LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A German-born con man who posed for years as a member of America's wealthy Rockefeller family was convicted on Wednesday of the 1985 murder of his California landlady's son, whose dismembered body was found a decade later buried in the backyard of a Los Angeles-area home.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury deliberated for less than a day before returning a guilty verdict against 52-year-old Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, following a month-long trial in the sensational case.
Gerhartsreiter, who for years lived under various aliases, including Clark Rockefeller, showed little reaction as clerk read the verdict in court. He faces a maximum penalty of 27 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in June.
The remains of John Sohus, 27, were discovered in 1994 buried in the backyard of the home he shared with his wife, Linda, in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino.
Both John and Linda Sohus were both reported missing in 1984, while Gerhartsreiter was renting a guest house on the property from Sohus' mother and living under the guise of a British aristocrat named Christopher Chichester.
By the time John Sohus' remains were unearthed by a work crew preparing to build a swimming pool on the property for a new owner, Gerhartsreiter had resurfaced on the East Coast under other assumed names.
Linda Sohus remains missing and is presumed dead.
Gerhartsreiter's double life unraveled after he was arrested in 2008 for abducting his young daughter in Boston following a bitter divorce and was revealed to have passed himself off for 16 years as a member of the Rockefeller clan, gaining entry into high society.
He was convicted in 2009 of kidnapping, assault and battery and was serving a four-year prison sentence in Massachusetts when he was charged by authorities in Los Angeles with the Sohus slaying.
The case against Gerhartsreiter, who came to the United States from Germany as a student in the 1970s, has drawn so much attention that his story became the subject of a 2010 made-for-TV movie titled "Who is Clark Rockefeller?"
Speaking outside of court following the verdict, jurors said they were convinced of Gerhartsreiter's guilt by evidence that included the bags that held Sohus's dismembered remains. The bags bore logos from two schools Gerhartsreiter had attended - the University of Southern California and University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.
Jurors said they were also swayed by his behavior after the crime, moving across the country and changing his identity.
"This man conned so many people all of these years and you worry that this will be his last con," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said outside court following the verdict.
"Having 28 years pass since the crime doesn't help, but it doesn't change the circumstances," he said.
Defense lawyer Jeffrey Denner, who suggested during his closing argument that Linda Sohus may have killed her husband, said he would appeal the verdict.
Denner, who has insisted that Gerhartsreiter had no history of violence despite a record of deceit and petty crimes, said that the case was made more difficult because his client "wasn't a hard guy to dislike."
Ellen Sohus, half-sister of the murdered man, said outside of court that the verdict had brought an end to years of uncertainty.
"My first thought was, it's finally over," she said. "I was brought to tears."
Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Steve Orlofsky