Kidnap trial starts for German posing as Rockefeller

27th May 2009, Comments 0 comments

His carefully constructed fiction collapsed last July, seven months after a bitter divorce, when he allegedly snatched his then seven-year-old daughter Reigh, nicknamed Snooks, during a supervised visit in Boston.

Boston -- A German man who fooled friends and family into believing that he was a member of the illustrious Rockefeller clan went on trial Tuesday for the alleged abduction of his daughter.

The man that US authorities now say is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, from Bergen, Germany, got away with his adopted persona for years, even persuading his wife to file a single person's tax return, so as not to reveal his true identity.

His carefully constructed fiction collapsed last July, seven months after a bitter divorce, when he allegedly snatched his then seven-year-old daughter Reigh, nicknamed Snooks, during a supervised visit in Boston.

A six-day national manhunt ensued, spawning lurid tales in the media about the supposed blue blood -- and denials from the Rockefeller family, one of the richest and best known in America, that the man calling himself Clark Rockefeller was related.

After the FBI tracked the fugitive to an apartment near the yacht harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, Reigh was returned unharmed to her mother, Sarah Boss, who lives in London.

Gerhartsreiter, 48, is charged with parental kidnapping, punishable by up to five years in a Massachusetts prison, and assault charges related to his alleged escape from the social working supervising the July visit.

He is also charged with giving police a false name, which carries a one-year jail term.

Jury selection began Tuesday, with the main part of the trial expected to start later this week and take 10 to 15 days.

His defense attorneys, Jeffrey Denner and Timothy Bradl, say their client is clinically insane.

"The defense will be focused on a lack of criminal responsibility which is the insanity defense," according to court documents.

The attorneys claim their client suffers from bipolar disorder and depression. That defense is most often attempted in murder cases, but is rarely successful.

His attorneys tried unsuccessfully in May to get the judge to move the trial from Boston to the more remote location of Springfield, western Massachusetts, because they said that intense media coverage has made a fair jury trial impossible in the state capital.

They are also trying to persuade Judge Frank Gaziano to bar prosecutors from revealing information about a grand jury investigation in California where Gerhartsreiter is a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed slayings of Jonathan and Linda Sohus, a newlywed couple from San Marino, with whom he lived.

While the main charge is kidnapping, the accused's success in conning so many people -- apparently including his ex-wife Boss, a Harvard Business School graduate -- has caught the public's imagination.

Prosecutors say Gerhartsreiter is a lifelong fraud who reinvented himself multiple times, posing as a German student in Connecticut, an aspiring actor named Christopher Chichester in California, and a one-day "green card" husband in Wisconsin.

AFP/Expatica

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