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Con Man — Or Crazy? In Opening Statements, Opposing Portrayals Of 'Rockefeller'

This article is more than 13 years old.
Court officers escort Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, into the courtroom for the first day of his trial at Suffolk Superior Court in Boston on Thursday. (AP Photo)
Court officers escort Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, who calls himself Clark Rockefeller, into the courtroom for the first day of his trial in Boston on Thursday. (AP Photo)

Either Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter is a cunning con man who made an elaborate plan to abduct his daughter, or he is so disconnected with reality that he lives in a magical world where he thought his daughter was telepathically asking him to rescue her. Those are the two scenarios laid out by the prosecution and defense during opening statements on Thursday.

First, Assistant District Attorney David Deakin said that while Gerhartsreiter had charisma and was well liked, he was a liar. Gerhartsreiter was born in Germany and came to the United States as an exchange student when he was in high school, but he told his future wife, Sandra Boss, another story.

"That he has grown up in NYC, that he matriculated in Yale University at 14-years-old in a program for children who are highly advanced in science and math," Deakin begins. "And when he was 17, in his junior or senior year — depending on which version of the story — at Yale University, his parents had been killed in a car crash coming to visit him and that’s why he doesn’t have any contact with his family members."

Sandra Boss believed the deception and married the man she knew as Clark Rockefeller in 1998. After nine years, she began to question his identity and filed for divorce. She hired investigators who could not verify who he was, so she asked for and was granted full custody of their 7-year-old daughter Reigh. Boss moved to London with Riegh and Gerhartsreiter was granted three supervised visits a year.

Soon after the 2007 divorce, attorney Deakin says, Gerhartsreiter began to formulate a plan to get his daughter back. He rented a house in Baltimore. He hired a driver to help with the abduction. While walking down Marlborough Street in Boston, Gerhartsreiter distracted the social worker assigned to supervise the visit and jumped in the waiting car. Deakin continued the story.

"He took his daughter off his shoulders," Deakin continues, "knocked the social worker to the ground, threw his daughter into the car banging her head and causing her to cry hard and yelling, 'Go! Go! Go!' "

Deakin told the jury Gerhartsreiter knew what he was doing, planned it well, understood the law, but didn’t think it applied to him.

Then Gerhartsreiter’s lawyer, Jeffrey Denner, started his opening statements, telling the jury not to think much about what happened, but why. What mindset was the defendant in? Denner said his client clearly has identity problems.

Over the past 30 years in the United States he’s called himself Chris Gerhartsreiter, then Chris Chichester, then Christopher Crowe, then Christopher Madbatten Crowe, then James Clark Rockefeller and, finally, Charles “Chip” Smith. Denner says these name changes are legal but show mental illness.

"It is an indication of the deep level psychopathology that he is suffering from," Denner says. "You will hear from our experts that the two underlying mental illnesses are narcissistic personality disorder and delusional disorder, grandiose type."

While the lawyers presented their cases, the man known as Clark Rockefeller sat with his hands folded, not looking at the jury. He wore the trappings of his former upper-crust life — a blue blazer, red and white striped tie, khakis and loafers with no socks.

Denner said Gerhartsreiter had been his daughter’s primary caregiver up until the time of his divorce, and when he lost custody he was pushed over the edge.

"He believed he was telepathically communicating with his child. He believed that she was secretly signaling him, basically saying that she needed to be saved, that she couldn’t do this, that she wasn’t being cared for, that she was in danger. And at that point, what he really felt he had to do was rescue his daughter."

Because the defense is not contesting that Gerhartsreiter took his daughter without permission, the case hangs on his mental state.

Attorney J.W. Carney Jr. used the insanity defense when he represented John Salvi, who was convicted of murder of killing two people and wounding five others when he attacked two abortion clinics in 1994. He says it's the toughest to put forward in a criminal case.

"It is surrounded by myth and misconceptions that people have about it," Carney says. "In a case that generates a great deal of publicity it makes it even more difficult, because the jurors are subject to statements made by friends and colleagues deriding the defense and makes it difficult for them to return a fair verdict."

The insanity defense is seldom used for relatively minor offenses such parental kidnapping, which carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. He also faces other charges, which could add to that term. But if Gerhartsreiter is found not guilty by reason of insanity he would spend six months in a mental hospital and could be held longer if the state believes he’s dangerous.

This program aired on May 28, 2009.


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