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Jury convicts Rockefeller in kidnapping trial

By Maria Cramer and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
June 12, 2009
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A jury today rejected an insanity defense by the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, convicting him in Suffolk Superior Court of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter. The verdict came after a gripping trial that deconstructed 30 years of the defendant's dubious stories and far-fetched aliases.

The jury agreed with the prosecution that the case was really about a manipulative con man who meticulously planned a crime and not mental illness, as the defense had claimed. Rockefeller, 48, stood stone faced as the foreman read the verdict by the 12 member jury dominated by college-age people.

The jury also convicted him of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, which was his getaway car. He was acquitted of another count of assault and battery and giving a false name to police.

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 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 new 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, Calif. 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 Tuesday that investigators and members of the county district attorney's office were "monitoring the trial," but he would not discuss the potential impact of a verdict in Boston.

"He's still a person of interest," Whitmore said. "We encourage him to talk with us -- And that's pretty much all I can tell you.''

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 Sandra 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 that he ended seven mute years as a child with the word "woofness." The climax came 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 porensic 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," defense lawyer Jeffrey A. Denner 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 took look past the "preposterous diagnosis" by paid experts.

"This is not a case about madness," Deakin said in his closing. "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."