By Maria Cramer and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
The man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller received a four-to-five-year prison sentence today after a jury rejected an insanity defense and convicted him of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter last summer.
In handing down a prison term recommended by prosecutors, Judge Frank Gaziano recounted the "compelling" testimony from Rockefeller's former wife, Sandra Boss, and her very real fear that she would never see her daughter again.
"The defendant displayed no regard for the rule of law," Gaziano said as Rockefeller sat at the defendant's table, his leg shaking nervously. "He thought he would be able to outmaneuver Sandra Boss by taking her money and then at the right time taking his daughter. The defendant committed this crime with complete disregard for the anguish this would cause Ms. Boss."
With its verdict, the jury agreed with the prosecution that the case was really about a con man who meticulously planned a crime and was not mentally ill, as the defense had claimed. Rockefeller, 48, stood stone-faced as the foreman read the verdict by the jury of eight women and four men -- predominantly college-age people.
The 12-member panel also convicted him of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for ordering his getaway driver to speed off while clinical social worker Howard Yaffe clung to the door of the sport utility vehicle. For this crime, the judge gave Rockefeller 2 to 3 years in prison, a term that will be concurrent to his sentence for kidnapping.
Rockefeller was acquitted of another count of assault and battery for allegedly pushing Yaffe to the ground. He was also found not guilty of giving police a false name when he was arrested in Baltimore.
In a brief victim impact statement read today by a prosecutor, Boss spoke of the pain caused by the crimes of her former husband.
"I faced a mother's worst nightmare, the possibility of losing a child without a trace," Boss wrote in the statement. "The emerging horrors about her abductor's nefarious past only heighten my concerns that she might come to harm."
Defense lawyer Jeffrey A. Denner asked unsuccessfully for a sentence of less than two years for his client, whom he described as a "mentally disturbed individual."
The defendant "loved his daughter too much and made huge mistakes in trying to express that love," Denner told the judge.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley told reporters after the verdict that Rockefeller had been convicted of "the most serious charges" that "will carry the maximum penalty."
"This was a fair and just verdict for both the Commonwealth and the defendant," Conley said.
After the verdict, the jury gathered in the courtroom and the foreman read a statement to the media on behalf of the panel, noting that "expert witness testimony figured in prominently" in their decision.
"This was a complicated case and not as clear-cut as it might seem to those who have followed it only in the media," said the foreman, Michael Gregory. He added, "We were very thorough in our deliberations … All of us stand by the verdict completely."
The verdict brings to a close a parental kidnapping case that grabbed headlines because of the name Rockefeller and a suspect who claimed to have ties to the family of Standard Oil fame. Testimony presented by both the prosecution and the defense made it indisputable that the defendant is really Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 48, a German native who emigrated as an exchange student in 1978 and used grand exaggerations and outright lies to repeatedly change identities and invent lives.
The story took a more sinister turn when one of Rockefeller's aliases, Christopher Chichester, was identified by California investigators as a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed death of Linda and John Sohus in San Marino. Police say Rockefeller's fingerprints have been linked to Chichester, the tenant living in the Sohus's guesthouse when the couple went missing.
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said today that investigators monitored the trial in Boston, but the verdict is not "directly of interest to us."
"We are actively pursuing all leads with one goal in mind, and that is to solve this 24-year-old case,'' Whitmore said. "He's still a person of interest. We encourage him to talk to investigators."
In Boston, the charges date to the afternoon of July 27, 2008, when Rockefeller kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh, on Marlborough Street in the Back Bay during a visit supervised by a clinical social worker. It followed seven months after his bitter divorce from Boss, who won full custody of Reigh and moved to London. Rockefeller planned the crime for months, buying a new home in Baltimore under yet another alias; hiding his $800,000 divorce settlement in gold coins; and arranging for two getaway cars.
The trial revealed more of the fabulist's ridiculous tales: his work with the international Trilateral Commission; the blame he bore for the collapse of the Asian financial markets; and his story that he ended seven mute years as a child with the word "woofness." The climax was when Rockefeller's former wife took the stand and explained how someone of her pedigree and stature could be so utterly duped by him during the couple's 12-year marriage.
Boss, 42, graduated from Stanford University and Harvard Business School and at one point earned almost $2 million a year as a senior partner at McKinsey & Co., advising businesses on complex financial matters. In two hours of riveting testimony under cross-examination, Boss told the jury that she believed her husband was who he claimed despite never seeing him with a driver's license, passport, Social Security card, or childhood pictures from his privileged upbringing in one of Manhattan's most exclusive neighborhoods.
"There is a difference between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence," Boss testified, adding: "I'm not saying I made a very good choice of husband. It's pretty obvious that I had a blind spot. All I'm saying is that it's possible that one can be brilliant and amazing in one area of one's life and pretty stupid in another."
The case, however, hinged on dueling diagnoses from mental health experts, who gave contradictory testimony. Two defense experts -- Dr. Keith Ablow, a forensic psychiatrist from Newburyport, and Catherine T.J. Howe, a forensic psychologist from Salem -- testified that Rockefeller was legally insane when he abducted his daughter last summer. They told the jury that Rockefeller suffered from narcissistic personality disorder so acute that he had grandiose delusions of wealth and aristocracy that were reinforced when people such as his wife believed his outlandish stories.
The prosecution countered with Dr. James A. Chu, a clinical psychiatrist at McLean Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Chu testified that he found "very clear evidence … of exaggeration of symptoms" by Rockefeller. The defense tried to discredit Chu because of his lack of forensic training and the fact that he made his diagnosis after visiting the defendant once for about 2 1/2 hours at the Nashua Street Jail.
"Taking a look at Mr. Rockefeller; you know that something is wrong with him," Denner, the defense lawyer, told the jury in his closing argument. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist or respectfully a psychiatrist to know that something is very wrong with him … This is not a man playing with a full deck."
Assistant Suffolk District Attorney David A. Deakin countered by urging the jury to look past the "preposterous diagnosis" by paid experts.
"This is not a case about madness," Deakin said in his closing argument. "It's a case about manipulation … Don't let him get away with that. Don't let this insanity defense be the culminating manipulation in a lifetime of lies designed to try to get what he wanted. Don't shy away from the facts. See the truth before you."
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