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January 31, 2008

Postscript - End in sight

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A Postscript Post

 

The Reiser murder trial recessed today at noon.  The prosecution expects to wrap up next week, i.e., in four court days – Feb. 4, 5, 6, & 7.  Assuming this estimate holds, the defense begins on Monday, February 11.  We should learn very soon that week whether Mr. Reiser will take the witness stand.  If so, it will be high courtroom theater.

Stay tuned….

WHAT IS GUILTY BEHAVIOR?

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Thursday – from a remote lotation…

As of noon today, the jury has heard more about Hans’s obsession with child services, some of his pre arrest behavior, and – as of the noon recess – about his actual arrest.

In my opinion, his evasiveness - even a preparation for flight – is cumulative in the sense that this jury doubtless already believes that someone like Hans (think controlling personality with latent paranoid tendencies)  on whom suspicion is sharply focused would not simply surrender, even if innocent. 

So the real focus will be on other conduct, more specifically related to a ‘guilty conscience’ – such as hiding or destroying possibly incriminating evidence.  This is why Reiser’s hard drive and the missing car seat will ultimately prove more important to the “who-done-it” issue than the money in Hans’ fanny pack or his issues with the child protection services crowd. 

Think about it for a moment.  As a computer scientist, the data in Hans’ computer would be of immense value to him.  And remember --- he appears to be a controlling personality with a tendency to obsess over details.  What on earth would cause someone like that to jettison his hard drive?  I suggest only a powerful motive like saving his skin.

I’ll be back in town on Monday and return to the case then…

JBG

January 30, 2008

Reiser out of control – Chapter Two

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Wednesday
Reiser out of control – Chapter Two

 

Hans evidently is obsessed with the failure of child services and the family court system – both outside the reach of Judge Goodman’s effective jurisdiction as he superintends the murder trial. 

 

Frustrated to the point of breaking, Reiser can’t abide the thought that local authorities consented to the kids’ removal to Russia - totally out of his (and the court’s reach).  But today’s proceedings went ahead.  Reiser apparently believed that he unilaterally could fire his lawyers and then have 90 days to find a replacement team.  Not so, Judge Goodman (correctly) explained, once the trial is well underway. 

 

The rest of the day was eaten up discussing the issue of whether overheard voicemail messages could be dated (yes as to when a message was left, but no as to when it was later listened to).  No there were no incriminating, “hah, ha, this is how I did it” bombshells.  The jury already knows that Hans hated his wife and didn’t grieve when she “vanished”. 

 

The jury also learned that when Hans was arrested, he had money- $5,790 and $2,018 to be exact.  The DA will argue that he planned to escape with it.

 

And the jury learned that Hans probably really did attempt to rent a one way U-Haul from Manteca to Oakland on September 17.

 

Much of this is the DA being careful and meticulous – filling in all the blanks.  I have the impression that one or two surprises are left in the prosecution’s case, held – for now – to be released for maximum impact.

 

JBG

 

 

January 29, 2008

Reiser Out of Control

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As I wrote early on, Mr. Reiser may prove to be the defense’s biggest problem. 

Today, Reiser went nearly ballistic over testimony that touched on the child custody issue, and he began to turn on the defense team.  This is a dangerous moment for the defense because a criminal defendant has a nearly absolute right to fire his lawyers and represent himself.  [His right to change lawers midstream is more limited. ] If Reiser represents himself, a conviction is nearly assured, and any later claim for ineffective counsel is rendered moot.

The morning testimony concerned Reiser's finalncial transactions.  Suffice it to say that he appeared to be in financial distress. Not really news.

I'll pick up these threads Thursday.

JBG

January 28, 2008

ABOUT THAT MISSING HARD DRIVE...

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A full account of Monday's session, with drawings, is at WIRED... Go to http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/01/hans-reiser-m-1.html .

Monday, January 28.

 So where is the Hard Drive?

IN TODAY'S TESTIMONY, THE JURY LEARNED THAT HAN'S COMPUTER WAS RECOVERED, BUT THAT THE HARD DRIVE HAD BEEN REMOVED...

 

OTHERWISE...

 

 

 

 

Today’s testimony was dense with detail, much of it about Nina’s pre-disappearance financial transactions – nothing consistent with any putative third party abduction and nothing inconstant with her demise on or about September 3, 2006.  In other words, the jury heard nothing – so far in the financial transaction narrative- nothing to move the ball in one direction or another.

