Dateline   |  April 17, 2013

April 17: 'Behind Closed Doors', Part 6

The defense offers a different account of what happened to John Sohus – that his missing wife Linda might have been the actual killer.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> a six-man, six-woman jury was all that stood between clark rockefeller, and freedom. he was nearing the end of his prison sentence for kidnapping right off their client was a fraud and an oddball.

>> this man used different names since coming to the united states in 1978 .

>> but attorney brad bailey said none of that made him a murderer.

>> this had nothing to do with covering up a 28-year-old homicide. and everything to do with perpetuating this recreation.

>> in court, they attacked the forensic evidence as weak and mostly nonexistent and got the prosecution's own experts to admit that. speck of dna to tie the defendant to the victim, the bloodstains, or even the university book bags .

>> that is correct. i did not detect a dna profile .

>> the defense also challenged the neighbor who testified that she saw blood on a carpet the defendant had tried to sell her. had she really?

>> and you don't know that that was blood, do you?

>> not absolutely.

>> another challenge, this one to detective tim miley. what about that chain saw the defendant supposedly borrowed once upon a time ?

>> is there any allegation in this case that this chain saw was used in connection with the murder or disposal of the body of john sohus?

>> no.

>> none? so your answer is, no, there's no proof of that?

>> there's no proof of that.

>> and in the absence of proof, the defense offered an alternative theory of the crime, another suspect, their stepping stone toward reasonable doubt . the still missing linda .

>> we're going to ask you to envision whether john sohus' missing wife might have had just as much capacity to sneak up behind her husband and strike those blows?

>> the defense pointed out that she was bigger and stronger than both her husband and the man in the defendant's chair. what's more, the theory went, she, the wife, might well have had a motive. while even the prosecution declined to suggest any reason why the defendant wanted john sohus dead.

>> it made a lot more sense in terms of motive, in terms of reason to kill, that linda had been the one to have done it.

>> wasn't there trouble in paradise , the defense pressed the couple's friend sue coffman, linda desperate to move out of her mother-in-law's house?

>> you knew that linda was frustrated about the living situation, and those are words that you have used, correct?

>> yes, she was frustrated.

>> she shared that frustration with you, didn't she?

>> yes, she did.

>> coffman seethed and side, appalled at what was being suggested.

>> i'm like, dude, you're so far off base that i can't even answer your questions with anger. so i'm just going to answer your questions.

>> but it wasn't just a motive, the defense said. wasn't it also clear that linda had survived whatever had happened to john? since she was the one handwriting experts had said had sent postcards to friends weeks later from paris.

>> linda sohus is the writer of the two postcards that you examined?

>> yes.

>> that supports the theory that linda was alive after the death of john sohus.

>> as for the testimony of sandra boss, tales that seemed to suggest their client was the most clever conman alive, well, why would so nimble a schemer commit such a crude murder, burying his victim's remains in plastic book bags from universities he'd attended?

>> that person would also be one of the stupidest murderers in the history of southern california to be this master con, master manipulator, mastermind they make him out to be. he's going to kill somebody, bury them ten feet from where he lives, essentially leaving a plaque saying, hey, guys, it's me that killed him. enough doubt, the defense thought, if not for acquittal, but to at least hang the case. but prosecutors were ready. they'd examined and eliminated the linda did it theory, and just before trial, they thought they'd solved the mystery of those postcards she supposedly sent from paris. the conman, they would show, had someone in europe mail them for him. he'd done it before. a college girlfriend producing a postcard he supposedly sent to her from london .

>> england is great.

>> we know that he was attending an english class at university of southern california .

>> he wasn't in london ?

>> he was not in london . so that explains away the postcards. so that explains away the postcards.

>> the evidence was in. and though much of it was damning, it was almost all circumstantial. the defendant, his lawyers said, was confident on verdict day.

>> he went into the courtroom feeling upbeat, hopeful, and optimistic.

>> it was a miscalculation to say the least. the jurors took only a few hours to decide.

>> we, the jury, in the above entitled action, find the defendant, christian gerhartsreiter, guilty of the crime of murder in the first degree of john sohus.

>> a guilty verdict reached quickly, jurors said, and with little debate. to sue coffman, it meant most, if not all of the answers, about what happened to her lost friends john and linda .

>> in my heart, i know he's responsible for whatever happened to make those two gone.

>> are you convinced that linda is dead as well?

>> yes.

>> to the end, he'd insisted his lawyers privately call him clark , as in clark rockefeller, and they did. but the man who'd invented that name and so many others, who spent his adult life convincing others to believe his lies and to like him and reward him for those lies, failed on all counts to a jury of his peers.

>> unfortunately, there was an interaction here of somebody they instinctively hated, didn't understand.

>> they didn't like him at all?

>> they hated him, and they were laughing at him openly.

>> he faces a sentence of 25 years to life. he'll know in june