John Sohus was last seen in 1985. It took 10 years to find his remains. Another 15 years went by before his alleged killer Christian Gerhartsreiter (then known as Clark Rockefeller) was captured by authorities. But a Los Angeles jury needed just one day to find Gerhartsreiter guilty of murder.
On Wednesday, the six men and six women of the jury filed into court to announce their verdict. The 52-year-old Gerhartsreiter smiled as he walked into court, but showed no discernible emotion as the guilty verdict was read. Judge George Lomeli set a sentencing date of June 26 to decide whether the defendant will be sentenced to the maximum life imprisonment.
In 2009, Gerhartsreiter had received a prison sentence of 4-5 years for kidnapping his own daughter. Had he not been convicted in California, Gerhartsreiter might have emerged from prison a free man in the near-future.
After the verdict, a relieved prosecutor Habib Balian told reporters that even though he believed in his case, he worried about Gerhartsreiter’s history of convincing people of outrageous untruths: “This guy’s conned so many people for so long that this would be the one last time he pulls off his con.” Balian refused to speculate on Gerhartsreiter’s motive for killing John Sohus – and presumably Linda Sohus, whose remains have never been found.
Ellen Sohus, John’s sister, also spoke to the media after the verdict. She recalled their father never wavered in his belief that Gerhartsreiter was responsible for John’s death. And she thanked the jury for deciding the same. “What I have now are a lot of answers I never thought I’d have,” Ellen Sohus said as she wiped tears from her eyes, “What happened to John. Who’s responsible.”
Juror Gema Vasquez said the panel had taken three secret votes during the course of deliberations – the first two were knotted at 10-2 for guilt. The final vote was unanimous. When asked about which piece of evidence convinced her, Vasquez replied “The two bags… that was it.” Sohus’ skull was found wrapped in plastic bags with logos from USC and Wisconsin-Milwaukee – Gerhartsreiter had ties to both schools. Foreperson Kristen Lee, a civil litigator in LA, was asked if she had ever met anyone like Gerhartsreiter: “I wouldn’t know if I had,” she said.
Gerhartsreiter’s legal team expressed regret after the jury’s decision, and insisted their client remains hopeful as he begins the long appeals process from behind bars. “He’s disappointed and continues to maintain his innocence,” defense attorney Brad Bailey told the LA Times. “Tomorrow is a new day and new chapter in this case.”