 

 

DuBois regained lost ground today, however, when an interviewing officer agreed that in an early statement, Hans’ son had in fact seen his mother leave Han’s house on the day of her disappearance.  You will recall that the DA’s rehabilitation on redirect was when the boy seemed to agree that he’d merely assumed his mother left because she had said goodbye and hugged.

 

The record stands there – in ambiguity.  DuBois – properly in my objection – has complained that the court’s admonitions of him during his cross examination of the boy amounted to commenting on disputed evidence in front of the jury.  A mistrial motion based on that courtroom incident (really a form of judicial misconduct, though apparently not labeled as such in the motion) was filed today.  The defense does not seriously expect a mistrial to be granted, so has proposed an alternate remedy in the form of an instruction to the jury, inviting the trial court:

 

… to correct its error by informing the jury to specifically disregard its inaccurate, intemperate, unfair remarks referenced above”. The jury should be advised that they are the ‘sole, exclusive judges of the facts in this case… to determine whether Nina’s son “left the house and walked up the outside stairs to her van, and as he testified at the (before the trial) got in her van and drove away.”

 

A trial judge would be ill advised to ignore the request entirely.  I would anticipate a watered-down version of the defense proposed instruction to be given, coupled with a standard general instruction that any comments the court may have made on the evidence should not influence the jury in its deliberations.

 

BUT HANS -- IF HE TESTIFIES - NOW MUST EXPLAIN THE MISSING CAR SEAT, THE BLOOD SPOTS AND HIS EVASIVE ACTIONS... HE MUST EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED TO HIS HARD DRIVE.  WHAT DID HE HAVE TO HIDE?

We’ll see…

January 23, 2008

NOT A GLOVE --and a long recess...

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A LONG RECESS

Testimony ran through the lunch hour and the court adjourned to accommodate a key court employee.  So the case of the People vs. Hans Reiser will resume Monday, January 28th when your Out-Lawyer will be more than 2,500 miles away from the courtroom. I will check in during the week and post at least one analysis before trial resumes on Monday, February 7.

Given the detailed opening statement by the prosecution, I’d not expect any sharp surprises until the defense starts in earnest.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR NEXT WEEK & FOLLOWING

One thing to look for before the DA rests, however:  In an accident case, tried in civil court, one or both sides often call an accident reconstruction expert.  Why not a crime scene reconstruction expert in a criminal case?  It’s one thing for DA Paul Hora to draw all of the disparate evidence together in final argument, but far more effective to have an expert witness do it in front of the jury, subject to cross examination.  A competent criminalist could probably be qualified as an expert in Judge Goodman’s court.  It would be an effective and innovative step- arguably justified by the peculiar circumstances.

AND TODAY?  NOT A GLOVE

Contrary to some reports, so far the defense hasn’t laid a glove on OPD criminalist Shannon Cavness. 

On cross examination today, she acknowledged that – had she thought that she was dealing with two separate blood sources – the preferred procedure would have been to take not one swab, but several.

But she didn’t and a juror is entitled to ask- How does this matter?  In my professional opinion, not very much at all…

More swabs might have identified a part of the bloody area in which Nina’s blood was not commingled with that of Hans and vice versa.  Those locations might have enabled a better reconstruction of the struggle.  This is an example of the defense pretending to be disappointed at police procedural lapses. 

But nothing about the blood recovery has diminished the ultimate finding, to wit: Nina’s blood and Hans’ blood were both recovered from the same entryway post in the Exeter house.

DuBois’s Co-counsel, Dick Tamor, attempted to get Cavnes to agree that Nina’s DNA recovered from the faint blood stain on  the sleeping bag stuff sack might have been drool, arguably commingled with someone else’s blood.

Cavness quite properly answered that, in counsel’s proffered theory, Nina would coincidentally have had to drool exactly on the existing blood spot.  What she didn’t say – and may yet have a chance to point out next week – is that no other DNA was recovered from the bag, and that counsel for the defense is entitled to test and retest evidence.  What she did say was probably enough to persuade the jury: The most reasonable conclusion is that Tina’s DNA came from the blood itself.

The defense has properly pointed out – and Cavness has agreed to – the proposition that DNA science can’t date a sample. But what are the odds – the jury is now entitled to wonder – that Nina’s and Hans’ blood could innocently have been deposited where the police found it?

Stay tuned…

Note your other online resources…

Henry Lee of the SF Chronicle at http://links.sfgate.com/ZBLS .

David Kravets of Wired at http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/01/jurors-shown-st.html - or navigate to Wired News, then type in “Reiser” having selected blog searches.

Chris Metinko at The Oakland Tribune at http://www.insidebayarea.com .

The Morning Session is Over - Ho Hum

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HO HUM...  

