BOSTON – An impostor who passed himself off as a Rockefeller in America for 15 years is to plead insanity at his trial, accused of snatching his London-based daughter.
German-born Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, 48, calls himself Clark Rockefeller — and wants to use that name at his two-week trial in Boston.
He is charged with kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter Reigh, nicknamed "Snooks," during a supervised visit in Boston in July and holding her for six days until he was caught in Baltimore after an international hunt.
• Partial List of Witnesses at the 'Clark Rockefeller' Trial
[The trial began Tuesday morning with jury selection, according to The Associated Press. Eleven of the 16 jurors needed were chosen from a pool of 120. Judge Frank Gaziano said selection would continue Wednesday with a new pool of potential jurors.
Before jury selection began, Gaziano ruled the defense can use the Rockefeller name during the trial, while prosecutors can call him Gerhartsreiter, the AP reported. The judge said he would call him "the defendant."
His defense lawyers had argued that he should be addressed only as Clark Rockefeller because that is the name he has used for more than 15 years and that is the name he was sought under by police when his daughter disappeared.
They also argued it would be unfair to call him Gerhartsreiter because he has been charged with, but not convicted of, providing a false name to police.
Many of the jurors who were picked Tuesday told Gaziano they hadn't read or heard anything about the case, which has received extensive media coverage because of his use of the famous Rockefeller name, according to the AP.
Others said they had read about the case, but not formed an opinion about his guilt or innocence and could remain impartial.
Some bluntly told the judge they had followed media reports about the case and already had an opinion, the AP reported.
"Basically, I think he's guilty," said one woman, who was dismissed.
Several others were dismissed after they said they had read that Gerhartsreiter has been labeled a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed slayings of a newlywed couple from San Marino, Calif.]
Gerhartsreiter's daughter Reigh lives in London with her mother, Sandra Boss, a senior partner in the London office of the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
Court papers filed by the defense say two psychiatric experts will testify at the trial that Gerhartsreiter suffered from a mental illness that made him unable to appreciate that his conduct was wrong.
A defense document says that the experts have diagnosed bipolar disorder and depression, with "issues of identity" and symptoms of "delusion and grandiosity."
"Mr. Rockefeller’s presentation and symptomatology indicate that he has a substantial disorder of thought, perception and memory which grossly impaired his judgment, behavior and capacity to recognize reality," his lawyers said.
[Prosecutors say he is perfectly sane, according to the AP. They describe him as a longtime con man who carefully planned the kidnapping months in advance.]
The trial puts an end to an extraordinary odyssey for the phony Rockefeller, who crisscrossed America using fake identities until he made it into the country’s upper crust.
Police have identified Gerhartsreiter as a former German exchange student who traveled to the United States from the Bavarian village of Bergen at the age of 17 and never went back.
After living with a family and attending school in Berlin, Conn., he obtained U.S. residency by marrying Amy Jersild in 1981 in Madison, Wisc.
Divorce records filed by her 11 years later show that Gerhartsreiter left the day after they married. Jersild, who has since remarried, is expected to testify at the trial.
Gerhartsreiter moved to California and changed his name to Christopher Chichester in an attempt to become an actor.
He claimed to be British royalty and boasted that he was moving his castle to America brick by brick. California police have named him a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance of a San Marino couple, Jonathan and Linda Sohus, who rented him a guesthouse on their property.
Gerhartsreiter left town before he could be questioned, but in 1988 he received a traffic ticket in Connecticut while driving Sohus' car, which he said he had purchased.
Workers digging a swimming pool on the property later found what was believed to be Sohus' skeleton buried in three garbage bags. An investigating grand jury is now taking a fresh look at the case.
Gerhartsreiter moved back to the East Coast, working in a brokerage house under the name Christopher Crowe. He was dismissed when it emerged that he was using the social security number of a notorious serial killer called "Son of Sam."
He left his next job a day before police arrived to question him about the Sohus case.
Transformed into Clark Rockefeller, he married Boss in 1995 at a Quaker ceremony on the exclusive island of Nantucket, off the Massachusetts coast.
The couple bought a 25-acre estate called Doveridge in a wealthy enclave of Cornish, N.H. They divorced in December 2007 with a custody agreement that allowed Gerhartsreiter to see their daughter only three times a year in visits supervised by a social worker.
It was during the first such visit that he allegedly made off with his daughter in a waiting car, knocking the social worker to the ground.
Gerhartsreiter is charged with parental kidnapping, two counts of assault and battery and giving a false name to police. He has been paying for his defense with some of the 321 gold coins found in his possession when he was arrested. So far the government has returned 210 of the 1-ounce coins, each worth almost $1,000.
Prosecutors are expected to use prison interviews Gerhartsreiter gave to NBC television and The Boston Globe. He suggested in the NBC interview that Boss benefitted from his claimed Rockefeller connection. Asked whether she really believed that he was a Rockefeller, he responded: "No. Clearly not . . . But she wanted to keep the appearance of it going. For her, it was much — for keeping appearances."
Boss is listed as a prosecution witness at the trial.