LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Jury deliberations began on Tuesday in the murder trial of a German-born con man accused of killing his landlady’s son and burying the body behind a Los Angeles-area home years before assuming a fake identity as a member of America’s wealthy Rockefeller family.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 52, who for more than two decades lived under various aliases, including Clark Rockefeller, and gained entry to Boston’s high society, is charged with the 1985 slaying of John Sohus, 27.
The case was handed Tuesday afternoon to a Los Angeles County Superior Court jury, which deliberated about 3 1/2 hours without reaching a verdict before adjourning for the day.
The panel is to resume deliberations on Wednesday. The defendant faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
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?”
During closing arguments on Thursday, Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said Gerhartsreiter not only murdered Sohus but almost certainly killed the victim’s wife, Linda, who disappeared about the same time as her husband 28 years ago.
But defense lawyer Jeffrey Denner countered that Linda Sohus had a “dark side” that made her the more likely killer and insisted that his client, despite a record of deceit and “petty, financial, white-collar crimes,” had no history of violence.
Linda Sohus is presumed dead but her body has never been found.
Gerhartsreiter is not charged in her death but prosecutors have accused him of trying to create the appearance that the couple were traveling abroad after they vanished by arranging for forged postcards to be sent from Paris back to their friends and relatives.
The buried remains of John Sohus were discovered in 1994 in the backyard of the home in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino where the couple had resided while Gerhartsreiter was renting a guest house on the property from Sohus’ mother. Gerhartsreiter was living at the time under the guise of a British aristocrat named Christopher Chichester.
By the time 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.
But his 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 scion of the Rockefeller clan.
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 in the Sohus slaying.
Reporting by Dana Feldman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Bill Trott