HAYWARD (CBS SF) — Convicted killer Hans Reiser began his defense in his wrongful death trial on Wednesday by talking at length about the hormone oxytocin and by attacking his wife’s character.
Reiser, who is serving a term of 15 years to life in state prison for killing 31-year-old Nina Reiser at his home in the Oakland hills on Sept. 3, 2006, also told jurors in his opening statement, “Now that I’ve spent time in prison, psychopaths seem more humanly understandable to me.”
In an apparent reference to his slain wife Nina Reiser, Hans Reiser, 48, a computer engineer who owned a software company that he claimed could have been worth billions of dollars, said women have more oxytocin than men do.
Reiser said the good part about oxytocin is that it’s known as “the love hormone” and “the cuddle hormone” but the bad part of the hormone is that it results in “increased tendency to have envy and to enjoy the misfortunes of others.”
Reiser, who is acting as his own attorney but was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and was guarded by three prison guards, told jurors that he thinks Nina “was jealous of her own children” and “she falsified a large amount of ailments in the children.”
Reiser didn’t expand on that point, but he seemed to echo the allegation he made in his six-month criminal trial in 2007 and 2008 that Nina had invented illnesses in their children, Rory and Niorline, in order to win custody of them after she filed for divorce from him in 2004 after five years of marriage.
Nina was awarded full custody of the children but Hans Reiser was allowed to have the children on alternate weekends. The divorce wasn’t finalized before Nina was last seen alive on Sept. 3, 2006.
Hans Reiser was convicted of first-degree murder even though her body hadn’t been found by the end of his criminal trial on April 28, 2008.
Several months later, on July 9, 2008, Reiser led authorities to the secluded spot near his home in the Oakland hills where he had buried her.
In return, prosecutors agreed to reduce his conviction from first-degree murder to second-degree murder, which cut his state prison term from 25 years to life to 15 years to life.
In his opening statement Wednesday, Reiser also alleged that Nina didn’t like herself, used and manipulated other people and “had an extreme gift for lying.”
But Arturo Gonzalez, who represents 12-year-old Rory and 11-year-old Niorline Reiser in their wrongful death lawsuit, painted a completely different of Nina Reiser, telling jurors that she was “a wonderful woman” who loved her children and was loved by them in return.
Hans Reiser and his defense lawyer, William DuBois, suggested during his criminal trial that Nina Reiser had abandoned her children and had gone back to her native Russia.
But Gonzalez said Wednesday, “There’s nothing to suggest that somehow she deserted them” and said he was upset at Reiser’s indications to potential jurors during jury selection earlier this week that he had killed Nina in order to prevent her from harming their children.
Gonzalez said Reiser should compensate Rory and Niorline for depriving them of the comfort, society and companionship of their mother, saying the value of a mother-child relationship is “priceless.”
Reiser claims that he is now indigent, but Gonzalez said he doesn’t know if that is true.
Gonzalez said some believe that Reiser does have money he also thinks it’s possible that Reiser could develop valuable software while he is in prison that could bring in revenue.
Reiser didn’t address the issue of damages in his opening statement, but he suggested that his software company could have been extremely valuable if he hadn’t been distracted by his marital problems.
He told jurors, “I wrote a file system for Linux,” the Unix-like computer operating system, and that a competing software firm, Veritas, was sold to EMC Corp. for $9.6 billion.
“We had a file system that was measurably faster than theirs,” Reiser boasted.
After opening statements were completed, Nina Reiser’s best friend, Ellen Doren, testified that Nina was an involved parent, volunteering at the children’s schools, reading to them, cooking for them and taking them to doctor’s appointments.
Doren, who’s also originally from Russia and whose children know Rory and Niorline, said that before Nina’s death, the children were “very outgoing, social and happy, and wanted to be with other kids.”
But Doren said Rory and Niorline, who now live with Nina’s mother in St. Petersburg, Russia, have gone to counseling for emotional stress and have a hard time making friends.
When Reiser cross-examined Doren, who was dressed in black Wednesday, he focused on finding out how his children are doing in Russia, asking Doren at length about how they are doing in school and what their hobbies are.
Reiser said “good” when Doren said Niorline likes to sing and is in a choir but seemed disappointed when she said Rory is doing poorly in Russian.
After Alameda County Judge Dennis Hayashi, who is presiding over the case, warned him that his questions were “a little far afield,” Reiser fought back tears and said, “I should probably apologize to everyone because this is the only information I’ve had about my kids.”
Testimony in the wrongful death case could conclude on Thursday and Hayashi told Gonzalez and Reiser to be ready to present their closing arguments.
The length of the trial will depend on how many witnesses Reiser calls, including expert witnesses.
Reiser said Wednesday that he wants to call an expert to see how much oxytocin Nina had, saying that testing can reveal that information even after a person is dead.
Reiser complained on Tuesday that Hayashi hadn’t allowed him to subpoena any witnesses but the judge said that wasn’t true and said the problem was that Reiser had waited until the last minute to try to subpoena witnesses.
Another unknown factor is whether Reiser will testify on his own behalf.
Gonzalez told Hayashi that if Reiser testifies he must do so in a question-and-answer format, instead of rambling at length, so that he can object to any subject matter Reiser raises that would be irrelevant to the wrongful death case.
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