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Fake Rockefeller faces murder charge verdict

09 april 2013, 15:58
A German man who posed as a member of the famed Rockefeller family after allegedly killing his landlord in California likely killed the man's wife too, AFP reports citing prosecutor.

The claim came as both sides rested their cases against Christian Gerhartsreiter, who also passed himself off as an English nobleman and a Hollywood producer for two decades after the alleged killing.

The bespectacled 52-year-old, wearing a navy blue suit, showed no reaction as prosecutor Habib Balian made his closing statement to the jury in the downtown Los Angeles Superior Court.

Gerhartsreiter is charged with murdering his landlord John Sohus, who went missing in 1985 but whose remains were only found nine years later in the back yard of his home in the upscale LA neighborhood of San Marino.

Sohus' wife Linda vanished at the same time, as did Gerhartsreiter -- who 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.

"This isn't a movie. This isn't a TV show, this isn't a book. Right here, right now, this case is about two people who lived. It's about things that happened to those two people," said Balian.

"Not only did the defendant kill John Sohus. Not only does all evidence indicate that he killed Linda Sohus. Not only did he end these people's lives, but he came in here and blamed the woman that he killed."

Balian said that Gerhartsreiter, and not the victim's missing wife, was the "master manipulator" who was able to cover his tracks and evade police for decades with fake identities.

According to the prosecutor, Gerhartsreiter borrowed a chain saw from a neighbor, burned a blood-soaked carpet, and told a friend who was wondering about the dug-up backyard that he had "plumbing problems."

"He was lying about a recently dug grave," Balian said.

John Sohus' head was found wrapped in two bags from two universities in California und Wisconsin attended by Gerhartsreiter. "How many people (went) to both universities" and also lived there, Balian asked rhetorically.

The prosecutor also reiterated his argument, made during the trial, that postcards allegedly sent by Linda Sohus from Paris three months after the couple went missing were in fact fabricated by Gerhartsreiter.

"It is unreasonable to believe that Linda went to Paris," he said, stressing that there are no official records indicating that the victim's missing wife applied for a passport or traveled internationally.

But Gerhartsreiter's lawyer Jeffrey Denner said the prosecution could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the German is guilty.

"There are so many different possibilities," he told jurors, saying there was a lack of either forensic or eyewitness evidence linking Gerhartsreiter to the killing.

"You don't know what happened. And if you don't know what happened, you can't convict anybody," he said, adding that much of the prosecution's case was based on "speculation."

Denner dismissed the argument that the German's prolonged use of aliases proved that he was trying to hide his role in the killing.

"He had quite a portfolio of illegal behaviour, so it is not surprising that he was trying to stay under the radar," he said, noting that Gerhartsreiter only perpetrated "petty financial white collar crimes" and immigration fraud.

The jury is expected to hear rebuttals Tuesday morning to the closing statements, before the jury retires to consider its verdict.

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