US jury mulls verdict in fake Rockefeller trial
A jury in Los Angeles has begun deliberating the fate of a German man who posed as a member of the famed Rockefeller family after allegedly killing his landlord in California.
Christian Gerhartsreiter is charged with murdering John Sohus, who went missing in 1985 but whose remains were found nine years later in the backyard of his home in the upscale LA neighborhood of San Marino.
Before being sequestered Tuesday, the jurors heard a final plea to convict Gerhartsreiter, who also passed himself off as an English nobleman and a Hollywood producer for two decades after the alleged killing.
"I am asking you on behalf of the people of the state of California: Hold this man accountable for his action," prosecutor Habib Balian told the jury in the downtown Los Angeles Superior Court.
They failed to reach a verdict by the end of the day, and were due to convene again from 09:00 am (1600 GMT) on Wednesday.
Balian rejected the claim made by Gerhartsreiter's defense lawyers in their closing statement on Monday that Sohus' 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' possible involvement in the crime was "ridiculous."
"This is not a game. This is a search for the truth."
Balian also told the jury that the absence of a motive for Gerhartsreiter does not count as proof of his innocence. "He wanted John dead, for whatever reason," the prosecutor said.
When John and Linda Sohus vanished in February 1985, Gerhartsreiter was living in a guest house owned by John Sohus' mother. The prosecution believes the German also killed Linda Sohus, but he is only charged with the one murder.
But Gerhartsreiter's lawyer reiterated in closing arguments Monday 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.
The defense attorney also questioned a key piece of prosecution evidence -- two plastic bags wrapped around Sohus' skull, each from one of two US universities 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.
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.
The impostor was sentenced to a five-year prison term in 2009 for kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter, a trial that ultimately led investigators in Los Angeles to connect the dots in the Sohus murder case.
If found guilty, Gerhartsreiter -- who was born in Germany in 1961 -- faces a possible prison sentence of 26 years to life, according to the prosecution.
© 2013 AFP