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Jury begins deliberations in Rockefeller impostor murder case

April 09, 2013|By Hailey Branson-Potts

Jurors weighing the fate of a man accused in the 1985 slaying of his San Marino landlady’s son began deliberations Tuesday after a prosecutor said the defendant behaved like a “murderer on the run.”

In his rebuttal to the defense’s closing arguments, Dist. Atty. Habib Balian said Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter manipulated friends and acquaintances for years, covering his tracks after allegedly killing 27-year-old John Sohus by fleeing California and repeatedly changing his identity. He got better at lying over time, Balian said, and eventually became a “master manipulator.”

“He’s gotten away with it for 28 years,” Balian said. “He thinks he’s smarter than everyone. … He thinks everyone’s so stupid.”

FULL COVERAGE: Rockefeller imposter on trial

Gerhartsreiter was staying in a guest house on the property where John and Linda Sohus were living when the couple disappeared in 1985. Nearly a decade later, John’s remains were found by construction workers digging a pool, buried behind the guest house in an area out of sight from the main home on the property.

More than 40 witnesses testified during the three-week trial in downtown Los Angeles, sharing accounts of the charismatic Gerhartsreiter. He was known as Christopher Chichester, a British aristocrat, while living in San Marino in the 1980s and disappeared months after the Sohuses. He resurfaced on the other side of the country as Wall Street bond trader Christopher Crowe and, later, as Clark Rockefeller, a supposed scion of America’s famous wealthy family.

In his rebuttal Tuesday, Balian rejected the defense’s argument that Gerhartsreiter would have been too smart to bury Sohus’ body in two bags that could be tied directly to him. Around the victim’s skull were two plastic bags used during the early 1980s. One was from the bookstore at USC, where Gerhartsreiter attended classes. The other was from the bookstore at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where Gerhartsreiter was enrolled from spring 1980 to spring 1981.

“He never thought these bags would be found,” Balian said. “It’s not like he laid them on the ground for everyone to see. He buried them.”

Gerhartsreiter probably would not have been tied to the case, Balian said, if the new owners of the Lorain Road property had not wanted a pool and dug up the backyard.

Balian also mocked the suggestion that Linda Sohus killed her husband because she was unhappy that the couple was living with John’s mother, Ruth, whom she did not like, according to several witnesses.

“They presented no motive” for Linda to have killed John, Balian said. The defense, he said, presented “at best a motive to kill Ruth.”

“If Linda didn’t like Ruth so much, what should she have done? Slipped some sleeping pills into Ruth’s whiskey,” Balian said.

The prosecution has not suggested a motive for Gerhartsreiter to have killed Sohus. Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys have emphasized that there is no DNA, fingerprints or other forensic evidence connecting Gerhartsreiter to the killing.

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