THE HANS REISER TRIAL.
Hans Reiser Trial: Day One
Join the Chronicle's Henry K. Lee as he flies mobile updates from the courtroom of the Hans Reiser murder trial.
10:18 a.m.: Prosecutor Paul Hora told reporters that the trial has been delayed until tomorrow. Opening statements are now Tuesday morning at 10. No explanation was given by Hora.
9:56 a.m.: Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, is among dozens of people waiting in line to get into court.
9:15 a.m.: The foyer on the fifth floor of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse near Oakland's Lake Merritt is steadily filling up with reporters and trial watchers.
A TV crew from the CBS newsmagazine "48 Hours" is setting up in the hallway. Sketch artists Joan Lynch and Vicki Ellen Behringer, who attend all high-profile trials, are here, as well as reporters from the local TV stations, AP, Wired, ABC's "20/20" and yours truly from The Chronicle.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 05 2007 at 10:23 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Personalities
Chronicle Reporter Henry K. Lee's blogging of the Hans Reiser murder trial continues, with opening statements scheduled to begin today, after a last-minute postponement yesterday.
4:25 p.m.: Court adjourned for the day at 4 p.m. The prosecutor will continue his opening statement tomorrow-likely taking one more entire day--prompting one observer to gripe, "It's not an opening, it's a filibuster."
The defense will likely open on Thursday instead of tomorrow. Asked how long his intro remarks would be, lead defense attorney William Du Bois responded, "Nothing like he's doing," referring to the DA.
4:13 p.m.: Nina Reiser charged $15.18 on her Visa to buy deli items-including soup, egg rolls, pot stickers and soybeans-at Berkeley Bowl at 12:30 p.m. Sept 3, 2006, the prosecutor said, displaying a picture of the store receipt that police later found in her car.
At 1:55 p.m., she went through the store's checkout after spending $144.48 for 51 items, including crackers, yogurt, sour cream, Lucky Charms cereal, pretzels, English muffins, seven kinds of fruit, extra-large brown eggs, chicken and butter, Hora said.
All this, "because she was planning to run away?" Hora asked. "She vanished 30 minutes later," he said, after she dropped off her two children to Hans Reiser's house on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills.
Her car wasn't found until Sept. 9, 2006 on a street in the city's Montclair district, the Berkeley Bowl groceries rotting inside and strewn about as if someone had been driving the vehicle wildly, according to police.
2:52 p.m.: Hans Reiser railed against the Alameda County judicial system in its handling of his family law case in numerous e-mails to county Supervisor Gail Steele, prosecutor Hora told jurors.
Are judges and child custody evaluators biased or using a "sound scientific method" in making decisions, Reiser, a self-proclaimed computer genius, wrote in one of many long missives to the supervisor in July 2006, two months before Nina Reiser disappeared.
"He's putting a lot of effort into 'Marriage of Reiser,' " Hora told the jury, referring to divorce proceedings that were pending at the time.
"He's angry. He's frustrated," the prosecutor said.
12:00 p.m.: We're on a lunch break. Outside court, defense attorney William Du Bois tells reporters that the "prosecution is reaching."
As far as the DA's portrait of Nina Reiser as a loving mother who would never leave her children Du Bois said, "That was the image she projected" and that she left them on two occasions. He didn't elaborate. Hans Reiser, meanwhile, "worships his children," Du Bois told the media. "That's why I'm convinced he didn't do this." Prosecutor Hora has no comment
Court resumes at 2 p.m.
11:54 a.m.: Hans Reiser is wearing a charcoal suit. He is listening attentively to the DA's statement and frequently consults with William Du Bois, his lead attorney.
10:37 a.m.: "She would have never, EVER abandoned those kids. Ever. Impossible," prosecutor Hora said of the mother of two, startling some in the gallery when he shouts the word "ever."
10:18 a.m.: Deputy District Attorney Paul Hora has begun his opening statement. By the way, it's not called an opening argument. At this stage, attorneys can only give an overview of the case, describing to the jury what they believe the evidence will show. Not until the end will they give closing arguments and actually "argue" the case.
10:12 a.m.: The jury has been sworn in. The panel consists of seven men and five women and is ethnically diverse.
There are two male alternates and two female alternates.
9:14 a.m.: A number of personalities will take center stage during opening statements this week in the Reiser murder trial.
Prosecutor Paul Hora helped send the self-proclaimed San Leandro sausage king Stuart Alexander to prison in 2004 for murdering three sausage inspectors at his plant. Alexander died a year later at San Quentin Prison. Hora is the son of retired Alameda County Superior Court Judge Peggy Hora. He attended Cal State Hayward and the University of San Diego School of Law and is a 15-year veteran of the district attorney's office.
Lead defense attorney William Du Bois, a former Alameda County prosecutor, defended Jose Merel on charges that he was among several men who murdered Newark transgender teen Gwen Araujo in 2002. Merel was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder. Du Bois (pronounced du-BWA) has been practicing law since 1970 and graduated from the University of Oregon and UC Hastings School of Law.