A cross examination by second chair defense counsel of the DA's criminalist so far has accomplished very little other than to telegraph to the jury that this is important evidence based on solid science.  I'll cover today's testimony when the sun sets...

JBG

January 22, 2008

Addendum to my Tuesday Post

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ADDENDUM

See “BLOOD NOTES”, below for the earlier testimony today.  In the late afternoon, these additional points emerged.

·        Nina’s disreputable boyfriend, Mr. Sturgeon, gave a DNA sample and there was no forensic trace of his presence at the Exeter house or in the CRX.

·        The blood on the sleeping bag cover that matched Nina’s DNA was hard to see at first. As OPD criminalist, Shannon Cavness, observed: “It was really hard to see without high-intensity lighting.”

·        That blood trace was six inches long, more  a smear than a drop or speck, it would seem.  Reportedly the jury gave this evidence their intense attention.

But the blood on the post near the entryway in the Exeter house was obvious. “It's very bright red” said Cavness said. DNA confirmed that blood came from both Hans and Nina.  When challenged whether the recovered DNA came from blood, the criminalist responded: "I doubt that someone licked this pillar."

BLOOD NOTES - THE CASE RESUMES

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A Print Version of this is now posted at http://jaygaskill.com/BloodNotes.htm

MORE BLOOD NOTES

 

Today (TUES> 1-22), as expected, the jury heard more about the blood. The case will continue tomorrow, then recess ‘till 1-28. Hans’ car contained a sleeping bag cover with traces of blood positively ID’s as Nina’s. I summarize today’s evidence – as of 2:00 PM – below.

 

Blood Notes

 

You may be wondering why the DA would introduce evidence of Han’s skill at the martial arts and at the same time be preparing to introduce all that blood evidence.  After all, isn’t a well placed karate blow a form of bloodless killing?
Maybe for Bruce Lee or in the movies.  But I suspect that a single “nerd blow”, however expertly placed, would probably not end up instantly killing a young, healthy woman like Nina (assuming, arguendo, that the defendant in this murder case is the guilty party and that he initiated the ultimately fatal assault with a potentially deadly karate blow).  This was the same woman, the jury will recall, that was warned by a police officer who had seen Hans “up close and personal” to carry a gun.  So I would expect resistance.  If Hans’ attacked his wife as soon as the children were preoccupied elsewhere in the house, a struggle would have ensued and blood would have been spilled.
Even the most expert assailant will tend to bleed, too, when the victim fights back, or when falling against something, or even during an aggressive strike – barked knuckles tend to bleed.
Commingled or closely proximate blood traces strongly imply a struggle.  The sudden indefinite and unexplained absence of the loser in such a struggle implies demise.
But that aspect of blood is not my topic.  Prosecutable killings tend to sort into two broad categories – killings in hot blood and in cold blood. Again, broadly speaking, mercy of often considered appropriate in hot blooded killings but rarely in the cold blooded ones.
Now we must grant that all murders are, by definition, “with malice”, whether that malice is explicitly proven or just implied from the circumstances.  Manslaughter is, in effect, a murder-eligible killing that has been legally mitigated to a lesser form. Historically, manslaughter was reserved for killings (that otherwise would have been murders) “on sudden quarrel” or “in the heat of passion”, in other words – done impulsively, in hot blood.
But the lines between hot and cold, murder and manslaughter are not all that clear. Even a cold blooded killing can be sometimes mitigated, and a hot blooded, impulsive one can seem as heartless as a torture-execution. A killer – who may have acted on impulse and in the heat of the moment – who otherwise shows a methodical coldness after the fact has turned a potential manslaughter into a murder. The calculating, heartless behavior of a killer who meticulously disposes of the body and the evidence inevitably poisons the well; his coldness relates back in the minds of the jurors and colors the whole event. 
Finally, there is the simple forensic truth: You can’t mitigate that which you flatly deny.
One of my very first murder cases, years ago, involved a despondent, alcoholic newspaperman, locked in a dreadful marriage.  He became depressed and attempted suicide. A few days later he was alone with his wife in the living room.  He picked up a toy snake (a later forensic reconstruction – he had amnesia) and strangled his wife to death with it.  He apparently called 911 (no one else was home and it was probably his voice).  When the police arrived, he was on his knees in the living room, confessing to his priest.
After a good deal of work, some psychological evidence, and a bit of luck I tried the case to a manslaughter verdict.  Now, there always is a degree of deliberation in any fatal strangling:  The process takes several minutes, and during the first part of it the victim is struggling.  It is not pretty to contemplate.  Experienced prosecutors are trained to demonstrate this, often using a mannequin and a stop watch.  So mitigation in a strangling case is always a challenge.
I have often thought: Had my client attempted to dispose of the body, then behaved evasively afterward and attempted to “get off” at trial, any attempt at mitigation would have been doomed at the outset.  And – given his age – he would have died in prison, instead of earning parole while he still had a few good years left.
All this, of course, is based on the still hypothetical notion that this defendant will be found guilty.  And at, of course defends on the Blood notes left behind and his ability to convincingly explain

