The state Supreme Court refused Wednesday to hear the case against a con man convicted of the 1985 killing of a San Marino man whose remains were found buried in the victim’s backyard nearly a decade later.
The state’s highest court denied a defense petition seeking review of the case against Christian Gerhartsreiter, who once passed himself off as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family.
Gerhartsreiter was convicted in April 2013 in Los Angeles Superior Court of the first-degree murder of John Sohus, 27. He was sentenced to 25-years-to-life in prison.
Jurors also found true allegations that Gerhartsreiter used blunt and sharp objects during the crime.
Gerhartsreiter — who also variously claimed to be an English nobleman and a Hollywood producer and who was known as Christopher Chichester at the time of Sohus’ death — lived in a guest house on the property at 1920 Lorain Road that was owned at the time by Sohus’ mother.
Sohus’ buried remains were uncovered there in May 1994 by an excavation crew preparing to build a swimming pool on the property for a new owner.
In a 26-page ruling last October, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s finding of premeditation and deliberation to support Gerhartsreiter’s first-degree murder conviction.
The appellate court justices found that the evidence presented at Gerhartsreiter’s trial “supports an inference that the killing was methodically planned in advance.”
“The appellate record reads like pulp fiction, but tells the tragically true story of defendant’s brutal murder of his neighbor, and of the tangled web of deceit by which he avoided arrest for 26 years,” Associate Justice Elizabeth A. Grimes wrote.
“‘Defendant lived a life of elaborate lies under many different identities, both before and after the murder of John Sohus. He was a chameleon- like social climber who at various times claimed to hobnob with celebrities like George Lucas, to be an English baron, and to be a member of the Rockefeller family.”
Gerhartsreiter — who maintained his innocence at his August 2013 sentencing — was not charged in connection with the disappearance of Sohus’ wife, Linda, who vanished at about the same time and was never seen again. But the appellate court panel noted that the prosecution theorized that Gerhartsreiter had also killed Linda Sohus.
Defense attorneys argued during the trial that Linda Sohus may have been responsible for her husband’s death.
“On this record, the jury could fairly conclude that defendant killed the couple, and secreted their bodies away in different locations, which further supports the finding that Mr. Sohus’s murder was premeditated and deliberate,” the justices found.
They pointed out that John Sohus’s body was dismembered and that the remains were buried in a hole that would have taken at least seven hours to dig.
The appellate court panel noted that Gerhartsreiter eventually “took all available steps to stay off the grid” and successfully avoided apprehension for the crime for 26 years.
While the justices upheld Gerhartsreiter’s conviction, the panel found that only one of the two one-year weapons enhancements that were added to Gerhartsreiter’s 25-years-to-life sentence can be applied to the crime and ordered the second one-year enhancement to be stayed.
When Gerhartsreiter was charged with the killing in March 2011, he was behind bars in Massachusetts for kidnapping his own daughter. He was sent to Southern California later that year in connection with the murder charge.
—City News Service