Managing it all is Judge Larry Goodman, known for his stable hand. He often addresses attorneys in court by their first names but tells jurors that's because everyone knows each other and that doing so doesn't make the proceedings any less professional, just more personable. Goodman has presided over numerous high-profile trials, including that of a former couple sent to Death Row in 2002 for luring a Pleasanton student into a specially rigged van where they sexually tortured and strangled her before dumping her body on a snowy embankment. Goodman, who once served in the Coast Guard, has also been a volunteer "homeland security maritime specialist," training Alameda County sheriff's deputies for duty on the department's 32-foot gunboat.
Posted by Eve Batey on Nov 06 at 04:19 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Day Two
4:20 p.m.: Court recessed for the day at 4 p.m. The judge told jurors that prosecutor Hora has about one more hour to go in his opening statement, which is to conclude tomorrow.
But outside court, Hora told reporters that he might go longer than that. At the same time, Hora said he "really, really, really" wants to be done by tomorrow morning.
As for defense attorney William Du Bois, he told reporters that the longer Hora talks, the shorter the defense's opening will be. What might have been a three-hour intro could now be an hour-and-a-half intro, Du Bois said.
Court resumes at 9:45 a.m. The trial will be dark on Fridays, and this Monday is also dark because of Veteran's Day.
4:08 p.m.: Oakland police launched a major surveillance operation of Hans on Sept. 18, 2006, 15 days after his wife went missing, Hora told the jury.
Cops tailed him in numerous undercover vehicles and even in a plane circling overhead. They followed him as he left a daylong child-custody hearing in Oakland, had lunch with a friend at Fonda restaurant on Solano Avenue and then watched as he was dropped off near his Honda CRX at San Pablo and Ashby Avenues. It's the car the cops had been searching for. Hans then drives the car to Monterey Boulevard off Highway 13 in Oakland, parks, gets out, circles the hatchback four times, fiddles around in the car and then leaves. A cop sees Hans talking to a cab driver who appears on scene. By then, it's nightfall.
When the cab leaves--and Hans is nowhere in sight--the cops radio each other excitedly, "He's in the cab! He's in the cab!" Police start following the cab and tail it as it heads toward the Oakland airport.
But wait! Hans isn't in the cab, the cops realize.
Then an officer sees Hans "sprinting up the hill" up Shepherd Canyon Road, looking nervously over his shoulder. The cops lose him in the Oakland hills and never see him again that night, Hora said.
But OPD still has Hans' car--and it's missing the right front passenger seat, Hora said. The seat was there when Hans was pulled over by Redwood City police six days earlier, the DA said.
3:26 p.m.: Prosecutor Hora showed jurors security videotape of Hans Reiser paying cash for two books at the now-shuttered Barnes and Noble bookstore on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley on Sept. 8, 2006, five days after his wife went missing.
The books were "Masterpieces of Murder," about true notorious murder cases, and "Homicide," a book about the Baltimore police homicide squad by David Simon.
Hora noted that Barnes and Noble clerks always ask if customers are "members," which makes them eligible for discounts. Hora reiterated that Hans paid for the books in cash-and not a credit card. Yet police later found a Barnes and Noble member card in Hans' fanny pack, Hora said.
The defense has countered that those books don't prove anything--and that Hans bought them because he knew he was under police investigation and simply wanted to know how the cops operate.
The defendant's mother, Beverly Palmer, wasn't at this morning's session. But she made it to the afternoon session.
Palmer, an artist who was at the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert when police say her son killed Nina, is sitting directly beside another artist--Joan Lynch, a veteran of high-profile trials who sketches courtroom scenes for the media.
Lynch dropped something during a sketch this afternoon, and Palmer picked it up. The sketch artist thanked her, and Palmer gave a quick smile in response. She's been glancing at Lynch's sketches.
2:29 p.m.: Bloodstains found on a pillar in Hans Reiser's living room contained DNA belonging to both him and Nina, the prosecutor said.
Testing linked Nina's DNA profile with such certainty that only 1 in only 45 trillion women would also match, Hora said. He acknowledged that DNA testing can't confirm when the blood was left there.
"Science won't do that for us, so we don't have that information," Hora said.
Police recovered Nina's DNA from underwear, a razor and a contact-lens case taken from her home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, the DA said.
Elsewhere: While Henry K. Lee breaks for lunch, catch up on the fine Reiser trial blogging by David Kravets at Wired blog network's Threat Level. Court TV's message boards also have a great Reiser Trial forum. If you're blogging the trial, let us know!
12:02 p.m.: Prosecutor Hora showed jurors pictures of the Berkeley Bowl groceries found in Nina Reiser's van.
Also found in her van, abandoned on Fernwood Drive in Oakland's Montclair district, were her purse with the minutiae of everyday life; credit cards, her cell-phone with its battery removed (but there in her purse), about $121 in cash and an envelope with a check for $2,100 for rent for her home in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood.
There were also parenting and self-improvement books with titles like "Parent Power!" "Best Advice I Ever Got" "First Things First" and a book for would-be doctors called "Kill as Few Patients as Possible." Nina Reiser was a gynecologist trained in Russia and hoped to undergo similar training to work as an OB/GYN in the U.S.
Missing from her 2001 Honda Odyssey van? Her car keys, Hora said.
Nina Reiser "would have been at her refrigerator in 15 minutes" with the groceries after dropping off her children at the defendant's house, said Hora, who used GoogleEarth to show the jury the route she most likely would have taken.
"Nina didn't put the van there, Hans did," the DA said.