TODAY’S TESTIMONY

OPD criminalist, Shannon Cavness positively identified blood traces on a sleeping bag cover recovered from the CRX as that of Nina Reiser. 

As described earlier, the interior of the CRX was flooded with water.  Also recovered were the tools used to remove the passenger seat, absorbent towels, the two police procedurals Hans purchased, and the traffic ticket he’d received in Redwood City.

And there was more evidence, equally interesting: 

  • The CRX contained a white powdery substance, similar to that removed from the doorway of the Exeter house, and

  • A 9-17 U-Haul receipt for a trailer – Manteca to Oakland, and

  • A receipt for an overnight stay in Fremont, 9-10 ‘till 9-11and

  • A 9-14 newspaper clipping – “Police search home of missing spouse.”

I’ll wrap up the rest of the afternoon’s testimony later.  Here is the pending question?

WE CAN EXPECT THAT OPD HAS TESTED THE WHITE POWDER RECOVERED FROM THE EXETER HOUSE DOORWAY, AND THAT “SIMILAR” POWDER FOUND IN HANS’ CRX. 

WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?

A fungible industrial substance like cement powder or plaster or lye may or may not be definitively identifiable as belonging to a particular batch or vendor. 

But the question inevitably arises: If it is the same kind of substance in both places, then is there a logical common explanation for both?

The “Gaping’ whole problem I’ve been referring to could be resolved for many jurors by the answer to that question. 

What, for example, would be the reaction if the white powder turned out to be lye?  Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is highly caustic.  Followers of CSI, Medieval historians and forensic pathologists all know that lye is classically useful in disposing of dead bodies because it promotes rapid decomposition.

January 18, 2008

BLOOD BETRAYAL

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Friday, January 18, 2008
BLOOD BETRAYAL

 

A print version of this piece is posted at http://jaygaskill.com/blood.htm

 

 

SCHEDULING NOTES

 

The court is not in session tomorrow, nor Monday (the MLK holiday).  Evidence resumes for just two days next week – 1-22 and 23; then the trial resumes its four day schedule on Monday January 28.  A leisurely trial pace is not uncommon in Judge Goodman’s court, who maintains a criminal calendar on Fridays and tends to be solicitous to counsel’s needs during a long trial.

 

The Out-Lawyer Blog will probably be silent the week of January 28 – I’m out of town - but there will be a post on Monday February 4, summarizing that entire trial week (the one ending on 2-1).

 

WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY

 

Yesterday, the jury heard details about the search of Nina’s van and the Exeter house. 
As expected, there was no evidence of blood in the minivan. But everything -- from the rotting groceries, the abandoned purse, money, ‘to do list’ and personal effects -- screamed a single message: 
Something unexpected and drastic has happened to the driver. 
It was a scene reminiscent of one of those Pompey tableaus – a snapshot of a life permanently interrupted.
One thing stands out as a sort of signature.  Nina’s cellphone was with her personal effects.  But the battery was disconnected.  It is hard to imagine why Nina would have done that. A sinister implication is almost inescapable: Someone who did not want the van to be discovered right away, someone who knew about how the authorities can trace the ongoing signal transmitted by a dormant cell phone -- removed the battery.
Someone too clever by half -- that same someone who showed up at the police station later, after evading police surveillance, someone carrying a fanny pack that - when searched – was discovered containing a cell phone with the battery disconnected…
In Reiser’s home
The DA is likely to argue that the cleverest of criminals tends to leave telltale clues, items overlooked.  The jury will hear about the forensic DNA tests later, showing a positive match with Nina’s blood, in some cases intriguingly located close to Hans’ blood. 
A single mote of blood (thinking of the sleeping bag cover recovered from Hans’ car) might be explained away, but the more blood locations and quantities to explain, the less convincing the putative innocent explanations, and the more probative the sinister ones. 
Pending the incoming forensic evidence, we can take note that Nina did Not live in the Exeter house and that we therefore might not expect to find any of her blood in any part of that house, in the normal course of events.  And we can reasonably infer that the afternoon of September 3, 2006, was not ‘in the normal course of events’. 
Suspect blood traces were identified and tested from the following locations in the Exeter house, the one owned by Hans mother and that he shared with her during the pending divorce:
  • A white comforter,
  • A mattress,
  • A throw pillow,
  • A light switch in the same unfinished basement where the jury was shown photos of cement bags,
  • The entryway post &
  • The living room couch.
Also of interest:
  • In the crawl space under the Exeter house: two pristine shovels and one pick.
  • In a doorway leading into the house: white powder.
We can be confident that Mom didn’t buy the tools kept under the house, and that Hans chose to secrete them where they would not be spotted.  Their unused condition, however, makes the point almost, but not quite moot.
I assume that the mystery white powder was tested.  The jury is wondering whether it was cement. So am I…
Here are two questions for the experts:
  1. How long would it take a dead body, stuffed into a large plastic bag, then covered in cement slurry, to set up? 
  2. Would the cement and bag be sufficient to suppress the god-awful smell of a decaying corpse?
Assuming, arguendo, that Mr. Reiser used the garage to accomplish this cement treatment, is it not plausible that he would want to wash the driveway carefully, perhaps wearing a long jacket in hot weather to stay as clear as possible? 
You can be sure that the hunting jacket described by the neighbor who saw Hans hosing his driveway has been carefully disposed of….
STAY TUNED…

