A University of Wisconsin logo stamped on a bag may play a key role in the murder trial of the con man who called himself Clark Rockefeller, which is getting underway today in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is accused of killing John Sohus, his landlord, in 1985. He allegedly dismembered Sohus’s body and then stuffed the remains into plastic bags before burying them in the backyard of a San Marino home in 1985 owned by Sohus’s mother. Sohus’s wife, Linda, also disappeared in 1985, but Gerhartsreiter is not charged with killing her.
When John Sohus’s remains were uncovered in 1994 when new owners were building a pool, authorities discovered that one of the bags was marked with the logo used by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee between 1979 to 1982.
Gerhartsreiter, a serial con man, was a student at the university in 1981, according to authorities. At the time of John Sohus’s murder, Gerhartsreiter was using the name of Christopher Chichester, authorities have said.
Jeffrey Denner, the Boston attorney who, along with his law partner, Brad Bailey, is defending Gerhartsreiter in the California trial, said the defense is focused on jury selection, which is scheduled to begin today in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Denner said he is searching for prospective jurors who can put aside whatever they may have heard about the man who claimed for more than a decade to be related to the Rockefeller family and who used numerous other aliases after arriving in the US from Germany and staying illegally.
“It’s a very difficult, if not dicey, proposition to get a fair jury in a high-profile case,’’ Denner said.
Denner declined to discuss his trial strategy, or lay out how he plans to rebut physical evidence, like the bag with the college logo, that authorities contend links Gerhartsreiter to John Sohus’s killing, except to say that jurors will repeatedly hear that his client is not a killer.
“Whoever is responsible for his death is not the defendant in this case,’’ Denner said.
Denner said Gerhartsreiter welcomes the arrival of the murder charge against him, which has kept him in a California jail on $10 million bail awaiting trial. While in California, Gerhartsreiter has been serving the five-year prison sentenced imposed in Massachusetts for kidnapping his own daughter in 2008, an act that led to his unmasking as a serial con man.
“He is anxious to get closure,’’ Denner said this morning in a telephone interview from California.
Denner said the trial could last as long as two months, and that opening statements aren’t expected until sometime next week after the jury is chosen.John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.