Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Imposter sentenced in killing

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LOS ANGELES -- A small, bespectacled German immigrant who invented a glamorous life for himself in the United States by posing as an heir to the fabled Rockefeller fortune was sentenced Thursday to 27 years to life in prison for a California cold-case murder.

Representing himself after firing his lawyers, Christian Gerhartsreiter, 52, asserted he did not commit the mid-1980s murder of John Sohus in the wealthy city of San Marino and asked to read a voluminous motion he had submitted to the court. When Superior Court Judge George Lomeli refused, he withdrew the motion.

Gerhartsreiter, who fooled friends, lovers and a wife during an extraordinary three-decade charade, entered the courtroom balancing in his arms a mountain of transcripts from his trial. He submitted a brief sentencing memorandum asking that he be given time served and probation. The judge rejected that.

The hearing was marked by an emotional statement from Sohus' sister, who said some questions in the case will never be answered. She said that until his dying day, her father always asked, "Why John?"

Ellen Sohus told the judge: "You cannot give me back my brother. All I ask is that you hold Mr. Gerhartsreiter accountable."

Gerhartsreiter, handcuffed and wearing a blue jail uniform, was calm and respectful as he addressed the judge, saying he wished to read his motion for a new trial aloud for the benefit of reporters and others.

"There is great public interest," he said. "It would save time for the media."

The judge told him his motion would become part of the public file where anyone can read it. But it did not become part of the public record because at that point Gerhartsreiter said, "If I do not get to read the motion, I will withdraw it." The judge said it was his right.

Asked if he had any last words for the court, Gerhartsreiter said, "I can only say again I want to assert my innocence. I did not commit the crime for which I was convicted."

Gerhartsreiter took over his own representation after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the death of Sohus, whose bones were found buried at the suburban San Marino home where the defendant had lived under the name Chris Chichester.

It was a heavily circumstantial case built 28 years after Sohus vanished. There was no DNA solution to a murder mystery.

But discovery of the bones with a bag bearing the logo of a university the defendant once attended added a crucial piece to the puzzle of the man who later called himself Clark Rockefeller.

Sohus, a 27-year-old computer programmer who was the son of the defendant's landlady, vanished with his wife, Linda, in 1985. No trace of her has been found. Gerhartsreiter hinted at a recent hearing he might have information about her whereabouts but never expanded on that.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 16, 2013 A20

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