January 16, 2008

WHAT WAS HANS DOING?

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WHAT WAS HANS DOING ON THE NIGHT OF SEPTEMBER 18th?

 

Late yesterday and earlier today, the jury heard OPD officers describe Reiser’s strange pattern of behavior during his surveillance on a September evening.
The key date was September 18th, 2006 the day that the CRX was recovered and towed to a police yard – two weeks after Nina’s disappearance.
This incident may be significant because Hans may not have known he was being watched at the time.  The story begins when an aircraft surveillance officer spotted Reiser parking his CRX that evening on Monterey Blvd. near Highway 13. Hans was seen entering and re-entering the hatchback several times, moving objects around.
An undercover officer on the ground also apparently witnessed Hans parking the CRX along the street parallel to Highway 13 in the Oakland hills. While the officer watched, Hans approached a taxi and seemed to get inside.  This was apparently a ruse.  Police began to follow the empty taxi to the Oakland Airport, only to learn that Hans had not gotten in after all.
Back at the parked CRX, Police approached the empty vehicle, noted the missing seat and planted a tracking device on it.  Hans did not return to the vehicle.  The car was secured that evening, then later towed to a police lot where technicians would go through it top to bottom.
About this time, a team of officers spotted Reiser jogging in the dark in the hilly area facing the oncoming traffic on a different road not far from highway 13. Hans was looking around and appeared to be carrying something.  Racing ahead, the officers arrived at the Exeter house to find that a red Toyota rental car that had been parked there earlier was gone, and that Hans was not home.
Another surveillance incident took place, ten days later when it was obvious that police were “on Reiser’s case”. But Reiser’s behavior, though evasive, was hardly remarkable.
Yesterday’s contretemps about the “message” on Mark’s computer that police captured was anticlimactic.  Hans was railing on the web about the evils of the family court system.  We’ve heard that before and it hardly distinguishes him from hundreds of other males caught up in similar marital conflicts.
COMMENT
What this all boils down to is that Hans is very plausibly portrayed as wanting to keep the CRX out of the hands of the police.  Coupled with his – so far unexplained - removal of the passenger seat, the washing down incident on the very night Nina vanished and his misrepresentations and evasions to Mom about the vehicle, the jury is being invited to draw the obvious sinister implications. 
If he is guilty, Hans has done a fairly clever job of effacing the blood evidence from the CRX.  But some identifiable blood - belonging to Nina -remained, even after all that washing and the seat removal. 
Was Hans Reiser too clever by half?

Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

January 15, 2008

A Leaf and not much More

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 As of mid-afternoon, today's testimony was a continuation of the themes of yesterday's session -- Hans evasive behavior after he was identified as a suspect & more Berkeley Bowl footage of the kids and Nina.  Little impact.
One small clue emerged:  When Nina's van was recovered, a suspected cherry tree leaf was stuck to one tire; this was thought by police to be a match with a leaf found in the Honda hybrid that Hans used for a time, suggesting that both cars were in the same area, after Nina was last seen alive.  But the leaf identification was not conclusive.
 I'll revisit today's testimony when I review tomorrow's.
 JBG

THE REAL FINAL ARGUMENT

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THE REAL “FINAL ARGUMENT”
It was between Nina & Hans

 

S. F. chronicle reporter Henry Lee’s excellent work covering the Reiser trial has momentarily been reallocated to cyberspace – the print edition has been swamped with news about Oakland’s other killings and Mayor Dellums’ pathetic response to date.  But you call still access his work on “sfgate.com”, just navigate to “news’ then to “Reiser”.

