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‘Rockefeller’ asks judge to toss conviction

Lawyers for the man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller asked a judge to throw out his kidnapping and assault convictions, citing issues with the state's mental health expert and a prosecutor.
Rockefeller Mystery
The lawyers for Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, asked the judge to throw out his kidnapping and assault convictions. Cj Gunther / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Lawyers for the German man who calls himself Clark Rockefeller asked a judge to throw out his kidnapping and assault convictions, arguing that the state's mental health expert was unqualified and that a prosecutor made an improper closing argument.

Rockefeller, whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, was convicted earlier this month in the kidnapping of his 7-year-old daughter and an assault on a social worker.

During the trial, his lawyers claimed he was suffering from a delusional disorder and was legally insane when he snatched his daughter during a supervised visit in Boston last July. Prosecutors portrayed him as a master manipulator who has used various aliases and told elaborate lies about his past since moving to the United States more than 30 years ago.

In a motion unsealed Thursday, Gerhartsreiter's lawyers claim the state's expert was not qualified to testify about whether Gerhartsreiter was legally insane, because he gave the wrong legal standard for criminal responsibility to the jury.

The defense also said Assistant District Attorney David Deakin improperly urged jurors not to let the insanity defense be "the culminating manipulation in a lifetime of lies." The defense argues that the closing argument "implied that the defendant and arguably his attorneys and expert forensic witnesses had engaged in a manipulation of the jury" by using the insanity defense.

"Combined, the improper closing argument and the inaccurate expert testimony/opinion eviscerated the defendant's core defense of insanity and denied the defendant due process of law," attorneys Jeffrey Denner and Timothy Bradl wrote in a motion that asks trial Judge Frank Gaziano to set aside the jury's verdict or grant Gerhartsreiter a new trial.

The motion was filed last week under seal but was unsealed Thursday by Gaziano.

Erika Gully-Santiago, a spokeswoman for prosecutors, said they intend to submit a written response to the motion within 60 days.

"The motion for a new trial raises three issues, each of which was presented by the defense during the trial to the judge, and in each case, the judge ruled in the Commonwealth's favor," she said.

Gerhartsreiter's lawyers focused on testimony by Dr. James Chu, a psychiatrist at McLean Hospital who said he believed Gerhartsreiter exaggerated symptoms of mental illness and knew what he was doing was wrong.

During cross-examination, Chu incorrectly stated the legal standard required for determining whether a person lacks criminal responsibility due to a mental disease or defect. He also did not give a complete answer when asked how mental disease is defined under Massachusetts law.

After Chu's testimony, Gerhartsreiter's lawyers asked the judge to exclude his opinion on criminal responsibility and portions of his testimony as unreliable scientific evidence. The judge denied the request.

In the motion, Gerhartsreiter's lawyers also complain that the judge did not grant their request to give a special instruction to the jury after they say Deakin portrayed his insanity defense as "nothing more than another manipulation."

"Don't let him get away with that. Don't let this insanity defense be the culminating manipulation in a lifetime of lies designed to get what he wanted," Deakin told the jury in his closing argument.

Gerhartsreiter's lawyers say Deakin's remarks amount to a "personal opinion" and "an impermissible attack" on the insanity defense.

Gerhartsreiter was sentenced to serve four to five years in prison after the jury convicted him of parental kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for instructing his hired driver to drive away with a social worker holding onto the car. The defense argues in its motion that there was not enough evidence to support that charge.

California authorities have identified him as a "person of interest" in the 1985 disappearance and presumed slayings of a newlywed couple from San Marino. A grand jury is investigating the case.