We're now on a lunch break. Court resumes at 1:45 p.m.
10:43 a.m.: The son of Hans and Nina Reiser, now 8, will testify in the murder trial, Hora announced to the jury, ending months of speculation over whether the little boy would come from Russia to provide potentially damaging evidence against his father.
The boy testified at the preliminary hearing and undercut his own previous statements to police. He told cops that he heard his parents arguing on Sept. 3, 2006, the day authorities believe Hans killed his wife.
But at the prelim, the boy testified that he saw his mom leave his father's home, apparently none the worse for wear.
The boy has also provided conflicting accounts of what he saw and did with his mother and father in the weeks before she disappeared.
Nonetheless, the DA told the jury today that they'll hear from the boy directly in the trial.
As far as any discrepancies, Hora said, "He's just not reliable, because he's so little."
10:32 a.m.: The prosecutor showed jurors surveillance video from the Berkeley Bowl grocery store showing Nina Reiser and her children.
The overhead shot first shows her son. A stuffed animal falls to the ground and is then picked up by Nina's daughter.
Later we see the little girl "hanging on the side of a shopping cart" full of groceries, Hora said.
Soon after, there's a fleeting glimpse of Nina, wearing a sun dress and flip-flops, pushing the cart out of camera view.
"That's the last picture of Nina," Hora told the jury.
10:19 a.m.: Judge Larry Goodman greeted jurors this morning, telling them to expect another full day -- at least -- of opening remarks by prosecutor Paul Hora.
But the judge added with a smile, "I'm sure there will be no more e-mail today," referring to Hora's exhaustive recitation yesterday of numerous e-mails written by the defendant to his wife and to an Alameda County supervisor.
10 a.m.: Co-defense counsel Richard Tamor fixed Hans Reiser's collar before the start of today's session.
Reiser spoke animatedly with lead attorney William Du Bois before jurors were brought in this morning, apparently voicing complaints about why certain things were allowed to be presented by the DA yesterday.
Reiser rubbed his brow in frustration at one point. He then turned around and scanned the gallery, nodding almost imperceptibly at someone in the audience.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 07 2007 at 12:30 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Parrying
4:10 p.m." By the end of the trial, jurors will be convinced that they must find Hans not guilty of murder, defense attorney Du Bois tells jurors, wrapping up his opening statement in two hours.
The trial is dark until 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.
4:06 p.m. (technical difficulties): Over the past few days, prosecutor Hora has had some minor problems with a projector that shows pieces of evidence to jurors on a large flat screen hanging from a wall. At one point, "low battery" flashed on the screen. Hmmm. Hora took a look around. Turns out a cord was unplugged.
This afternoon, the defense team accidentally flashed some pictures of porn on the screen during Du Bois' opening remarks.
Jurors, the judge and the audience tittered.
Those pictures HAD been intentionally shown by the defense earlier this afternoon. The defense says those pictures had been found in the "history" of Nina's computer.
3:38 p.m. (DA vs DA):Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff, the top prosecutor, is sitting in the back row watching the trial.
He's taken the same exact seat that had been used before a break by prosecutor Angela Backers, who is suing Orloff in Superior Court on the grounds that he failed to promote her and routinely discriminated against her and other women in the district attorney's office. Orloff denies the allegations.
2:44 p.m. (Defense opens): Nina Reiser solicited for future American husbands by advertising in an Atlanta publication called "European Connections" featuring mail-order brides, defense attorney William Du Bois said as began delivering his much-anticipated opening statement.
Nina was number 5279 in the catalog, he said, adding, "That's Nina Reiser as she really was" at the time.
Nina got pregnant within two months of meeting Hans as part of a calculated plan, Du Bois said, painting her as a "world-class, people-skilled individual."
His client, meanwhile, is "an odd person" yet extremely smart, with a photographic memory.
Hans is "devoid of social skills. Nina is almost the opposite. Perhaps that is what attracted the two of them initially," Du Bois said.
Nina is a master of deception who "let's say, left the area" last year to "let's say, really screw Hans to the wall," Du Bois said.
The defense attorney said Nina, while still married to Hans, fell in love with Hans' best friend, Sean Sturgeon, whom Du Bois described as a sadomasochist.
Prosecutor Hora objected at this point, but Judge Larry Goodman said, "We won't argue in front of the jury" and overruled the DA's objection. The courtroom is packed with prosecutors eager to see Du Bois at work.
2 p.m.: Your faithful blogger just saw the "other" Reiser prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Greg Dolge, ambling toward Ratto's, the popular sandwich shop in Old Oakland (which is near a second county courthouse, Oakland police headquarters and this scribe's office).
"Greg, you're missing a good show!" I called out as I passed him while driving back to court after lunch.
"I've been following your accounts," Dolge called back. He handled the Reiser case up until the prelim--or PX as it's known, short for preliminary examination--at which a different judge, Julie Conger, declared, however reluctantly, that there was enough evidence to try Hans.
Different judges, different DAs. That's the norm, however.
12:07 p.m.: Prosecutor Hora concludes his opening remarks after more than two days of talking by telling jurors there is only one "simple explanation" about what happened to Nina.
"And that's that THIS man," said Hora, walking over to point at Hans, "killed her." Hans turned in his seat to look at the DA as he said this but gave no outward expression in response.
