HAYWARD (CBS SF) — Convicted wife-killer Hans Reiser admitted in his wrongful death trial Thursday that his wife never directly harmed their children.
His statement while testifying in his own defense appeared to undercut his claim at the beginning of the trial that he killed his wife, 31-year-old Nina Reiser, on Sept. 3, 2006, in order to stop her from harming the couple’s two children, Rory, now 12, and Niorline, now 11.
Reiser, 48, who is acting as his own attorney and is being allowed by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi to testify in a narrative fashion instead of the normal question-and-answer format, said, “Nina never did anything directly to harm the children. But she was capable of manipulating someone else into it.”
Reiser, who is serving a term of 15 years to life in state prison for his second-degree murder conviction for killing his wife, said he believes the couple’s children were normal but Nina convinced a number of doctors, nurses and psychologists to invent illnesses in them that could be blamed on him so she could have custody of them after she filed for divorce in 2004.
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, a computer scientist who owned a software company, was convicted of first-degree murder even though Nina’s body hadn’t been found by the end of his highly-publicized 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.
Rory and Niorline are now living with Nina’s mother, Irina Sharanova, in Russia, where Nina was raised. Their attorney, Arturo Gonzalez, is seeking damages to compensate them for losing their mother.
Under questioning by Gonzalez Thursday, Reiser reluctantly admitted that he never gave them an honest answer when they asked him what happened to Nina after she disappeared. He also said he agreed with Gonzalez that it must have been painful for his children not to know what happened to their mother.
Reiser said, “I had to be evasive because I didn’t want my kids to be involved in the trial. I had made the decision to kill my wife and hide the body.”
He added, “The thing I hadn’t quite wrapped my head around was if you wind up killing the person who is harming the children then you’ll have to lie.”
Reiser also conceded to Gonzalez that he never would have disclosed where he had buried Nina if he hadn’t been convicted of first-degree murder.
He said, “That’s true. I’m not so selfless that I’m eager to do 25 years to life.”
Reiser’s large ego was on display during his testimony, as he compared himself at various times to Moses, Galileo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin.
In trying to explain that he killed Nina and hid her body in order to prevent the children from being abused, Reiser related the story of Moses killing a slave master and then hiding the body in the sand.
When Gonzalez asked him, “Are you Moses here?” Reiser responded, “I’m trying to draw an analogy.”
In a hearing outside the presence of jurors at the end of the day, Judge Hayashi told Reiser that he wouldn’t allow him to testify about the psychological problems he alleges that Nina suffered from unless he could prove that he had academic credentials that would prove he was an expert in the field.
Reiser admitted that he doesn’t have degrees in medicine or psychology but said that doesn’t matter.
He said, “Neither Galileo, Da Vince or Benjamin Franklin cared to confine themselves to a single field and I don’t care to confine myself to a single field, either.”
Testimony in the trial is expected to conclude sometime on Friday and then Gonzalez and Reiser will give their closing arguments.
Gonzalez said each side will get one hour for their closing argument so the arguments might extend into next Monday. Jurors will begin deliberating after the closing arguments are completed.
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