OAKLAND (CBS SF) – Jurors on Tuesday ordered convicted wife-killer Hans Reiser to pay his two children a total of $60 million in damages for the loss of their mother.
Reiser, 48, who is serving a term of 15 years to life in state prison for strangling his wife, 31-year-old Nina Reiser, at his home in the Oakland hills on Sept. 3, 2006, claimed during his four-day wrongful death trial that he doesn’t have any assets.
But attorney Arturo Gonzalez, who represents 12-year-old Rory and 11-year-old Niorline Reiser, said he thinks Hans Reiser, a computer engineer who owns a software company, might have hidden some money in Russia or elsewhere and is smart enough to come up with valuable ideas while he’s in prison.
KCBS’ Jeffrey Schaub Reports:
Gonzalez said that because jurors ruled that Reiser is liable for Nina’s death and must pay damages, he can now begin an aggressive search for any assets Reiser has.
Gonzalez had sought a total of $25 million in damages — $10 million for each child plus an additional $5 million in punitive damages, which he said would send a message to other husbands not to kill their wives.
But jurors awarded more than double that amount: $25 million for each child for their emotional suffering and the loss of their mother’s love, comfort and affection, plus $10 million in punitive damages.
Reiser, who was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and monitored by three guards, didn’t show any emotion when the seven-woman, five-man jury announced its verdicts after only three hours of deliberation spread over two days.
Jury foreman William Smith, 65, of Livermore, said, “We wanted to make it reasonable for everyone involved and we didn’t want to come up with an astronomical amount that would be thrown out. We felt this amount was within reason but it could have been a lot higher.”
Smith said it was made clear during the trial that Rory and Niorline, who have been living with Nina’s mother in St. Petersburg, Russia, since December 2008, “have been damaged by this.”
He said, “We want to make sure that they are well taken care of and get psychological help the rest of their life.”
Smith said he also thinks they need financial help because they probably will not enter the workforce because of the emotional harm they have suffered.
Reiser was convicted of first-degree murder in April 2008 after a highly publicized six-month trial in which he claimed on the witness stand that he didn’t know what happened to Nina, whose body hadn’t been found.
But several months later, he agreed to lead authorities to Nina’s body, which he had buried at a remote site near his home, and admitted that he hit her in the face and strangled her in a judo hold while their children played computer games one floor below.
The couple was in the midst of divorce proceedings, and Reiser said he became “enraged” at Nina after a long conversation in which he accused her of inventing illnesses in the children as a way of getting back at him.
During the wrongful death trial, Reiser, who acted as his own attorney, said he killed his wife to stop her from harming their children.
He admitted that Nina hadn’t directly harmed the children but repeated his allegation that she was harming them by inventing illnesses.
Reiser told jurors in his closing argument on Monday that Nina had subjected Rory and Niorline to 149 operations, and said each procedure has a mortality rate of 5 to 10 percent.
But Gonzalez said the children didn’t have any operations.
David Turner, 65, of Oakland, who served on the criminal jury that convicted Reiser and attended every day of the wrongful death trial, said, “I was hoping he would show some remorse” about killing Nina but that he thinks Reiser’s comments indicate that “he would do it again.”
In addition to criticizing Nina during the wrongful death trial by saying she had “an extraordinary gift for lying” and accusing her of harming their children, Reiser slammed the tactics of his criminal defense lawyer, William DuBois, and called Gonzalez “a fake.”
Turner said, “It was sad to hear him trashing everyone but himself. It’s time for him to get to work to make some money for his kids.”
Gonzalez said, “The children are struggling, unfortunately. They have had no communication with their father and have effectively lost both parents.”
He said, “These are critical years for the children and they need their mom and dad but they don’t have either one.”
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