LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Jurors began deliberating today in the trial of an admitted con man accused of killing a San Marino resident and burying his remains in the victim’s backyard 28 years ago.
The Los Angeles Superior Court jury was handed the case against Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who once passed himself off as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family, after Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian urged the panel to convict the 52-year-old defendant of murdering John Sohus in February 1985.
“He’s guilty of murder,” the prosecutor said. “He’s gotten away with it for 28 years.”
Gerhartsreiter — who has also claimed to be an English nobleman and a Hollywood producer and was known at the time as Christopher Chichester — lived in a guest house on the property at 1920 Lorain Road.
Sohus’ buried remains were uncovered in May 1994 by an excavation crew preparing to build a swimming pool on the property for a new owner.
Gerhartsreiter is not charged in connection with the disappearance of Sohus’ wife, Linda, who vanished at about the same time.
Defense attorneys have argued that Linda Sohus may be responsible for her husband’s death.
“It certainly is convenient to have her as dead … rather than as a potential defendant,” Gerhartsreiter’s lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, told jurors in his closing argument Monday.
Linda Sohus was tired of living with her mother-in-law, a “controlling, vicious alcoholic,” the defense attorney said, giving her a motive for killing her husband.
“It is far more likely that … she killed her husband than the defendant, who had no motive,” Denner told jurors.
The prosecutor countered that “John Sohus was killed by this man” and that “Linda Sohus is dead,” rather than living on the lam as the defense has suggested.
Balian told jurors that Gerhartsreiter “never thought” that two bags that were unearthed in the San Marino backyard and “double bagged” around John Sohus’ skull — one from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and one from the USC bookstore — would be found behind the guest house where he had stayed.
“He put them (the bags) four feet below the earth,” the prosecutor said, telling jurors that Gerhartsreiter — who attended both universities — never would have been caught if the swimming pool hadn’t been built. “He did get away with it for many years.”
In his closing argument, Denner told jurors that Gerhartsreiter would have to be “one of the stupidest murderers in the history of Southern California” if he killed John Sohus. He said jurors should ask “whether someone as intelligent and persuasive … would be likely to commit a murder … and then spread breadcrumbs behind leading people to him.”
Leaving the victim’s head in his alma mater’s book bag would amount to putting “a plaque there that says `burial by me, defendant Christopher Chichester,”’ Denner told jurors.
He conceded that his client “is a schnook and worse,” who “tricks people,” including “filmmakers, judges, successful men and businesswomen.” But the attorney said his client had no history of violence and was not the killer.
Gerhartsreiter went into hiding because of the many “petty, financial white collar crimes” he had committed over the years, fearing that he would be deported or at least lose all the benefits he’d garnered through his life of lies, Denner said.
One of Gerhartsreiter’s attorneys, Brad Bailey, suggested during the trial that postcards sent from Paris prove Linda was alive and that she, rather than his client, might be her husband’s killer.
Two witnesses called by the defense testified that they examined handwriting samples from Linda Sohus and said they believed she wrote the postcards. But the prosecutor showed the jury another postcard, mailed from Britain in 1982 and purporting to be from the defendant, though Gerhartsreiter was in California and taking a film class at USC at that time.
“He had someone in Europe who mailed postcards for him,” Balian said, insisting that Linda Sohus did not even have a passport and never mailed the postcards from Paris.
The prosecutor told jurors that Gerhartsreiter acted “like a murderer on the run,” giving up a lucrative Wall Street job after a detective tried to reach him about a truck connected to the missing couple.
“… He’s gotten away with it long enough,” the prosecutor said. “Hold this man accountable for his actions.”
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