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Lawyer speaks out in San Marino case

Boston man had nothing to do with 1985 disappearance of couple, attorney says.

August 22, 2008|Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein | Times Staff Writers

A Boston man whom authorities describe as a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance of a San Marino couple barely knew Linda and Jonathan Sohus and left town months after they vanished, his attorney said Thursday.

In an interview with The Times, attorney Stephen Hrones acknowledged that Clark Rockefeller lived in the couple's back house and used the name Christopher Chichester but said his client had nothing to do with their disappearance.

The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, one of many aliases the FBI says he used over decades since coming here from Germany as a student, is being held in a Massachusetts jail on an unrelated charge of kidnapping his daughter.

The arrest reopened a 23-year-old mystery over what happened to the couple. Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives and numerous witnesses have said that Rockefeller and Chichester are the same person.

Authorities said they have wanted to interview Rockefeller about the disappearance since 1994, when workers installing a pool in the San Marino home's backyard dug up human remains wrapped in plastic bags. Forensic tests so far have not identified the remains, but detectives said they suspect they are those of Jonathan Sohus.

Hrones said the mere fact he was living on the property proves nothing. "I have heard people say, 'Why did you put him at the murder scene?' Well, they have already put him at the murder scene. I wasn't about to give up anything," he said. "Everyone says he is a peaceful guy. . . . He has no idea what happened to them."

Hrones said his client's use of aliases is no different than that of any actor changing his name.

The attorney also attempted to poke holes in some of the evidence the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has made public trying to link Rockefeller and the couple.

Officials have said that three years after the couple disappeared, Rockefeller tried to sell a truck registered to Jonathan Sohus in Connecticut.

But Hrones said his client purchased the car from Sohus' now-deceased mother and made payments on the vehicle.

Some have also speculated that Rockefeller sent postcards from Paris purportedly signed by Linda Sohus in the months after the couple vanished. But Hrones said his client could not have sent the cards because he did not travel outside of the country during that period.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said detectives met with coroner's officials Thursday to go over "all the evidence on hand."

He said authorities plan new tests where necessary of the human remains found in the backyard of the San Marino house. "It is too important a cold case to ignore, and all evidence is going to be explored forensically."

So far, officials have not been able to link any of the forensic evidence to either the couple or Rockefeller.

Rockefeller granted interviews with the Boston Globe and NBC's "Today Show" on Wednesday. NBC will air the interview in two parts Monday and Tuesday.

Hrones said he agreed to the interviews so his client could get his story told.

"He is being tried in the press, and he will be already convicted unless he puts his best foot forward," the lawyer said.

Hrones also said his client was a good father.

Sheriff's officials said they hoped the man who initially refused to talk to their investigators when they went to Boston recently would now be forthcoming. "Since he is talking to the press, we are encouraging him to talk to the investigators about our case," Whitmore said.

Some lawyers said Thursday that allowing a client to be interviewed in the media in a high-profile case can be risky.

Defense attorney Harland Braun, the first of several lawyers representing actor Robert Blake against a murder charge, said that allowing a client to be interviewed while awaiting trial was "an absurd gamble."

Braun, who quit as Blake's attorney when the actor granted an interview to Barbara Walters before his preliminary hearing, said that any misstep during questioning by reporters could be used against them in court.

"Jurors tend to put too much stock in what a defendant says at various times," Braun said. "You hesitate to answer a question or you make misstatement, those words become the centerpiece of the prosecution."

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richard.winton@latimes.com

andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

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