 

A fugitive thought before this morning’s session gets underway:

 

Nina had obtained Russian citizenship for the kids a few weeks before she disappeared.  We also know that she kept the necessary passports and $1,900 in cash in her dresser.  We also can reasonably infer that she never made it out of the country.

 

Imagine an argument on September 3 at the Exeter house while the kids were preoccupied in another room.

 

Nina: I’ve decided to move back home to Russia with the kids.
Hans: You can’t do that!
Nina: You can’t stop me!

 

It would have been the couple’s final argument.  A few swift, deadly karate blows and Hans trades one problem for another….

 

Just a thought…

 

JBG

January 14, 2008

Consistent with Innocence? The Reiser trial resumes in Oakland

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And
The Policy Think Site: http://www.jaygaskill.com
All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]
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THE REISER TRIAL RESUMES -- THE PICTURE EMERGES SLOWLY

 

The Han Reiser jury resumed its work today, hearing from a crime scene technician, Bruce Christensen, who showed pictures he took at Hans Reiser’s place about a week after Nina was reported missing – the jury’s attention was drawn to the three large trash cans in the driveway. He also described a visit to the home of Hans’ mother’s friend, Mark, prompting a dispute - out of the jury’s presence – about a communication on the computer screen there. 

 

Additional pictures included bags of cement in the unfinished basement at Hans’ house. We could hear more about the cement later.   Remember Hoffa?

 

After lunch, an OPD Officer described how he and his fellow officer secretly tailed Reiser  - who was now thought to be  a suspect – on September 8.

 

Recall that Nina’s girlfriend had called the police on Sept. 6 who overheard a conversation between her and Hans in which Hans abruptly terminated – he needed to see a lawyer. 

 

The officer described a classic Hollywood surveillance and evasion dance – Hans’ changed speeds and directions in a manner consistent with someone trying to reveal or shake a tail.

 

The same officer picked up the kids at school and took them into protective custody. Why, DuBois asked: The officer was concerned that “The children could be in harm’s way”.

 

Police also described a later search of Nina’s home where they found contact lens cases, passports for Nina and the kids and $1900 in cash, among other items consistent with items left behind by someone who was not planning to leave the country any time soon.

 

The jury saw the store video of Nina and the kids picking up the groceries later found rotting in her abandoned car.  The time was about 2 PM.

 

An officer described the massive but fruitless search of the East Bay Regional park area for Nina’s body.

 

COMMENT

 

All too gradually, the jury is being brought into the mindset of the police detectives who have attempted to solve this vexing case.  The exact locations and quantities of recovered blood will be crucial in this slowly emerging circumstantial case. Dubois will exploit the “circumstantial evidence rule”, an admonition that each bit of circumstantial evidence can be disregarded if there exists an reasonable explanation consistent with innocence.

 

In an interview with Chronicle reporter Henry Lee, I pointed out the obvious –

 

“The problem that the prosecutor is facing is that at some stage leading up to the final argument, the D.A. will have to have a clear theory that includes stuff for which there's no real compelling evidence…A jury isn't going to be satisfied with just open-ended questions. There's got to be some discussion of how he did it and where he put the body.”

 

As I wrote here over the weekend – Hans probably needs to testify because there are so many things that need explanation if the jury is to entertain a reasonable doubt.  But that is the rub:

 

If Hans testifies, you can expect the defense to quickly rest its case.  Why?  Everything Hans says - -  where he disposed of the car seat, what he was doing in Truckee, and so on – is subject to investigation and possible rebuttal.  The DA’s investigators will have very little time to do this.  Expect the DA to put on some minor rebuttal witnesses to buy time, hoping for a long weekend recess. 

 

The investigators will be working overtime.

 

Stay tuned….

 

JBG

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 12, 2008

Waiting for Monday...

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And
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All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
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Print version -- http://jaygaskill.com/ReiserTimeLine.htm
 

1-12-08 Waiting for Monday….
About That Critical Time Line: 

 

Yesterday’s post referenced a lengthy reintroduction to the Han Reiser case with a newly produced hypothetical time line (What did Hans do & when?).  for those of you who have been closely following the case, the timeline follows this abbreviated setting. Brief comments then follow.

