'Rockefeller' convicted of kidnapping daughter

June 12, 2009 4:36:38 PM PDT
A German man who called himself Clark Rockefeller and spun fantastic stories about himself during three decades in the United States was convicted Friday of kidnapping his 7-year-old daughter and sentenced to four to five years in prison. Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, snatched the girl on a Boston street during a supervised visit last July and took her to Baltimore.

The jurors, who began deliberating Monday, rejected the theory put forth by Gerhartsreiter's lawyers: that he was suffering from a delusional disorder and was legally insane. Prosecutors called the diagnosis "preposterous" and said he planned the kidnapping for months because he was angry that his wife had divorced him and gained custody of their daughter, Reigh Boss.

Gerhartsreiter also was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for ordering the driver of an SUV to pull away with a social worker clinging to the door. The jury acquitted him on another assault count and on a charge of giving a false name to police.

Judge Frank Graziano sentenced him to four to five years in state prison on the parental kidnapping count and a concurrent two to three years on the assault charge, for which he could have faced up to 10 years.

Graziano said he considered Rockefeller's attachment to his daughter and his "despair" over losing her, but also his disregard for the law and lack of empathy for the girl, his ex-wife and the social worker.

"The defendant was by all accounts a loving and devoted father to his daughter," he said. But he said Gerhartsreiter has a "long and well-documented history of deceit" that included an attempt to "outmaneuver" his ex-wife by taking an $800,000 divorce settlement from her and then planning for months to take their daughter.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Denner had asked for a maximum sentence of two years, saying his client was a "mentally disturbed individual who as a father loved his daughter too much" and never intended to hurt her.

District Attorney Daniel Conley called the verdict "fair and just" and said hoped it gives Gerhartsreiter's ex-wife Sandra Boss and her daughter "some sense of justice."

In a statement read in court by Assistant District Attorney David Deakin, Boss said she has struggled to find normalcy for her and her daughter.

"The long-term effects of the abduction are yet to be known, but anxiety about Reigh's safety and protection ... will certainly be the most lasting," she said.

Jurors appeared sober and tense as the verdict was delivered.

They later returned to the courtroom and foreman Michael Gregory, a Harvard Law School lecturer who specializes in the impact of domestic violence on children's learning, read a statement saying jurors are "confident that our verdict is fair and just and based on the information that we were legally allowed to consider."

After his arrest, authorities revealed that the man with the storied Rockefeller name was really a German national who had used multiple aliases since moving to the United States and was a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed slayings of a newlywed couple from San Marino, Calif.

A California grand jury has been hearing evidence in the disappearance of Linda and Jonathan Sohus. Gerhartsreiter, who was then using the name Christopher Chichester, was living in a guest house on their property when they disappeared. He has not been charged in the case.

Prosecutors asked the judge as part of the sentence to order Gerhartsreiter to undergo psychiatric evaluation, not to profit from his history or crimes and to be on 20 years probation. The judge did not impose those conditions.

The defense said he should not be forced to undergo evaluation while he is a person of interest in the California case and noted that his client faces federal immigration detention when he completes his Massachusetts sentence.

The kidnapping trial featured incredible details about the many personas Gerhartsreiter, 48, assumed as he worked his way into wealthy circles in Boston, New York and Los Angeles.

He came to the United States in 1978 as a 17-year-old student in Connecticut, and three years later, persuaded a woman in Wisconsin to marry him so he could get a green card.

After that, he told a variety of stories: he was a physicist, a financial adviser who renegotiated debt for small countries, a collector who owned $1 billion worth of modern art, a cardiovascular surgeon from Las Vegas, a ship's captain based in Chile and a member of the Trilateral Commission, a group established to foster cooperation among the United States, Europe and Japan.

Boss, a Harvard-educated management consulting firm executive now living in London, testified that she believed her husband's stories for much of their 12-year marriage.

Boss was awarded full custody of their daughter. As part of the agreement, he was allowed to see his daughter three times a year in visits supervised by a social worker. It was during the first visit that he snatched the girl.

Social worker Howard Yaffe testified that Gerhartsreiter pushed him to the ground and hustled his daughter into a waiting SUV, then told the driver to "Go! Go! Go!"

Father and daughter were found in Baltimore six days later.

A Baltimore real estate agent testified that Gerhartsreiter contacted her months before the kidnapping and asked for help finding a house for him and his daughter. The week before the kidnapping, he bought one for $450,000. The agent tipped off authorities after seeing his photo on news reports.

Denner, the defense attorney, told jurors that Gerhartsreiter had been mentally ill for years, but suffered a psychotic break after he lost custody. He said Gerhartsreiter believed he was communicating telepathically with his daughter, who was telling him she was in danger.

Two mental health experts testified that they diagnosed Gerhartsreiter with a delusional disorder and narcissistic personality disorder - illnesses they said made him unable to understand right from wrong.