April 8, 2013

Final arguments set in Rockefeller impostor case

Linda Deutsch / The Associated Press


click image to enlarge

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter enters the courtroom at Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles last Wednesday.

AP / San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Walter Mancini

Sandra Boss, former wife of Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, testifies during Gerhartsreiter's murder trial in Los Angeles last week. The defense and prosecution rested their cases in the murder trial of a notorious Rockefeller impostor Wednesday after his ex-wife called him a consistent liar and "an unpleasant human being."

AP / San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Walter Mancini

LOS ANGELES — The prosecution and defense are presenting their final arguments Monday in the trial of a longtime Rockefeller impostor who is accused in a decades-old murder of a California man.

Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian, who has presented three weeks of circumstantial evidence in the mysterious cold case is expected to argue that all signs point to the defendant, whose true name is Christian Gerhartsreiter, as the killer of John Sohus.

Sohus' bones were unearthed in the back yard of his mother's former house a decade after he and his wife, Linda, disappeared. The man who then called himself Chris Chichester vanished around the same time, according to witnesses.

Eventually, he would turn up on the east coast using the name Clark Rockefeller and living well at the expense of his wealthy wife.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner is expected to portray his client as a man who lived a life of pretense but didn't kill anyone. The defense team has said it is just as likely that Sohus' wife, Linda, killed him. No trace of Linda Sohus was ever found.

The newlywed couple disappeared in 1985 after telling friends they were off to New York to interview for top secret government jobs. They never returned.

Meanwhile, the man who had been renting a guest cottage at the home owned by Sohus' mother also left town and the couple's truck was later traced to him on the East Coast although it was never found.

He had arrived in the toney suburb of San Marino in the early 1980s using the name Chichester and befriending wealthy residents. He said he was a film student at University of Southern California and boasted of having royal lineage.

Prosecutors say he was a German immigrant who came to the United States when he was 17 and began blending into wealthy communities. He would later say he grew up in New York and lived on elegant Sutton Place. .

There were strange stories told on the witness stand by former friends from San Marino. A woman remembered seeing dirt in his yard where a large hole had been dug. Another friend said he tried to sell her a rug but it had what appeared to be a blood stain on it. And an employer remembered Linda Sohus saying the tenant in the cottage was "creepy" and she never spoke to him.

Women who lived with him later told of his extreme paranoia when police began asking questions a decade after he had left California. He adopted disguises, changed addresses and went into hiding.

A key question likely to remain unanswered is why the defendant would have killed Sohus. A motive is not required as proof in a murder case, but it often goes a long way toward convincing jurors of a defendant's guilt.

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