
Video testimony largely parroted Forsberg’s original confession at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, though there were some revelations:
- He used an old refrigerator in his garage to temporarily store body parts.
- He tried to hide financial records in which “I was blowing money on women and gambling that she didn’t know about.”
- He cut up his wife’s body with a pair of box-cutters, in addition to a bone saw.
- He cut his wife's torso into four pieces.
He told Swiderski and Thompson that after dismembering his wife’s body and burning most of the parts at Lake Piru on Feb. 19-21, he returned home with the frozen torso of his 5-foot-9 wife and cut it into asymmetrical quarters. It was difficult, he said, “like cutting a 10-inch log with a four-inch blade, you’re not going to make it … so I ended up with four irregular shaped pieces.”
Those, he said, he burned the following weekend in the same fire pit in a somewhat remote campsite at the Ventura County campground.
There was also detached callousness as Forsberg spoke matter-of-factly about the manner in which he carried out his plan, which he began formulating almost immediately, though his first thought was to bury the body at sea.
Whatever method of disposal, it involved dismemberment. At one point he described his actions like an assembly line: “Cut here, bag, wipe, freeze, on to the next step.”
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- Day 1:
- Day 2: 'What Do You Do With A Dead Body?'
Jurors also heard Forsberg tell Swiderski that it came “more easily” than he thought.
“I remember being amazed … how easy it was,” he explained. “That once I had killed her, everything else was incidental. As horrible as the thought of cutting off somebody’s head is, it wasn’t horrible. I’ll block it off and do it without thinking about it. It was easier than I thought. I did stop and feel nauseated, but it was more from the thought of what I was doing than the vision of it. That surprises me. I’m not that good with bloody wounds. About the only thing I’ve ever done that involved blood is clean a fish.”
Forsberg, who wrapped his wife's head in a towel almost immediately after the attack, did not remove the towel before severing the head last.
"Cutting off her head made me stop longer than anything, but how could I further do damage? It's been done," he said.
Jurors also saw a clip they had seen in Baytieh's opening remarks in which Forsberg pointed to different areas on his body as he counted the number of places he chopped off his wife's body parts.
The video showed Forsberg in unguarded moments as well, when investigators opened themselves up to questioning and they spoke more informally.
“I thought about how terrible it (would be) to tell Marcia’s mother that she was dead,” Forsberg said before making a phone call, “and now I get to tell my own parents that I did it."
Swiderski and Thompson told Forsberg they worried before they were able to find him, that “given the circumstance you might be in harm’s way yourself.”
“I suppose I wouldn’t be in harm’s way if I hadn’t done anything to be guilty of,” Forsberg answered back.
And when Thompson mentioned the despair that Forsberg must have been feeling to attempt to take his life, Forsberg responded: “I’m still amazed that I’m alive. I mean, just a total screwup.”
He also indicated that he went to great lengths—with a typed confession on his laptop and a handwritten confession that he mailed to Swiderski—to give closure to the tragedy.
“I wanted to clear up the uncertainties that my wife’s friends and family would have; it would be better for them to know than to wonder,” Forsberg said to the investigator whose questioning Aug. 25, 2010, in Forsberg’s Costa Mesa office made the college administrator realize his coverup had unraveled.
“A small part of me didn’t want to waste your (Swiderski's) time … there are more important things you could be doing than chasing red herrings I’ve left. … But mostly I wanted to clear the record for people who might be wondering about both of us—why I was dead and where she was.”