Christian Gerhartsreiter--the man who refers to himself as "Clark Rockefeller" and has been linked to other aliases--pleaded not guilty to the 1985 murder of San Marino man John Sohus Friday via judge Carlos Uranga, who entered the plea on his behalf.
“It’s been a long time coming and we’re glad it’s beginning,” Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Friday shortly before the arraignment.
A preliminary hearing for Gerhartsreiter has been set for 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 16, when the judge will decide if enough evidence exists for the matter to go to trial.
Gerhartsreiter attorney Brad Bailey told Patch Wednesday he expects the case to go to trial.
Gerhartsreiter lived in San Marino in the 1980s and called himself Christopher Chichester, saying he descended from royalty. He rented a guesthouse at the Lorain Road home of Linda and John Sohus that was owned by John’s mother Didi before the young couple disappeared in Feb. 1985. Unidentified bones were dug up at the property in 1994, and investigators previously said they were unable to definitely link them to the Sohuses.
When the murder charge was brought in March, the bones were identified as John Sohus, and an investigation determined he died from blunt force trauma to the head, according to authorities.
"The DNA identifies the remains as John Sohus," Whitmore said in March, adding that the DNA evidence was a turning point in the case.
Linda Sohus has never been found and her disappearance is still an open case.
Gerhartsreiter, who donned glasses and bright blue jail scrubs Friday, stood in the small Alhambra court room flanked by his Boston attorneys Brad Bailey and Jeffrey Denner, and only spoke to answer a short, assured “yes” a few times when asked by prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian if he waived his right to have a case brought to trial within 180 days of June 13, when Gerhartsreiter apparently signed paperwork agreeing to extradition.
The man who claims to be a Rockefeller and posed as other confident, eccentric, well-to-do characters with fame, fortune or both held his head upright at the arraignment and maintained a steady gaze and a straight, closed mouth, appearing content and unaffected overall.
Denner said Friday he was “surprised” that the charge for the 1985 murder was brought against his client in March. “It was hard to imagine after so much time what new evidence could have arisen.”
Sandi Gibbons, Los Angeles County District Attorney Public Information Officer, addressed the prosecution’s case.
“The evidence we feel is strong otherwise we wouldn’t have filed a case against him,” said Gibbons on Friday after the arraignment.
The evidence includes 9000 pages of discovery documents, which Denner said is “just a start” and 83 CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes that Balian will disclose.
Balian requested no bail be set for Gerhartsreiter--to which Uranga agreed--since he continues to serve his 2009 sentence for kidnapping his daughter. Gerhartsreiter was serving his sentence in Massachusetts and was extradited to California Wednesday. His sentence for that crime ends in June 2012, said Bailey.
Gerhartsreiter is being held at Mens’ Central Jail, a Los Angeles law enforcement official briefly commented Friday.
Since Denner and Bailey practice in Massachusetts, they are being sponsored by California attorney James Hallett—the third attorney for the defense—who told Patch he is “new to the case.”
“We’re lifelong friends so I’m the one he calls when he’s in California,” said Hallett of Denner.
Friday’s courtroom audience was comprised of about two dozen people, most of whom were press, but a notable local was present.
San Marino barber Jann Eldnor—“Jann of Sweden”—cut Gerhartsreiter’s hair twice a month for a couple years in the 1980s and came to watch the proceedings.
“He looks 25 years older—different,” said Eldnor, who hadn’t seen Gerhartsreiter since the 1980s. “He still seems to be a cool turkey, like he was.”
Eldnor has been interviewed by multiple press sources and law enforcement officials about what he knew about the man who conned practically the whole town into thinking he was of royal blood.