At the end of the case, Hora said he will ask jurors to return a verdict of guilty to murder.
"Thank you for your patience-I know it was long," he said.
After jurors were excused for lunch, defense attorney William Du Bois then asked for a mistrial on the grounds that wiretap evidence and the contents of Hans' fanny pack shouldn't have been admitted.
Judge Larry Goodman denied the motion for a mistrial.
We're on lunch break. Du Bois delivers his opening statement at 2 p.m.
11:56 a.m.: It was bound to happen-the legal pundits are BAACCCKK.
You know, those talking heads who wax poetic about the trial du jour on local TV and national programs.
Steve Clark, who has worked as both a prosecutor and defense attorney, is sitting in the courtroom gallery this morning. He's the first pundit to make it here.
Clark said he's impressed by the DA's opening remarks so far. It's a circumstantial-evidence case--no body, no murder weapon, no eyewitnesses--and "it's like a jigsaw puzzle. You can't tell what you have until all the pieces are in place," Clark told me during a brief court recess.
The defense's job is to "remove and explain each piece" and perhaps provide innocent reasons for Hans' actions, Clark said.
Legal analyst Dean Johnson weighed in today by e-mail: "It seems to me that after two days of opening statements there is a gaping hole in the prosecution's presentation. Namely, how and where does Hora think the murder took place?"
We haven't forgotten about legal eagle Michael Cardoza, who has talked about this case on KTVU. Cardo, come on down,...
11:04 a.m.: On Sept. 23, 2006, 20 days after his wife disappeared, Hans phoned his mother, Beverly Palmer, in a call that was recorded by Oakland police and played for the jury today.
Hans railed against Nina in the call, discussing their bitter divorce battle and essentially giving a list of reasons as to why "Nina is dead," the DA said.
Palmer--who is in court today and appeared to be listening to the call with her eyes closed--tells her son that Nina "didn't deserve whatever it is that's happened to her. Don't you think?"
Hans replies, "I think my children shouldn't be endangered by her. 'Cuz all I ever wanted was to be nice to her."
Palmer says, "Still, Nina didn't deserve whatever it is that happened to her."
"And neither did I, and neither did (his son)."
Palmer says in closing, "Well hopefully we'll somehow get through all this."
Hans tells her, "I love you a lot."
Palmer laughs, says "Good" and the two hang up.
10:29 p.m.: Hans was contemplating whether to rent a Manteca storage locker that was big enough to hide his Honda CRX, prosecutor Hora told the jury. Cops later found inside the car a front-page newspaper article dated Sept. 14, 2006 detailing the police search of his Oakland hills home. So Hans knew "the heat is on," the DA says. Nina disappeared on Sept. 3.
Ultimately, Hans decided not to rent the locker and instead removes the passenger seat from his car with a 40-piece socket wrench set that he bought from a Kragen auto parts store, Hora said.
Also found in the CRX was a sleeping-bag stuff sack with stains matching the DNA of both Hans and Nina, Hora said.
7:47 a.m.: Prosecutor Paul Hora and defense attorney William Du Bois are as skillful in court as they are outside in the hallway, dealing with us media types.
Reporters--especially TV folks--are desperate for quotes during breaks in the trial. Typically there will be a gaggle of media surrounding each attorney as he exits Dept. 9 on the fifth floor of the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in Oakland.
But it's not like they're really answering our questions. Hora, like most DAs in high-profile trials, is being very careful in what he says.
"I do it in court," the tall, balding Hora says politely as he passes a bank of TV cameras and reporters who are trying, without much success, to get him to say something about the case.
"It's in the record, so there's no question," Hora says in response to a question from a reporter trying to confirm details of what he told the jury earlier in the day. The prosecuting attorney tells us we can get overnight transcripts to assist in our reporting.
Du Bois, however, is decidedly more expansive in his remarks. But the bespectacled defense attorney is especially adept in parrying the questions we lob at him. Take a look:
Q: "How difficult is it defending someone as smart as Hans?"
Du Bois: "Very difficult."
Q: "In what way?"
Du Bois: "In every way."
Q: "What was Hans doing with the storage unit?"
Du Bois: "You get it yet? There's nothing to get." That may have been a riff on what Hora had asked the jury: "Figure it out yet?" (Other than Du Bois' assertions that his client once contemplated sleeping in the storage unit, we're waiting for the DA to tie up the storage-unit issue later. Du Bois also promises that we'll see more when he presents his case).
You have to credit Du Bois, however, for some solid sound bites. Here's this gem in response to the DA's suggestion that the Reiser's son, then 6, may have seen his father carrying Nina's body down the stairs of his Oakland hills home: "That certainly didn't happen," Du Bois said. "You think that Hans carried the dead mother down to his children's bedroom? Is that what the DA is going to ask you to believe? Of course that didn't happen, and of course Hans would never do that, even if he did what the prosecution suggests he did. That's something that didn't happen. It's an illusion. It's a dream."
Posted by Eve Batey on November 08 2007 at 05:00 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Day Four
4:38 p.m.: Prosecutor Hora played for jurors a videotape of the 8-year-old son being interviewed by an Alameda County child-welfare official after his mother goes missing. While on the stand, the boy drank from a cup and smiled at times as he watched himself being questioned.
