LOS ANGELES (AP) — A notorious Rockefeller impostor was depicted Monday by a prosecutor as a master manipulator who “always had a lie in his back pocket to explain things,” but slipped up and left clues that he was a killer.
“This isn’t a movie, a book, a TV show, a docudrama,” Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said in his closing argument, referring to the fact that the case has been turned into all of those things over the years.
“This case is about two people who lived and died,” Balian said.
Defendant Christian Gerhartsreiter is charged only with the murder of John Sohus in suburban San Marino, but the prosecutor has been allowed to say he believes Gerhartsreiter also killed Sohus’ wife, who remains missing after nearly three decades.
“She’s dead,” Balian said repeatedly as he described the disappearance of Linda Sohus and her husband, John — newlyweds he said had no reason to vanish.
As part of his argument, Balian used a Powerpoint presentation that showed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
The defense was set to make its closing argument later in the day after suggesting during the trial that Linda Sohus had killed her husband.
“They’re going to batter her over and over and say she was the mastermind,” Balian said in his presentation. “But all the evidence in this case is going to point you to the fact that only one person was the mastermind. … He is charged with murder.”
Balian noted that Monday was the 28th anniversary of the day Linda and John Sohus were reported missing.
“What do we do with a case 28 years old?” he said, acknowledging there are no eye witnesses or physical evidence in the case.
“Circumstantial evidence is just as powerful,” Balian said as he detailed the pieces of his puzzle
The bones of John Sohus were unearthed in the backyard of his mother’s former house in the exclusive suburb of San Marino a decade after he and his wife disappeared.
Gerhartsreiter lived as a tenant on the property in 1984 and 1985.
The man who then called himself Chris Chichester vanished around the same time the couple disappeared in 1985, according to witnesses.
“Not only does he flee, he changes his identity and discontinues contacts with friends. Why? Because he’s a murderer,” the prosecutor said.
Eventually, Gerhartsreiter turned up on the East Coast using the name Clark Rockefeller and living well at the expense of his wealthy wife.
Gerhartsreiter was previously prosecuted for kidnapping his own daughter and is serving a prison sentence for that crime.
Defense lawyers have suggested that he lived a life of pretense, making up wild stories about royal lineage, but they say he never killed anyone.
Balian reminded jurors of testimony by former friends from San Marino. A woman remembered seeing dirt in his yard where a large hole had been dug. A forensic expert said traces of blood were found on the concrete floor beneath a rug in the guest cottage the defendant occupied.
He also emphasized what was found in the backyard grave along with bones — plastic shopping bags from the University of Southern California and University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, two colleges the defendant attended.
“The case is easy,” said Balian. “The evidence is right in front of your eyes.”
The only thing missing, he acknowledged is a motive. Why would the defendant kill John Sohus?
“The prosecution need not prove why,” he said. “It’s not part of our burden of proof. Nor do we need to prove the type of weapon used or where he was killed.”
Superior Court Judge George Lomeli instructed jurors that if they cannot agree on the charge of first-degree murder, they have the option of considering second-degree murder, which does not require premeditation.
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