BOSTON – A man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller believed he was communicating telepathically with his daughter and she was telling him she needed to be rescued, a defense attorney told jurors Thursday to begin his kidnapping trial.
Attorney Jeffrey Denner set up an insanity defense by telling the jury during opening statements that the defendant, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, suffered from two mental illnesses and didn't know it was wrong to snatch his 7-year-old daughter off the streets of Boston during a supervised visit last July.
• Partial List of Witnesses at the 'Clark Rockefeller' Trial
Gerhartsreiter was "pushed over the edge" when he lost custody of his daughter in 2007, Denner said.
"He believed that on a moral level ... he had to do this to save his daughter," Denner said.
Gerhartsreiter is accused of shoving a social worker to the ground during the supervised visit, then hustling his daughter into a waiting car and fleeing. They were both found in Baltimore six days later, the girl unharmed.
Prosecutors opened the trial by portraying Gerhartsreiter as a con man who thinks the rules do not apply to him. They allege that he spent months meticulously planning the kidnapping.
Prosecutor David Deakin described how Gerhartsreiter romanced he ex-wife and "dazzled" her with "his personality, his charisma, his likability," but remained vague about his past.
He told her he worked restructuring debt for developing nations and explained his lack of money by saying he didn't have the heart to charge for his services, Deakin said. He also claimed his parents had died in a car crash when he was a teenager and said he had attended a program for gifted children at Yale University when he was 14.
His ex-wife, Sandra Boss, was not in court Thursday, but her father, William Boss, did attend openings.
Authorities say Gerhartsreiter is a German man who has used multiple aliases since moving to the U.S. in 1978.