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‘Rockefeller’ murder case goes to Calif. jury

Defense points to missing wife

LOS ANGELES — The Christian Gerhartsreiter murder trial went to the jury on Tuesday morning after three weeks of testimony that covered everything from the defendant’s spectacular life of lies and deceit to the circumstantial evidence surrounding a decades-old slaying in California.

That Gerhartsreiter made up things, including that he was a baronet, a well-connected Hollywood producer, and a Rockefeller as he popped up in social circles in Boston, was never in dispute here in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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His own defense team called him a con man, and the prosecutor dubbed him a “master manipulator.”

What was dissected, contested, and rebutted in front of jurors and followed by interested parties across the globe was about a half dozen exhibits of circumstantial evidence, in a case lacking any direct evidence.

There was no witness to John Sohus’s killing, or to the burial of his dismembered remains in the backyard of 1920 Lorain Road in San Marino, Calif., where Gerhartsreiter resided in a guesthouse.

Prosecutor Habib Balian made his final arguments in the murder trial of Christian Gerhartsreiter Tuesday.

WALTER MANCINI/SAN GABRIEL VALLEY TRIBUNE VIA AP

Prosecutor Habib Balian made his final arguments in the murder trial of Christian Gerhartsreiter Tuesday.

The defense team for Gerhartsreiter, 52, maintained throughout the trial that Sohus was not killed by their client, but instead by his own wife, Linda, who has not been seen since she and her husband disappeared in 1985.

Gerhartsreiter, the German con man who created an international sensation five years ago when he abducted his young daughter in Boston, faces 26 years to life in prison on charges that he killed John Sohus while living in the guesthouse at the residence owned by the victim’s mother, Didi Sohus.

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John and Linda Sohus lived in the main house and disappeared in early 1985.

John Sohus’s remains were discovered when the new owners of the residence started digging for a pool in 1994.

The trial began on March 18, with prosecutor Habib Balian painting a picture of marital bliss between the Sohus couple, brought together by their mutual love of science fiction.

“They were too cute for words,” Balian told jurors as he displayed a picture of the couple in a smiling embrace.

But Gerhartsreiter’s cocounsel, Brad Bailey, suggested in his opening statements that Linda Sohus was the real killer.

“John Sohus could have well been killed by someone else, not just the mysterious proverbial one-armed stranger . . . that someone could have been John Sohus’s still-missing wife Linda,” Bailey said. “Think about that now, through this entire case.”

From there, the two sides sparred over the circumstantial evidence.

Balian, who used a projector with a large screen hanging from a wall in the courtroom, clicked to images of the dug-up backyard, the victim’s reconstructed skull, illustrations of blood stains that were found under the guesthouse carpet, postcards allegedly containing Linda Sohus’s handwriting sent from Europe after she disappeared, and bags that contained the victim’s remains and featured logos from two colleges — both of which Gerhartsreiter attended.

One point of agreement between the two sides was that the killer lived at 1920 Lorain Road, because how else would the killer have been able to spend the hours it took to dig the grave and bury the body in the backyard, and clean up what was undoubtedly a very bloody scene while going undetected.

Throughout the trial, Gerhartsreiter showed little emotion and sat writing notes.

Both sides rested last week. Closing statements started Monday. The prosecution went first.

Balian’s rebuttal for the prosecution came Tuesday morning, and then the case went to the jury.

At one point, Balian told jurors that since 1985, Gerhartsreiter may have had some success in cleverly manipulating the people who crossed his path, but when it came to the killing of John Sohus, he showed none of that skill.

In his closing argument, Jeffrey Denner, Gerhartsreiter’s co-counsel, restated that John Sohus was the victim of violence at the hands of his wife, not Gerhartsreiter.

“The totality points far more to Linda Sohus than it does to the defendant as the killer of John Sohus,’’ Denner said.

He acknowledged that Gerhartsreiter had a “portfolio of illegal behavior,” but there was no proof he was involved in a murder.

Balian said the defendant left clues that linked him to the killing, including burying Sohus’s remains in two bags with logos from the University of Southern California and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, both of which Gerhartsreiter attended.

Brian Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @globeballou.

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