The DA will continue questioning the boy tomorrow. Defense attorney William Du Bois said he will likely begin cross-examining the boy on Thursday.
Hans Reiser looked at his son as he left the courtroom today. The boy didn't make eye contact with his father. He has, however, glanced at the defendant from time to time while testifying.
TV crews have gathered in the hallway outside court in hopes of getting video of the boy, but that won't happen. He's been escorted in and out of the courtroom by Alameda County district attorney's inspectors through internal stairwells and hallways of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse.
Court resumes at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
3:09 p.m.: The 8-year-old son of Hans Reiser wrote the defendant a series of letters over the past year, asking him where his mother was, the boy testified this afternoon.
"Were is Nina?" the boy wrote repeatedly in one letter, misspelling "where."
Prosecutor Hora asked the boy whose idea it was to write the letters. "Mine," he replied. "Did anybody tell you to write this letter," the DA asked. "No," the boy said.
In another letter, the boy wrote his dad, "I don't want to see you, Hans." Why didn't you want to see your dad, Hora asked. "I'm mad at him," he said. Why, the DA asked. "Because he hides Nina," the boy said. How do you know that, the DA asked. "Because no one knows about her except her friends--and Hans," he said.
The boy told Hora that he never received letters back from his dad. That drew an objection from defense attorney William Du Bois, who called that speculative. Judge Larry Goodman overruled the objection.
The boy described a picture he drew recently that he said showed "Hans going down the stairs with somebody." Asked by Hora who that "somebody" was, the boy said he didn't know who it was. But he said he thought his father might have been carrying a bag and that his mother was in the bag, curled up like a ball. The boy got off the stand and demonstrated, prompting the judge, some jurors and a few audience members to stand up to take a look.
12:48 p.m. (Lunchtime): We're on a lunch break now, so here's some thoughts about the Reisers' son.
The little boy at the center of the trial seems to be a typical 8-year-old kid--save for the atypical circumstances surrounding him in this murder trial. He has dark hair and dark eyes and does resemble both his mother and father.
He told the DA today that he speaks English and Russian fluently. Today, I picked up a decidedly more Russian accent and intonation when he spoke certain English words, compared to when he testified at the preliminary hearing last year and was still living in Oakland. He's been living with his 6-year-old sister and his maternal grandmother, Irina Sharanova, for about a year now.
He speaks with a slight lisp at times, pronounces some words in the way some little kids do at this age: "brought" becomes "bwought," for example.
He got something in his eye at one point today, and the judge was quick to make sure he was OK. He briefly left the courtroom but was back on the stand within minutes.
He's made jurors laugh a number of times, including when he correctly told the time to the minute--undercutting any potential attack that he's not a reliable witness--and when he opened his arms several feet wide to describe the size of his bed. "About a meter," he said, demonstrating his proficiency in the metric system.
Defense attorney William Du Bois told reporters outside court that he believes Sharanova and Russian psychiatrists have taught him to "hate his father." Whether that's true remains to be seen, although he did testify this morning that he loves his mother and, until September 2006, loves his father. The boy told the DA that his feelings about his father have indeed changed, but he couldn't really explain.
10:56 a.m.: The Reisers' son told prosecutor Hora this morning that he understands the difference between the truth and a lie. He said he's 8 years old, lives with his maternal grandmother in St. Petersburg, Russia. Hora asked him a number of questions to make clear to jurors that while he's young, he can answer many questions accurately.
The little boy just proven that he knows how to tell time; he looked up at the wall clock and elicited laughs when he nailed it to the minute: "Ten....forty-nine."
Moments earlier, Hora asked him these questions:
Hora: "Have you seen your mom since you've been in Russia?" Son: "No." Hora: "Have you gotten a phone call from her?" Son: "No." Hora: "A letter?" Son: "No." Hora: "Do you have any idea where she is?" Son: "No." Hora: "How do you feel about that?" Son: "Sad."
10:36 a.m.: Testimony begins today, but there's a delay. The attorneys, without jurors present, are haggling over the expected testimony of the Reisers' 8-year-old son.
Defense attorney William Du Bois told Judge Larry Goodman that he doesn't think the boy should be accompanied on the stand by a Russian social worker. Nor does the defense want Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, present in the courtroom gallery.
Prosecutor Paul Hora countered that as a courtesy, he allowed Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, to watch the proceedings since trial began. As for Sharanova, "I don't think she'll be signaling the witness," Hora said.
The judge said while he appreciated the negotiations involving the two respective mothers, all witnesses in the trial would have to be excluded. Out went Sharanova, and out went Palmer, with some mild protest to courtroom bailiffs.
The boy has taken a seat on the stand, and the jurors have filed in. The social worker is sitting next to the boy.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 13 2007 at 05:44 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Day Five
1:19 p.m.: The little boy is done testifying for the prosecution. He will be cross-examined tomorow by the defense during a morning session. After Thursday, the trial is dark all of next week because of a previously agreed-upon court schedule.
Outside court today, defense attorney William Du Bois didn't want to go into specifics about what he will ask the boy. But he acknowledged that it must have been "real tough" for the 8-year-old to be testifying in court with his father watching him. Du Bois said the boy seems to be faring well "under the circumstances, which are lousy."
