Opening Statements Begin In ‘Clark Rockefeller’ Murder Trial - FOX 35 News Orlando

The ‘Clark Rockefeller’ Murder Trial Begins

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Los Angeles, CA -

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man who allegedly murdered his landlord and buried him in a San Marino backyard posed at times as a Rockefeller, a Hollywood producer, British royalty and a USC film professor, lying even to his wife of 12 years, prosecutors said today in their opening statement.

Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, is accused of the February 1985 slaying of John Sohus, 27, whose bones were found nearly a decade later.

Gerhartsreiter was charged in March 2011, while serving a prison term in Massachusetts for kidnapping his own daughter.

Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian previewed the prosecution's case in a trial that may include as many as 93 witnesses, including 16 experts, according to a jury questionnaire.

The defense's opening statement is scheduled this afternoon.

Balian showed the jury photos of the bones found May 5, 1994 by an excavation crew building a swimming pool in the backyard of 1920 Lorain Road.

The first set of human remains -- found wrapped in plastic and in what was later identified as a USC bookstore bag with the Trojans logo -- included "a jawbone, portions of a skull, hair, decomposed after many years," Balian said.

Leading forensic experts will testify that Sohus was hit with a blunt instrument three times, each time with "enough force to crush the skull," Balian said. The prosecutor said clothing also showed evidence of Sohus being cut.

Gerhartsreiter -- a slight, balding man wearing wire-rimmed glasses rather than the heavy black plastic rims he was often photographed in -- sat silent through the litany of his many alleged identities.

The defendant began lying almost immediately after entering the U.S. from his native Germany on Oct. 16, 1978, Balian said, telling an American he'd met in Germany that he was working as a ski instructor.

High school classmate Ed Savio will testify that he "noticed something peculiar, something strange," Balian said.

"The defendant was experimenting with different personalities," using different names and mannerisms to see what worked, he said.

Through the years he told some he met that his parents had died in a crash or that he was the son of an architect, a lawyer, an anesthesiologist or a government scientist.

In San Marino, Gerhartsreiter carried business cards saying he was the 13th baronet of England, while he told friends in Connecticut that he was an executive producer for "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and writer-director Cameron Crowe's brother.

In 1985, Gerhartsreiter lived in the guesthouse of the San Marino residence where Sohus and his wife Linda lived with Sohus' mother Didi. Gerhartsreiter killed Sohus in February of that year and then faked the couple's disappearance, Balian said, leaving Didi believing that her beloved son had abandoned her.

Three postcards written in Linda Sohus' hand were later postmarked from Paris -- though Linda never had a passport, according to the prosecution -- and sent to her mother, her boss at a bookstore and a friend with whom the couple was planning a vacation.

The prosecutor said Sohus told a friend before she disappeared that her husband was going to interview back East  for a "top secret government job" and that she may have written the postcards believing it was necessary to hide her whereabouts from friends and family.

But the stamps on the cards were licked by a man, not Linda, Balian said. And the prosecution expects to call witnesses to testify that Linda would not have disappeared without a word, leaving all the couple's possessions behind and later even missing her grandmother's funeral.

"The evidence will show you that John and Linda Sohus are dead," Balian said.

Linda's body has never been found, and Gerhartsreiter is not charged with her death.

After the couple went missing and police investigators went to the San Marino house to ask questions, Gerhartsreiter himself disappeared, using the names Christopher Chichester and Christopher Crowe, among others, and heading to Greenwich, Connecticut.

He got a series of jobs as a bond and securities trader, ultimately ending up making more than $100,000 in salary while working for Kidder, Peabody & Co.

He conned a woman into going into hiding with him when police tried to find him at the securities firm, convincing her that his parents had been kidnapped.

Later, as Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter married Sandra Boss, a Harvard graduate and the two had a child. The defendant never worked again, held a bank account or signed any legal documents, and never told his wife his true identity, Balian said.

Even after Sohus' remains were recovered -- the result of a San Marino Police Department detective reopening a cold case -- and Gerhartsreiter was arrested, he was "still attempting to convince the world" he was someone else, Balian said.

Gerhartsreiter faces up to 26 years to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

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