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US jury: fake Rockefeller guilty of murder
Photo: DPA

US jury: fake Rockefeller guilty of murder

Published: 11 Apr 2013 06:41 GMT+02:00
Updated: 11 Apr 2013 06:41 GMT+02:00

A German fantasist who impersonated a member of the Rockefeller family, an English aristocrat and a Hollywood film producer, was convicted on Wednesday of murdering his California landlord in 1985.

Justice finally caught up with Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, when a Los Angeles jury found him guilty of killing John Sohus, whose remains were only discovered in the backyard of his home nine years after his demise.

Gerhartsreiter faces up to life in prison when he is sentenced on June 26. When John and Linda Sohus vanished, Gerhartsreiter was living in a guest house owned by the victim's mother. Prosecutors believe the German also killed Linda Sohus, but he was only charged with the one murder.

After the killing, Gerhartsreiter moved to Connecticut and changed his name several times, eventually becoming Clark Rockefeller and getting married, in a deceit that for 12 years fooled even his wife.

In closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Habib Balian rejected the defence's claim that Sohus's mysteriously missing wife Linda could just as easily have killed her husband in the upscale Los Angeles neighbourhood where they lived.

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.

After Wednesday's verdict, Balian said: "The system worked. We trusted in the system, we trusted in the jurors. They heard the evidence and they reached a fair and just verdict."

Pressed about the apparent lack of a motive for the killing, Balian added: "The defendant, he wanted John Sohus dead, and he accomplished (it)."

Sohus' half-sister Ellen voiced relief. "It's finally over. He would be so overwhelmed about how many people loved him and how many people were fighting for him ...he would just be amazed that he was that important," she said.

Gerhartsreiter's lawyers said the German would appeal. "He is disappointed and continues to maintain his innocence," attorney Brad Bailey told reporters.

In closing arguments his defence colleague Jeffrey Denner argued 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," Denner had told jurors.

The defence 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.

But on Wednesday Denner admitted that Gerhartsreiter was "not an easy guy" to defend. "How he went through life didn't make him very likeable ..But that doesn't mean that he is a killer," he said.

And he maintained that the prosecution was based purely on circumstantial evidence. "We continue to feel that this is not proven beyond reasonable doubt," he said.

AFP/jcw

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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