 

BACKGROUND

 

Nina was last seen alive (by anyone except her killer) at approximately 3:00 PM on September 3, Sunday of the 2006 Labor Day weekend.  We know it was some time after 2:02 PM because it was then that she called Hans, probably to say she was running late to deliver the kids.  In the mid afternoon Nina does leave both kids with Hans per their agreement.

 

What happened between 3 PM Sunday, September 3 and the time Hans’ mother returned from that weekend?  What did Hans’ mother observe from the point she arrived?

 

The jury will soon be trying to imagine a scenario in which Hans’s could murder Nina out of sight of any witness, then dispose of the body in the hours following 3 PM September 3. 

 

I think the DA may be able to argue that Hans accomplished several things that weekend: (1) He quietly killed his wife. (2) He temporarily put Nina’s body in the passenger seat of “his” car, that Honda CRX. (3) He moved Nina’s car to the place where it was eventually found. (4) He disposed of the body somewhere. (5) He washed his car in order to remove all Nina traces (the corpse might have begun to deteriorate by then). (6) Eventually, as police attention on him intensified, Hans removed and disposed of the CRX passenger seat. 

 

How long would all that take?  How much “alone” time did Hans have?  It is very hard to conceal a human corpse for more than 12 hours without generating horrendous odors.

 

ONE HYPOTHETICAL TIMELINE
I’m indebted to Professor Maria Chang (political science, university if Nevada) who sat in on the DA’s opening statement and provided me with the basic outline for this hypothetical sequence.
Recall that two days after Nina’s last visit, on Sept 5, Hans gets a call from his mother at around 3-4 PM; she has returned from the Burning Man event in Nevada & she wants Hans to pick her up from her friend Mark’s house.
If – as we will assume for purposes of this hypothetical narrative - that Reiser has killed Nina but hasn’t yet figured out what to do with her remains, Hans knows he must now quickly dispose of the body. And he has but a few hours to accomplish that. 
So he drives the CRX somewhere within a 2 to 3 hour perimeter & accomplishes at least a temporary disposal. [I note that this theory would then entail a further attempt to move the body to a more secure location still – say outside the Tahoe area?] 
This urgent drive is stressful & exhausting. This theory explains why - when Hans shows up at Mark’s house that night, driving not the CRX but Mom’s hybrid —he is so exhausted that he must lie down on Mark’s couch in the living room to rest before he can drive his mother home.
After his mother goes to bed, Hans then takes the CRX out onto the driveway to hose it down – presumably to wash away incriminating evidence. This soaks the car floor & possibly gets water into the gas tank. That may explain why, on Sept 10, Hans buys a bottle of Valvoline fuel-dryer at Kragen Auto in San Lorenzo. That same day, Mom repossesses the Hybrid from Hans; so he must have the CRX in running condition.
The jury will probably assume that Hans had not yet removed the passenger seat on Sept 5 when he is seen by neighbor Jack Stabb hosing something in his driveway. [Hans may still think at this early point that he can wash away all the incriminating evidence, but seat fabric can retail biological traces.]  The officer who gives Hans a ticket on Sept 12 does not report seeing anything unusual about the car. This is a close call – assuming Hans is the killer. The jury will also likely infer that Hans is so spooked by this encounter that he resolves to not drive the CRX.
Did Hans take – or plan to take the car to Manteca?
Hans may well have removed the passenger seat on Sept 17. That day, he was in Manteca where he bought a 40-piece socket set from Kragen Auto Parts. He would have used the socket set to take out the four bolts that anchored the passenger seat to the CRX’s floor.   Hans had probably planned to rent a storage locker in Manteca because when he was taken into custody on Sept. 28, police found advertising flyers from a storage  facility in Manteca; Hans had circled two locker sizes -- 10'x15' and  10'x20'. DA Hora has already suggested to the jury that the CRX (which measured 10x12) would have fit into the 10x15 locker.
Apparently Hans changed his mind about renting a locker to store the CRX. Instead, he rented a U-Haul truck for a one-way trip from Manteca to Oakland.  Was he transporting the CRX? Some jurors will suspect that he intended to transport a body – and not necessarily to Oakland. The next day, Sept 18, Hans unknowingly led police to his CRX parked on Acton Street near the Claremont Hotel. He got into the car & drove it to Monterey Blvd. Then he left the car parked & jogged the 2+ miles back home to Exeter Drive.
When the CRX was recovered, the police noticed that the passenger seat was missing. It was taken to crime technicians the next morning who eventually found traces of Nina’s blood and that of the defendant.