Prosecutor Paul Hora declined to discuss the boy's testimony but said jurors could expect to hear next from Nina's mother, Irina Sharanova, after the defense is done cross-examining the boy. That could take place tomorrow, Hora said.
We now turn to legal analyst Steve Clark, who attended today's proceedings, to parse what we've heard so far from the boy.
Clark said the boy's testimony helps both the DA and the defense. The DA wants the boy to help set up a timeline and to confirm to jurors that he was the last person to see Nina alive and that "Nina is not alive now," said Clark, a former Santa Clara County prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney.
The defense has pointed out numerous inconsistencies in the boy's recollection of events and has trumpeted his testimony at last year's preliminary hearing at which he said he saw his mom leave his father's house on the day she was last seen, Clark said.
"Him saying 'Mommy left' is going to help the defense, but what the prosecution wants to show is that mom was never seen again. She never picked him up from school," Clark said.
Clark said, "This young boy was obviously a pawn in the divorce. Obviously, both sides were pulling on him to curry favor. He's been through a difficult investigation, he has to testify--I can't imagine anything worse for an 8-year-old boy."
Du Bois has a tough road ahead of him in his cross-examination tomorrow, Clark said. "No lawyer ever wants to cross-examine a kid, because you don't know what they're going to say," he said.
Du Bois will focus on the fact that the boy hasn't "given the same story twice," Clark said. "He can only give very small pieces of the puzzle, but he is the last person to have seen her. I think he's doing well under the circumstances."'
The DA had no choice but to bring the boy to the stand, given his interviews with police and his testimony at Hans' preliminary hearing, Clark said. Not calling him to testify at the trial would "look very suspicious," Clark said.
The boy's statements, however contradictory they may seem, must be seen through the "prism of an 8-year-old boy. You have to take his testimony with that prism," Clark said. Clearly, the DA isn't going to rely solely on the boy's testimony in this case, Clark said.
11:49 a.m.: During a court break, Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Bruce Brock asked veteran sketch artist Joan Lynch for a favor. Lynch asked Brock if she needed to move her stuff in the gallery.
Oh no, said Brock, a former Oakland police homicide investigator who worked the Reiser case when he was with OPD and has continued to do so after switching to the DA's office. Brock asked her if she wouldn't mind showing the Reisers' 8-year-old son some of her work.
Lynch quickly obliged, and she walked over to the bar separating the gallery from the rest of the courtroom, as Brock had requested, to meet up with the little boy. She flipped through some sketches, and the boy seemed to enjoy looking at the artwork, which includes drawings of him on the stand.
"He's very smart," Lynch told me. The boy noticed that the jurors' faces weren't shown and asked why, Lynch said. She tried to explain to him that it's the rule--any identifying characteristics of jurors can't be shown. But that seemed to be a concept that was too difficult for him to grasp, she said.
10:24 a.m.: The jurors have filed in, and Judge Larry Goodman told the panel that prosecutor Paul Hora is expected to wrap up his questioning of Hans Reiser's 8-year-old son by noon today. Court will be dark this afternoon to allow the defense to prepare for its cross-examination of the boy.
Court then resumes at 9 a.m. tomorrow--we usually start by 9:45 a.m. or 10 a.m.--for the cross, which is expected to wrap up by lunchtime, the judge told the jury.
The boy is back on the stand now, accompanied by a Russian social worker. Hora is continuing to play a videotape of the boy being questioned by an Alameda County social worker shortly after Nina disappeared.
7:44 a.m.: The 8-year-old son of Hans and Nina Reiser, the first witness in the trial, is back on the stand today for the second day.
How's he been doing depends on who's talking.
Some courtroom observers say his testimony is altogether heartbreaking and damaging: the boy said he hasn't seen his mother for more than a year, hasn't been talking on the phone with her or getting any letters from her. He loves his mother but isn't quite so sure about his father because he "hides Nina." He testified that he may have seen his father carrying a bag--possibly containing his mother's body curled up in a ball--down the stairs of the defendant's Oakland hills home in September 2006.
But defense attorney William Du Bois told us outside court, "His memory's changed since he's been in Russia, that's exactly what I meant. We may have to call an expert in the field. I'm sure you outstanding members of the press will find people that will tell you, memories can be changed. Memories can be worked on and his has been--clearly--worked on."
He added, "They influenced him. They've been influencing (him) since January. He's been to psychiatrists, he's been talking to them, they've got him completely hating his father."
Du Bois maintains that Nina could still be in hiding in Russia, even if her son--who lives in St. Petersburg with his maternal grandmother and his 6-year-old sister-- said he hasn't seen her at all over the past year. Why wouldn't Nina contact her kids, if that's the case, we asked. She wouldn't do that, Du Bois says, "not if she wanted to carry out a scheme of her being missing, at the behest of some sort of foul play. (If) she wants to carry this charade out, she has to stay away until this trial is over--at least--before she talks to her children."
Surrounded by media, Deputy District Attorney Paul Hora continued his policy of not commenting outside court. "It's hard to tell," Hora said when asked how he believed the boy was doing so far as a witness. Was he satisfied with his testimony? "That's a fair question, but one I don't want to answer," Hora said. "The case is pending, so it's just not a good idea."
