The prosecutor’s closing statement called on jurors to convict Christian Gerhartsreiter, renowned as con man Clark Rockefeller, of the 1985 killing of LASFS member John Sohus, his landlady’s adult son. John Sohus, his landlady’s adult son.
John’s remains were found buried behind the guest house, out of sight from the property’s main home and from next-door neighbors.
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 at Milwaukee, where Gerhartsreiter was enrolled from spring 1980 to spring 1981.
“The defendant made some mistakes in this case,” [L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. Habib Balian] told jurors. “The biggest mistake he made was picking the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee to go to school.”
Balian told jurors, “You should look at each piece… Each one alone might not tell you the answer … but you put it together … and there’s going to be one singular reasonable truth – that this man Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter killed John Sohus.”
Balian emphasized the fact the defendant was in possession of the dead man’s truck when he attempted to sell it in 1988 in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Balian also noted Gerhartsreiter’s odd behavior – both as evidence of the defendant’s brilliance and to bolster a circumstantial case against him. Balian said a San Marino police officer lost an opportunity to interrogate the defendant in 1985 because the detective didn’t know how to respond to the defendant when he came to the door naked and claimed to be a nudist.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner argued Gerhartsreiter was a con man, but not a murderer:
“He had quite a portfolio of illegal behavior that was following him around, so it was not surprising that he would try to stay under the radar,” Denner said in his closing arguments.
Denner stressed that there were no witnesses to the killing or burying of John Sohus, nor was there DNA or other strong forensic evidence linking Gerhartsreiter to the killing.
And he asserted John Sohus’ wife was not in the clear.
“If in fact you don’t find he actually did the murder, then an alternative theory is that Linda Sohus did it. And if Linda Sohus did it and he didn’t do it, then I’d suggest to you that the net result of this is that on some level the prosecution believes that Linda Sohus is the killer,” Denner said. “If she is the killer, she had to be alive when John was murdered. And, if she is the killer, you obviously don’t know what happened here. I suggest to you that is the stuff reasonable doubt is made of. “
However, Balian argued that Gerhartsreiter not only bludgeoned and stabbed John Sohus, he likely killed Linda too.
“What struck me as being particularly sad is that not only did the defendant kill John Sohus and not only does all the evidence indicate that he killed Linda Sohus too… not only did he end these two people’s lives, he’s going to have the gall to come in here and blame the very people that he killed. “