Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a con man who once passed himself off as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family asserts in court that the man who he is convicted of killing was actually murdered by the victim's wife.
A chameleon of a con man who posed as a Rockefeller heir to insinuate himself into society circles was sentenced Thursday to 27 years to life for murdering his landlady's son in 1985.
Christian Gerhartsreiter — a German national unmasked as a fraud after kidnapping his own daughter in 2008 — was convicted in April of killing John Sohus, 27, of San Marino, Calif., and burying him in the backyard.
During the sentencing hearing in Los Angeles, Gerhartsreiter blamed Sohus' death on his wife, Linda Sohus, 29, who was never found and is presumed dead.
"I want to assert my innocence and that I firmly believe that the victim's wife killed the victim, but be that as it may, once again, I did not commit the crime of which I stand convicted," Gerhartsreiter said.
Gerhartsreiter, 52, lived in the Sohus family's guest house in the 1980s. When they went missing, so did he, and Sohus' bones weren't found until 1994.
Paul Buck / EPA
German national Christian Gerhartsreiter listens as the judge reads his sentence for murder at the Superior Court in Los Angeles, California.
By then, Gerhartsreiter had created a new identity and life for himself.
Posing as "Clark Rockefeller," an heir to the nation's most gilded dynasty, he married a business executive in 1995, had a child and befriended the wealthy and well-connected.
When the marriage soured and his wife realized he was a fake, he snatched their 7-year-old daughter and took off for six days, sparking a manhunt that ended with his capture.
Sentenced to five years for the abduction, he was in prison when authorities who decided to re-examine his link to the Sohus family charged him with murder.
After his conviction, he fired his lawyers and represented himself at the hearing.
The victim’s sister, Ellen Sohus, told the court that her brother's death was like "a hurricane."
"John was a kind, intelligence, playful, curious young man. He loved his wife Linda and she loved him," she said.
The recently married couple was living in bliss, she said. The last time she saw her brother, she told him, "I have never seen you this happy."
She said the couple's disappearance — and the later discovery of her brother's remains — tormented the family for years. She found some solace in Gerhartsreiter's conviction, but said "there is no closure."
"John is still gone. What we do have are some answers,” she told the court. “So many questions remain unanswered. Why did you kill my brother? What happened to Linda?"
After the hearing, she said it was difficult not to lash out at Gerhartsreiter while she gave the victim impact statement.
"If I let it out, I would not be able to reel it back in," she said afterward, according to NBC Los Angeles.
This story was originally published on Thu Aug 15, 2013 2:31 PM EDT