Adrian Walker

No doubt: He's crazy

By Adrian Walker
May 29, 2009

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Clark Rockefeller sat silent for close to four hours yesterday, which must have set a personal record.

The veteran con artist displayed hardly any reaction as Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David Deakin described the plot by which he allegedly kidnapped his daughter, Reigh Boss, last summer, setting off a multistate manhunt.

Rockefeller's lawyers argue that he is mentally incompetent, but the prosecution takes a more conventional view of his state of mind.

"In his mind, the rules don't apply to Mr. Gerhartsreiter," said Deakin, referring to Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter by the given name he left behind long ago. "But in a court of law, the rules apply to everybody."

So began the weird saga unfolding in Suffolk Superior Court, in which the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller began his effort to prove himself insane.

Pity poor Jeffrey Denner, because whatever he is being paid to defend this clown is clearly not enough. One of the best defense lawyers in town, he looked downright embarrassed as he beseeched jurors to keep an open mind about the case.

There is less than normal to keep an open mind about, because this is that rare trial in which none of the major facts are in dispute. Rockefeller doesn't dispute kidnapping his daughter, or grabbing her away from the social worker who was supervising the visit, or spiriting her off to New York and Baltimore after they made it out of the Back Bay.

In fact, both sides seemed to be in hearty agreement that Rockefeller is crazy. The only real disagreement is over the narrow technical distinction between "nuts" and "criminally insane."

When a defense lawyer is reduced to saying of his client, "There's nothing about being smart that means you can't be crazy," you are not at a normal trial.

In a rational universe, this case would have gone to trial. Rockefeller would have served perhaps one more year, and then been deported. But because rational is not a word that applies to any aspect of this, here we are with the most ridiculous of trials.

Predictably, much of yesterday's testimony was rehash. The jury was reminded that Rockefeller came here as an exchange student from Germany, got married for a green card, and never saw his first wife again. He went through a dizzying list of fake identities and false lives. He met Sandra Boss through her identical twin sister in New York, and pursued her with his trademark mix of ardor and deception. He claimed he was saving the world by restructuring debt for tiny countries, which he couldn't bring himself to charge for his services. After a few years, his wife got around to wondering why he never seemed to get a paycheck. Curiosity doesn't seem to be her thing.

Though much of the Rockefeller saga is fresh in the public mind, yesterday was not without its surprises. My favorite came courtesy of Robert Warren. He is a private investigator who was hired by Sandra Mills to keep tabs on her daughter and former husband during Reigh's supervised visit. Prescient move, that.

Unfortunately, the private eye she hired subcontracted the job to an old friend. Who knew PIs have subcontractors?

The challenge was too much for Warren, a retired DEA agent. Despite having their itinerary for both days of the visit, he managed to lose them on both Saturday and Sunday. He was following them on Marlborough Street, sort of, when he crossed the street at just the wrong moment, missing the kidnapping. By the time he picked up the trail, Rockefeller and his daughter were speeding away and the social worker/visit supervisor was scraping himself off the pavement. Clark Rockefeller, meet Inspector Clouseau.

The trial is expected to last two to three weeks, and none of it is likely to be boring. Rockefeller may be many people, but none of them seem dull. His insanity is a question that will be debated by dueling experts. But as far as crazy, the verdict is in.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at