Connect to share and comment

German fake Rockefeller guilty of US murder

PlacardEnlarge
(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A German man was found guilty of first degree murder Wednesday for killing his landlord in California in 1985 before evading capture for years by posing as a member of the Rockefeller family.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted in the death of John Sohus, who went missing in February that year but whose remains were found nine years later in the backyard of his home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood.

Gerhartsreiter -- who also pretended to be a Hollywood producer and an English aristocrat during his years evading arrest after the killing -- faces a possible prison sentence of 26 years to life.

Judge George Lomeli set a sentencing date of June 26, after a jury found the defendant guilty of first degree murder with malicious intent, and of using a blunt object as a deadly and dangerous weapon to kill Sohus.

The jury took about a day to reach its verdict.

When John and Linda Sohus vanished, Gerhartsreiter was living in a guest house owned by John Sohus's mother. Prosecutors believe the German also killed Linda Sohus, but he was only charged with the one murder.

After the alleged crime, Gerhartsreiter moved to Connecticut and changed his name a number of times, eventually becoming Clark Rockefeller and getting married, fooling even his wife for 12 years.

In closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Habib Balian rejected the defense's claim that Sohus's mysteriously missing wife Linda could just as easily have killed her husband.

"He's guilty of murder ... He's gotten away with it for 28 years," the prosecutor said, adding that the "speculation" about Linda Sohus's possible involvement in the crime was "ridiculous."

Balian also told the jury that the absence of a motive does not prove Gerhartsreiter's innocence, saying: "He wanted John dead, for whatever reason."

But Gerhartsreiter's lawyer reiterated in closing arguments that Linda Sohus may be responsible for her husband's death, saying she was tired of living with her mother-in-law, a "controlling, vicious alcoholic."

"It is far more likely that ... she killed her husband than the defendant, who had no motive," Jeffrey Denner told jurors Monday.

The defense attorney also questioned a key piece of prosecution evidence -- two plastic bags wrapped around Sohus's skull, each from a US university where the German had studied.

Gerhartsreiter would have to be "one of the stupidest murderers in the history of Southern California" if he killed Sohus and then wrapped the dead man's head in bags clearly linked to him.

Leaving the victim's head in his alma mater's book bag would amount to putting a "plaque there that says 'Burial by me, defendant Christopher Chichester,'" he said, referring to one of Gerhartsreiter's aliases.

gw-mt/jk

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130410/german-fake-rockefeller-guilty-us-murder-1