'Rockefeller' saga ends with guilty

Jurors reject defense claims of insanity Man of many aliases gets a 4- to 5-year sentence

C.J. GUNTHER/ASSOCIATED PRESSChristian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, was convicted of parental kidnapping yesterday. C.J. GUNTHER/ASSOCIATED PRESSChristian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, was convicted of parental kidnapping yesterday. (C.J. Gunther/Associated Press)
By Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 13, 2009
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He came to America at 17 to strike it rich, and for most of the last three decades he succeeded, mingling with the power elite of Southern California, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and Beacon Hill in Boston.

Yesterday, the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller was sentenced to four to five years in state prison for his conviction in the kidnapping of his daughter last summer, ending a colorful chapter in the bizarre saga of the German national whom police call a "person of interest" in an ongoing California homicide investigation.

As he stood in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday listening first to the jury hand down its verdict and later a judge hand out his punishment, Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, wore a navy blue blazer and preppy red-striped tie. But his reddish hair, once tousled, hung in long, limp tendrils. His feet and wrists were shackled. His face was pale.

He stood stoically as the verdict was read, his body rigid and his face devoid of emotion.

Once, his witty stories made him the center of attention at cocktail parties and fund-raising galas. Yesterday, not one family member or friend sat in the courtroom as a jury convicted him of parental kidnapping and assault charges in the case that has drawn widespread attention for its tales of schemes, aliases, and betrayal.

According to his lawyers, Rockefeller's brother and mother in Germany and his 8-year-old daughter, Reigh, with whom he fled the city for six days, had not been in touch with him.

His former wife, Sandra Boss, who testified against him during the trial, was relieved when she learned of the conviction, said prosecutor David Deakin, who called her in Britain to tell her about the verdict.

"While Reigh was gone, I faced a mother's worst nightmare: the possibility of losing a child without a trace," Boss said in a victim impact statement read by Deakin. "Since Reigh's recovery and return, I have struggled to distance us both from the events of that terrifying week, to regain the normalcy of our lives, and to restore a sense of trust and well-being in Reigh."

The verdict capped an extraordinary two-week trial, during which Deakin painted the defendant as a "self-centered, controlling, and manipulative" con man extraordinaire who has used a slew of aliases and bogus biographical details since coming to the United States from Bavaria in 1978. Rockefeller's two lawyers tried to cast him as a mentally disturbed man who believed in the fantasy world he had created and said he should be acquitted on grounds of insanity.

But the jury of four men and eight women rejected the defense argument, finding Rockefeller guilty on two of the four counts against him: parental kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He was acquitted of two lesser charges, assault and battery and providing a false name to police.

Rockefeller, who had been held without bail since his arrest, has already served 314 days in jail, which will be credited to his sentence.

The jurors said the only facts they weighed in their decision were the ones presented during the trial.

"Expert witness testimony figured prominently," jury foreman Michael Gregory said.

The defense presented two experts who testified that Rockefeller's mental illnesses caused him to believe in his invented lives, including that he was a member of the storied Rockefeller family.

The state's expert witness countered that Rockefeller suffers from a mental disorder but exaggerated his symptoms and was legally sane when he abducted his daughter.

"This was a complicated case and not as clear-cut as it might seem to those who have followed it only in the media," said Gregory, a Harvard lecturer on law, who read from a prepared statement. "We were very thorough in our deliberations."

Before sentencing, one of Rockefeller's lawyers, Jeffrey Denner, implored Judge Frank Gaziano to sentence his client to no more than two years, describing the defendant as a deeply troubled person who was a father "who loved his daughter too much."

Gaziano acknowledged that Rockefeller was motivated partly by the despair he felt over the minor role he would play in his daughter's life following the bitter divorce that gave Boss full custody of Reigh.

"The defendant was by all accounts a loving and devoted father to his daughter," Gaziano said. But the well-planned abduction was not the act of a desperate, impulsive man, he said.

"The defendant's conduct cannot be brushed aside as a technical violation of a custody order where a distraught parent fails to return a child over a weekend," Gaziano said. "The defendant committed this crime with complete disregard for the anguish this would cause Ms. Boss."

Denner also said that no matter what kind of sentence his client received, he would still be incarcerated for a substantial period of time. Federal immigration officials have filed a request to detain Rockefeller, which means he will go into federal custody following his sentence and could wait for at least six months for a deportation hearing.

Also looming is an ongoing investigation in California, where prosecutors are reexamining the 1985 disappearance and presumed killing of John and Linda Sohus, a San Marino couple. Rockefeller, who was the couple's tenant at the time, has been described as a "person of interest" in that case.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, said yesterday that investigators monitored the trial in Boston, but that the verdict is not "directly of interest to us."

"We are actively pursuing all leads with one goal in mind, and that is to solve this 24-year-old case," Whitmore said. "We encourage [Rockefeller] to talk to investigators."

The Rockefeller jury, made up mostly of people of college age, deliberated for more than four days, a tense stretch that Deakin admitted caused him to lose some sleep.

"It's clear to me that this was an extremely intelligent and attentive jury, regardless of their age or any demographics," Deakin said.

Juror Rachel Kenner told WCVB-TV: "It was very interesting to hear all the testimony. I've never served on a jury before. The process was interesting. It was a good group of people to work with."

The case drew particular attention because of the many aliases Rockefeller used to charm his way into tony circles and because of the interest California authorities have shown in him. Yesterday the courtroom was packed with local and national reporters.

Among the aliases Rockefeller used in the United States, according to testimony, was C. Mountbatten, Christopher C. Crowe, and Dr. Reiter, a cardiovascular surgeon in Las Vegas.

Even Boss, a senior partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Co., believed his outlandish tales of an aristocratic pedigree.

Her ordeal began on July 27. Rockefeller was walking down Marlborough Street, Reigh on his shoulders. With them was Howard Yaffe, a social worker hired to supervise the visit.

A waiting sport utility vehicle driven by Rockefeller's regular livery driver pulled up, and Rockefeller suddenly shoved Yaffe to the ground and threw his daughter into the SUV driven by Darrell Hopkins.

Yaffe tried to hold onto the car but fell to the ground, bruising his chin, knee, and hip. He said he also suffered a concussion.

Six days later, police arrested Rockefeller in Baltimore, where he had bought an apartment for him and his daughter.

Asked about an appeal, Denner said that will be up to his client to decide.

Andrew Ryan and Jonathan Saltzman of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Maria Cramer can be reached at