 

Was the Manteca rental space really intended for a car that Hans eventually parked in Oakland? 
We can reasonably suspect (again as we pursue the hypothetical path of a killer seeking to hide evidence) that Hans’ goal was to move something from somewhere near Manteca to a still more remote location. In this connection we note that, in the prosecution’s opening statement, Mr. Hora asserted that on Sept. 24, Hans Reiser was in the Tahoe region. Reiser withdrew cash from 3 ATMs in Truckee. He also bought a phone card in Roseville on Sept. 27.  Wherever Nina’s remains are, the much larger perimeter suggested by Hans’ presence in Truckee/Tahoe has created an impossibly large search field, especially if the body has been well hidden from causal observers.

 

COMMENTS

I expect the defendant to testify in this case for a simple reason:  Assume  he says - - as I expect he will say – that he last saw his wife alive when he left the house on September 3, 2006 and he has had no contact with her since. Then if only one juror chooses believe him, there can be no conviction of murder. 

Of course, if Hans is trapped in a lie, all bets are off….

If Hans testifies, you can expect the defense to quickly rest its case.  Why?  Everything Hans says - -  where he disposed of the car seat, what he was doing in Truckee, and so on – is subject to investigation and possible rebuttal.  The DA’s investigators will have very little time to do this.  Expect the DA to put on some minor rebuttal witnesses to buy time, hoping for a long weekend recess.  The investigators will be working overtime.

JBG

 

 
 

January 11, 2008

Introducing & Reprising - REISER ON TRIAL

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All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]
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Introducing & Reprising
PEOPLE vs. REISER
THE CASE SO FAR…

 

 

FULL ARTICLE --  PRINT VERSION http://jaygaskill.com/GURUonTRIAL.htm

 

Hans Reiser and his wife Nina were embroiled in divorce proceedings on the Labor Day weekend in 2006.  Their marriage bliss ended bitterly (no final divorce has yet been entered), and there have been struggles with support and custody.  According to family law sources, Nina obtained a temporary restraining order against Hans in 2004, after accusing him of “pushing” her; he later agreed to a one year, no harassment order.

On the Sunday of that weekend in 2006, Nina dropped off the couple’s two small children with Hans when he was alone (Hans lived with his mother who was then attending the burning Man Festival in Nevada). 

The time was mid afternoon.  Nina has never been seen since.  Her empty car was discovered later with bags of rotting groceries, intact purse and cell phone from which the battery had been disconnected.

In the absence of a corpus delicti, Mr. Reiser is being tried for the murder of his wife. 

After a long holiday recess, the case is about at its half way point in the Oakland courtroom of Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman before a jury of seven women and five men.

Mr. Reiser, born in December 1963, is a genius; he was involved in the development of Linux, the open source operating system, and he has created two file systems (ReiserFS and Reiser4) for that increasingly popular alternative to Microsoft-based operating systems and software.  Hans Reiser is famous in certain circles. His company, Namesys Inc, is soldiering on in his absence, but there are rumors that it may be sold to help defray its founder’s growing legal expenses. 

On or about Friday, September 1, Hans and Nina bitterly argue – with the help of lawyers – over how their kids’ time would be sent on the coming Labor Day Weekend. An agreement is reached that the time would be split between the parents. 

On Sunday, September 3, 2006, Nina takes the children with her to the Berkeley Bowl grocery store, where she is caught on the security camera.  She places two very brief cell calls to Hans, then shows up at Hans’ place (actually his mother’s home, the so called “Exeter house”) to drop off the children, presumably per the agreement reached on Friday.

Throughout, Nina is driving her 2001 Honda Odyssey Van.

The Reiser’s son, R… - age about 6 - once said (in evidence now left ambiguous) that he saw Mom depart after he and his sister were dropped off.  Rory also once said that he had a dream or a vision of someone carrying a large, heavy object down the stairs the night of September 3. That, too, is in dispute.

Hans’ mother was not home at the Exeter house on September 3.  She was at the “Burning Man” festival in Nevada.

.  

It was not until Tuesday, September 5 that someone reported Nina missing. Nina’s friend Ellen, called the police after picking up the two kids at school, apparently around 5:30, but can’t locate Nina. She called Hans, told him that Nina is missing and asked him o keep the kids.

His reply: Uh uh” (that I take to be a negative). 

Then Ellen told Hans that she knows Nina was at his house Sept 3. 

Hans’ reply: “I need to talk with my attorney.”

Go to the full article, “The Case So Far” for more details and a hypothetical “body disposal” timeline. http://jaygaskill.com/GURUonTRIAL.htm .

JBG

 

 

 

 

 


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