‘Rockefeller’ conman trial starts

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iol news pic Christian Gerhartsreiter AP ** FILE ** Christian Gerhartsreiter allegedly used the aliases Clark Rockefeller and Christopher Chichester, claiming to be part of the Rockefeller family. (AP Photo/ Essdras Suarez, File, Pool)

Los Angeles - A German man who allegedly passed himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family appeared in court Monday, ahead of his trial for the murder of his former landlord, officials said.

Christian Gerhartsreiter was present as some 90 prospective jurors were given questionnaires in the Los Angeles court. They will likely return Friday to be narrowed down to a 12-person jury, said clerk David Marquez.

The trial itself is expected to start next Monday or Tuesday and will last three or four weeks, he told AFP.

Gerhartsreiter is charged with murder in the February 1985 death of his former landlord John Sohus.

The victim and his wife were last seen in 1985. A short time after they disappeared, a man calling himself Christopher Chichester, who lived in a home behind the victim's in San Marino, northeast of Los Angeles, also vanished.

Investigators discovered that Christopher Chichester was one of many aliases used by Gerhartsreiter, who also passed himself off as a member of the Rockefeller family.

Sohus' body was finally discovered in 1994 in his garden. His wife has never been found.

If found guilty, Gerhartsreiter faces a possible prison sentence of 26 years to life, according to the prosecution.

US authorities say Gerhartsreiter entered the United States more than three decades ago and lived under a series of assumed identities, the latest being Rockefeller, a supposedly brilliant member of the wealthy clan.

Gerhartsreiter was found guilty in 2009 of kidnapping his seven-year-old daughter, and was sent to prison for five years.

On Monday potential jurors were given basic facts about the murder case, before completing questionnaires. “The attorneys will have the next three days to go through the questionnaires” before the jurors return Friday. - Sapa-AFP

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