Lawyers attack diverging diagnoses

Final arguments find 'Rockefeller' sanity at issue article page player in wide format.
By Jonathan Saltzman and Andrew Ryan
Globe Staff / June 9, 2009
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A lawyer for the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller argued yesterday that "pure madness" from a longstanding and worsening mental illness drove his client to kidnap his 7-year-old daughter last summer, and urged jurors to dismiss the diagnosis of a prosecution psychiatrist who found the defendant was legally sane.

Jeffrey A. Denner, one of two defense lawyers who made closing arguments at Rockefeller's custodial kidnapping trial in Suffolk Superior Court, implored jurors to reject the testimony of Dr. James A. Chu, a clinical psychiatrist at McLean Hospital. Denner said that Chu's 2 1/2-hour meeting with the defendant in jail was woefully inadequate for an accurate diagnosis and that Chu was unqualified because he has no forensic background and works mostly as a hospital administrator.

In contrast, he said, the defense's two mental health witnesses, the psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow and psychologist Catherine T.J. Howe, both have extensive training in forensics and have repeatedly evaluated the sanity and criminal responsibility of defendants. They spent 28 hours with Rockefeller over 14 separate sessions before diagnosing him with narcissistic personality disorder and grandiose delusions.

"They both told you that the notion of spending one - one visit, 2 1/2 hours - is an outrageous proposition to them," Denner said. "No valid conclusions could possibly be drawn from that type of interview."

Denner concluded: "Taking a look at Mr. Rockefeller, you know that something is wrong with him. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or, respectfully, a psychiatrist to know that something is very wrong with him. . . . This is not a man playing with a full deck."

In his closing argument, Assistant Suffolk District Attorney David A. Deakin urged the jury to look past the "preposterous diagnosis" by the defense experts. Deakin asserted that Rockefeller had never been diagnosed with a mental illness before his arrest in the abduction and is really a "self-centered, controlling, and manipulative man who was angry" at his ex-wife, Sandra Boss, when she won custody of their daughter, Reigh, and moved with her to London in December 2007.

"This is not a case about madness," Deakin said. "It's a case about manipulation. . . . Don't let him get away with that. Don't let this insanity defense be the culminating manipulation in a lifetime of lies designed to try to get what he wanted."

He said that Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Gerhartsreiter, agreed to relinquish custody to his daughter in probate court in exchange for $800,000 from Boss, a senior partner at McKinsey and Company, after originally seeking $1 million. But he used much of the money, Deakin said, to stage the kidnapping and buy the carriage house in Baltimore that he took his daughter to after the abduction.

Rockefeller, 48, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges stemming from his abduction last July 27 of his daughter from a Back Bay street during a visit that was supervised by a social worker. He was arrested six days later in Baltimore, and Reigh was reunited with her mother.

The case has attracted extraordinary news media attention because authorities determined after the defendant's arrest that he has used a slew of aliases and bogus biographical details over the last 30 years, including his supposed membership in the storied Rockefeller clan. Prosecutors say he came to the United States from Germany in 1978 as a student and is a con man who never left.

Rockefeller is also charged with assault and battery, for allegedly shoving the social worker to the ground while abducting his daughter; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, the SUV that the social worker allegedly grabbed onto as it pulled away; and giving a false name to authorities - Clark Rockefeller - when he was arrested in Baltimore.

After deliberating about three hours, the jury of eight women and four men gave Judge Frank Gaziano a series of written questions about the least serious charge that Rockefeller faces: giving a false name to the police when he was arrested. The jury wanted to know, among other things, whether the defendant was legally required to give his birth name in addition to his assumed name when he was arrested.

The judge said the defendant did not have to give his birth name as long as he was not supplying his assumed name for dishonest purposes.

It was unknown whether the jury had considered the other charges yet.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at