We can't ask either of the boy's grandmothers about how the little boy is doing, because they've been kicked out of the gallery by the judge as potential witnesses in the case. Irina Sharanova, Nina's mother, had accompanied the boy to court from Russia. Beverly Palmer, Hans' mom, was upset after being ousted. "I wanted to see the trial," she told reporters. "I don't think it's fair. Also, I was looking forward to seeing my grandson and now, maybe I won't get to see him at all." Palmer had been a daily presence at the trial. Now, she might have more time to read "Death in Venice" by Thomas Mann, in the form of a yellowing paperback that she'd been bringing to court.
All told, the boy's been keeping the DA on his toes. In court, the boy corrected Hora when the prosecutor asked if he recognized a letter he wrote to his father. The boy said his sister wrote that one. And that one too. At another point, Hora, told jurors that he was again showing a surveillance video showing Nina and her children grocery shopping at the Berkeley Bowl. The prosecutor then turned to the boy and asked if he recognized himself in the video. Yes, he said. Do you know where you are? Berkeley Bowl, he replied. How do you know that, Hora asked. The little boy--who had testified that he didn't remember going to that store-- paused, then said, "A few minutes ago you said Berkeley Bowl." Everyone laughed.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 14 2007 at 02:00 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Day Six
4:00 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois has concluded his cross-examination of his client's son. Jurors spent much of the day listening to tapes of the boy being interviewed by police or the DA.
Judge Larry Goodman then dismissed jurors, telling them to come back at 10 a.m. Nov. 26. Court is dark until then. The judge gave the panel his standard admonition, telling them not to talk about the case, to avoid reading or viewing media accounts about the trial and not to conduct their own investigations.
After jurors left, that's when the fireworks began.
Defense attorney William Du Bois said his client had something to say to the judge. Hans had been talking to his attorney during testimony this afternoon, irking Du Bois, who had to shush him. "I think my client wants to be heard," Du Bois said. "Since I can't finish what I was doing, he might as well be heard."
Du Bois continued, "Since he's so insistent, since he can't help but interrupt me while I'm trying to address the court, I'd rather have him get it off his chest."
In a barely audible voice--the court reporter asked the defendant to speak up--the defendant voiced concerns to the judge about American CPS (Child Protective Services) and Russian CPS and how he believed his son was improperly being spirited back to Russia now that his testimony was over.
"Wait a minute, Mr. Reiser," the judge said. "You're not just trying your attorney's patience, you're also starting to try my patience."
Goodman continued, "You can have whatever paranoid delusions you want." But the court won't have any of that, said the judge, describing himself as simply a "lowly trial judge doing a criminal trial," with no jurisdiction over the juvenile court system or any international issues with regard to the boy.
Hans Reiser asked if he could be appointed co-counsel so that he could ask questions of witnesses, but the judge said no. Du Bois is a good lawyer with sound tactical reasons for asking the questions he asks, Goodman told the defendant.
Court observers said Hans looked very troubled as he was led out of court by sheriff's deputies.
3:14 p.m.: "Mr. Reiser, I'm not going to admonish you again," a stern Judge Larry Goodman told the defendant this afternoon, just minutes after a similar warning. The judge told the defendant that he shouldn't be disrupting the proceedings by talking to his attorney, William Du Bois, during testimony when jurors are present.
"Shh!" Du Bois has told his client on a number of occasions in the past few minutes.
The judge similarly rebuked Hans for talking on Tuesday afternoon.
12:49 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois, noting the boy's fluency in Russian and English, asked the 8-year-old if there were different words in Russian for certain English terms, such as "spaghetti" and "macaroni and cheese."
Yes, the boy said.
Are you able to discuss the case in Russian, Du Bois asked.
Yes, he replied.
Would it be better for you to testify in Russian than in English?
Eyebrows were raised in the gallery.
The boy paused before answering no.
"Good try," Judge Larry Goodman mouthed to Du Bois.
We're grabbing lunch. Court is back at 1:30 p.m.
9:50 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois has started to cross-examine his client's 8-year-old son.
The boy told Du Bois that he's been telling the truth to the DA, to social workers and to police. He identified his father, Hans, in court.
The boy said he takes Russian and math classes in St. Petersburg, where he lives with his maternal grandmother and his 6-year-old sister. He said he is enrolled in kung fu, tae kwan do, aikido and judo and that he has English classes on Tuesday and Thursdays.
Du Bois elicited chuckles from jurors when he asked the boy if he agreed that he's at an advantage over his Russian classmates because he already speaks English. Yes, he said.
Du Bois then asked the boy if he could say--in Russian--what classes he takes.
"Hold it," said Judge Larry Goodman to Du Bois. "How do you expect the court reporter to take this down?"
Du Bois said he wouldn't have a problem with the court reporter not transcribing anything the boy says in Russian.
The boy then listed his classes in Russian, then obliged when Du Bois asked him to say "Where is Nina?" in Russian. He sounded quite fluent.
Du Bois asked if he could talk about this case entirely in Russian, and the boy said yes. He acknowledged that he's talked to his grandparents in Russia about his belief that "Hans hides Nina."
Turning to a key part of the DA's case, Du Bois asked if the boy had been dreaming when he said he saw his father carrying something big down the stairs of his Oakland hills home. (The boy testified this week on direct examination that it might have been his mother curled up in a ball inside a bag. Prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors a picture the boy drew in recent months showing a figure carrying something; the picture included a note from the boy, "I think here is Nina.")
