Rockefeller impostor murder case goes to jury
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A murder case against a notorious Rockefeller impostor was turned over to a Los Angeles jury on Tuesday after the prosecutor implored the panel to find the defendant guilty of the cold-case crime.
“He’s gotten away with it long enough,” Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said. “Hold this man accountable.”
Christian Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant whose elaborate charade as a member of the fabled Rockefeller oil family unraveled when he was arrested, sat silently taking notes as he has throughout his three-week trial.
After a half-day of deliberations, the six men and six women of the jury went home without reaching a verdict. They planned to resume their talks on Wednesday.
The prosecution’s rebuttal argument ridiculed the defense theory that victim John Sohus was killed by his own wife, who has been missing since the couple vanished in 1985.
Balian acknowledged in his final remarks that he had not presented jurors with a motive for the killing.
“Some cases are so old that you never get every question answered,” he said. “Many tragedies happen and we search for reasons, and sometimes we never find them.”
Still, he said there is enough circumstantial evidence to convict the defendant of killing John Sohus. Gerhartsreiter is not charged with killing Linda Sohus, but the prosecutor suggested he killed her, too.
The bones of John Sohus were unearthed in the backyard of his mother’s former house in San Marino in 1995. Gerhartsreiter lived as a tenant in a cottage on the property in 1984 and 1985. He vanished around the same time the couple disappeared, according to witnesses.
Balian showed jurors a photo of the grave directly in front of the living room windows of the cottage.
A defense lawyer has argued that the 130-pound Gerhartsreiter was not strong enough to wield a shovel and pick axe to dig a four-foot hole in his yard for the body.
Balian’s answer was: “You commit murder, you dig a hole to China if you have to.”
Gerhartsreiter has previously been convicted of kidnapping his own daughter on the East Coast, where he masqueraded as a member of the Rockefeller family.
In San Marino, he was known as Chris Chichester and claimed to come from royalty. He adopted the name Clark Rockefeller when he moved to New York and became a bond trader on Wall Street.
Both the prosecutor and defense attorney denounced him as a liar in their final arguments, but one said he was guilty of murder and the other said there is reasonable doubt.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner also described his client as “an odd guy” but not a killer.
Denner suggested it was more likely that Linda Sohus had a “dark side” of her life that led her to kill her husband. But he offered no evidence of that.
“That’s the stuff that reasonable doubt is made of,” Denner told jurors. “You don’t know what happened. If you don’t know what happened, you can’t convict anybody.”
Balian reminded jurors, however, that legal instructions call for them to “accept the reasonable interpretation (of evidence) and reject the unreasonable.”
“This isn’t a game,” he said. “This is a search for the truth.”
Before the case was submitted for deliberations, there was a last-minute dismissal of a juror, and an alternate was put on the panel.