If we’re being honest, the December 20, 1980, homicide of young couple Sabrina Gonsalves and John Riggins is honestly one of the most baffling cases to have come out of Northern California. That’s because, as carefully explored in CBS’ ’48 Hours: The Sweetheart Murders,’ it took over three decades for it to come to a satisfactory close with the conviction of Richard Hirschfield. However, there were two individuals who’d been falsely accused of being involved in this brutal matter back in 1989 — David Hunt and Doug Lainer — only to suddenly be saved thanks to DNA.
Who Are David Hunt and Doug Lainer?
Although it’s true David and Doug were essentially career criminals by the time late 1980s rolled around, they were primarily drug addicts as well as thieves with little interest in serious weaponry. They did have a small gang/group of sorts, comprising David as the leader, his wife Sue Ellen, his ride-or-die Richard Thompson, and his ultimate partner in crime Doug, but that’s about it. After all, the former had grown to despise violence owing to his half-brother Gerald Gallego, a heinous sexual predator turned convicted murderer, plus a suspected serial killer with 11+ victims.
Therefore, of course, the authorities soon zeroed in on this “Hunt Group,” just to arrest them for Sabrina and John’s killings plus the former’s sexual assault in 1989 without any concrete evidence. David has since expressed Gerald was dead to him by this point, so there was no way he could’ve masterminded this ordeal for the group either, and it made them furious to be accused of such a thing. “[I wasn’t a sophisticated, savvy desperado],” Doug indicated in this ABC episode. “I [was] a dumb little criminal is what I was, doing dumb little cri minal thing,” such as stealing motel bed sheets.
Nevertheless, the Hunt Group was detained in county jail, that is, until there came DNA-based development on the eve of their 1992 trial — semen stains on a dark blanket had gone unnoticed for years. Since these stains could finally be tested thanks to technological advancements, officials had asked all defendants for blood samples, and they readily agreed despite their lawyers urging otherwise. That’s because while the former were positive there was no chance of a DNA match, their lawyers feared that even the slightest percentage match could then result in them being sentenced to death.
David, Sue, Richard, plus Doug were actually right, so every related charge against them was dropped in January 1993, following which the latter didn’t shy away from expressing his feelings. “It’s ludicrous! Think about it…,” he said in a bit of rage, according to the show. “They framed me and almost got away with it. I could be going to the gas chamber today and that’s an outrage!” However, the truth is this group was subsequently allowed to move on without any significant meddling issues since it’d become clear they really had no involvement in Sabrina and Joey’s murders.
Where Are David Hunt and Doug Lainer Now?
Despite everything said and done, because it wasn’t until 2002 that the real perpetrator was finally identified as Richard Hirschfield through DNA, David and Doug didn’t feel utterly free until then. After all, there was always a dark cloud of possible suspicion circling over their head, which the former eventually managed to break free from by leaving criminality behind for good and finding faith. “I ran into a God that understood me so much better than I did. We had a lot of long talks,” he candidly told correspondent Troy Roberts. “I’ve done my best to straighten my life out. That’s all I can do.”
But alas, by the time there was a trial and guilty verdict against Richard Hirschfield that cleared David’s name for good in 2012, he was facing an entirely different issue altogether; he had stage four pancreatic cancer. He’d ostensibly been told he didn’t have much longer to live, and although we can’t positively confirm or deny anything as of writing, it’s possible he has since sadly passed away. As for Doug, it appears as if he prefers to stay well away from trouble as well as the limelight these days, so we unfortunately don’t know much regarding his recent personal or professional experiences either.