LOS ANGELES – Both a prosecutor and defense attorney denounced a notorious Rockefeller impostor as a liar, but one said he was guilty of murder and the other said there is reasonable doubt.
"He lied at will and his life was based on that," defense attorney Jeffrey Denner said in his closing argument Monday. "He said he was a filmmaker and he could amend the script anytime he wanted."
Denner described his client — a German immigrant whose real name is Christian Gerhartsreiter — as "an odd guy" but not a killer.
He suggested it was more likely that Linda Sohus, the wife of the man the defendant is accused of killing, had a "dark side" of her life that led her to kill her husband. But he offered no evidence of that.
"That's the stuff that reasonable doubt is made of," Denner told jurors. "You don't know what happened. If you don't know what happened, you can't convict anybody."
Gerhartsreiter is accused of killing John Sohus in 1985, the year Sohus and his wife disappeared.
The bones of John Sohus were unearthed in the backyard of his mother's former house in San Marino a decade later. No trace of Linda Sohus was ever found.
Gerhartsreiter lived as a tenant on the property in 1984 and 1985. He vanished around the same time the couple disappeared, according to witnesses.
Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian delivered a carefully constructed closing argument Monday. He was to give his rebuttal to Denner on Tuesday before the case is placed in the hands of the jury.
The prosecutor, acknowledging that a 28-year-old cold case is a difficult challenge, argued there is ample circumstantial evidence for a conviction of the man who has called himself Chris Chichester and Clark Rockefeller.
He called the defendant a master manipulator who "always had a lie in his back pocket to explain things." But he said Gerhartsreiter slipped up and left clues that he killed a California man.
"This isn't a movie, a book, a TV show, a docudrama," Balian told jurors, referring to the fact that the case has been turned into all of those things over the years.
"This case is about two people who lived and died," he said and argued that Gerhartsreiter is the killer of both although he is charged with only the man's murder.
"She's dead," Balian said repeatedly as he described the disappearance of Linda Sohus and her husband, John — newlyweds he said had no reason to vanish.
As part of his closing argument, Balian used a Powerpoint presentation that showed pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
"What do we do with a case 28 years old?" he said, acknowledging there are no eyewitnesses or physical evidence to tie the defendant to the case.
"Circumstantial evidence is just as powerful," Balian said as he detailed the pieces of his puzzle.
He said the fact that the defendant fled shows consciousness of guilt.
Denner disagreed but said his client was a criminal of another sort, committing identity and immigration fraud.
"Over a period of time in this country, he committed a lot of crimes with which he was never charged," Denner said. "It's no wonder he would want to stay under the radar."
But the lawyer said his client had not been running from a murder investigation.
Eventually, Gerhartsreiter turned up on the East Coast, living well at the expense of his wealthy wife.
Gerhartsreiter was previously prosecuted for kidnapping his own daughter and is serving a prison sentence for that crime. If acquitted in Los Angeles, he would be eligible for release soon.