Just-married victim, wife disappeared 28 years ago
LOS ANGELES – A German immigrant who spent decades posing as an heir to the fabled Rockefeller oil fortune and using other identities was found guilty Wednesday of first-degree murder in the death of a man whose bones were found buried nearly 20 years ago at a suburban home.
Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, was convicted in the heavily circumstantial case that went to trial 28 years after the disappearance of newlyweds John and Linda Sohus.
Much of the prosecution’s evidence focused on the strange behavior of the man who went by many names, including Clark Rockefeller.
“Sometimes you’re afraid that this guy’s conned so many people for so many years that this will be the one last time he pulls off his last con,” Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said. “But that didn’t happen.”
The jury reached the verdict after deliberating for less than six hours over two days.
Before the verdict was read, Gerhartsreiter entered the courtroom smiling, and his lawyers said later he was hopeful and optimistic. He did not show any reaction when a court clerk read the decision convicting him of killing John Sohus.
Jurors said they were less interested in the defendant’s life as an impostor than they were in the evidence.
“I’ve never known anyone with the ability to become so many people,” said jury forewoman Kristen Lee, an attorney. “But his character was his character. We were more concerned with the evidence.”
Superior Court Judge George Lomeli set sentencing for June 26.
Prosecutors did not pursue the death penalty, so Gerhartsreiter could face a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison for the murder conviction, plus two additional years because the jury also found that he personally used a blunt object and a sharp instrument as weapons.
His lawyers said he is looking forward to an appeal.