In court today, the boy said "I was not asleep" when he reportedly saw his father going down the stairs.
He denied that his maternal grandmother, Irina Sharanova, told him what to say in court.
8:09 a.m. Today, defense attorney William Du Bois will cross-examine his client's 8-year-old son. All eyes will be on the avuncular Du Bois and whether he will handle the boy with kid gloves, so to speak. If Du Bois is too aggressive in his questioning, he might be seen as bullying. If he's too meek, Hans Reiser might get upset. Then again, this is his own son on the stand.
"I've raised an 8-year-old--have you? They're always challenging," Du Bois told the media outside court Wednesday, answering one of our questions with a question of his own, as is his practice.
Prosecutor Paul Hora broke his silence about the boy's testimony, telling reporters Wednesday, "I think he's doing fine, a brave young man in difficult circumstances."
Legal analyst Dean Johnson said how the jury regards the boy's testimony will be critical.
"Deciding whether to put a child witness on the stand is a tough, strategic choice for any lawyer," Johnson says. "We know that jurors are all over the map when it comes to their attitudes toward children. Some believe the old saw that 'out of the mouths of babes comes the truth' and tend to accept anything that a child says. Others know that children live a large part of their time in a world of imagination and that many of the things that kids remember best never really happened."
Posted by Eve Batey on November 15 2007 at 04:06 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Nov. 26, 2007
4:56 p.m. Nina's divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon, will be back on the stand Tuesday morning for direct and cross. We'll then hear from Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele in the afternoon, says prosecutor Paul Hora. Hans Reiser had railed against the Alameda County judicial system in its handling of his family law case in numerous e-mails to Steele before his wife disappeared, according to the DA.
12:25 p.m. Shelley Gordon, Nina's divorce attorney, has taken the stand. Nina told her that the case "would probably be difficult."
"Did you know what was in store for you?" prosecutor Paul Hora asked.
"No," Gordon replied.
How would she characterize the divorce, the prosecutor asked.
"It went from bad to worse," Gordon said. "It was very adversarial. It was very hostile, and it just dragged on at a snail's pace." Among the issues the two fought over were the selection of a child-custody evaluator and whether a judge could order that the couple's son not be shown violent movies or be allowed to play video games of that nature. Nina had accused Hans of allowing their son, then 4, to play disturbing video games, prompting nightmares.
"It was a huge bone of contention, pretty much spanning the whole case," Gordon said of the video-games/movies issue.
Outside court, defense attorney William Du Bois told reporters that "appearances can be deceiving" with regard to the DA's portrayal of Nina being a devoted, caring mother. As far as the divorce, Du Bois said it was "contentious over a lot of technical points" and that it didn't necessarily have a " 'War of the Roses' element that some divorces have."
Du Bois added, "It takes two to be contentious" and "two to have an argument."
We're on a lunch break.
10:44 a.m. We are back after the Thanksgiving break.
Prosecutor Paul Hora told reporters that we won't hear from Nina's mother, Irina Sharanova, until January. She had been scheduled to be the next witness, but that was before the extended holiday.
Marni Hunter, a friend of Nina whose daughter was in the same class as Nina's son at Grand Lake Montessori in Oakland, has taken the stand. Hunter said she had gotten to know Nina for several years as parent volunteers. She later assisted in the search effort for Nina and helped organize candlelight vigils for the missing mother.
"Nina was a parent that volunteered readily in the classroom," Hunter told jurors. "Nina's name was constantly on the sign-up sheets."
Referring to Nina's two children, Hora asked Hunter, "In your opinion, based on your contact with Nina in those three years, do you think that she would have ever abandoned them?"
"No," said Hunter, shaking her head.
Hunter said she spoke once to Hans Reiser on the phone during a call to make sure that parents were paying for a pizza event. He apparently didn't know who she was, because he railed about Nina during the call, she testified. "He was very upset," she said, demanding to know what Nina had said about him and saying that his wife always accused him of not paying her. Hans insisted that he always paid Nina. Hunter told him that she was simply a "room parent" who had no control over any alleged payment problems on Nina's part.
Hora asked Hunter what kind of mom Nina was.
"I really, truly believe that she was a fabulous mom. She had the most infectious smile," Hunter said."A very kind person. I think she was a very wonderful person, and I think the children loved her dearly."
On cross-examination, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Hunter if Nina had ever discussed her children's therapy sessions, former boyfriend Sean Sturgeon or sadomasochism with her. (Nina had an affair with Sturgeon, who at one point practiced S&M, according to the defense). No, Hunter replied, adding that her only contact with Nina had been in the school setting.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 26 2007 at 06:14 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Nov. 27, 2007
4 p.m.: Hans Reiser sent his estranged wife a flurry of angry, accusatory e-mails during their divorce proceedings, according to e-mails that Nina's divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon, read to jurors on redirect. The e-mails mentioned the fact that she had an affair with his best friend, railed about the decisions she made about their two children and accused her of having Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome, in which parents make up illnesses for their children in order to get attention for themselves.
Defense attorney William Du Bois has questioned the admissibility of the e-mails, saying they haven't been authenticated and that Gordon was selectively given only the e-mails that Nina wanted her to have.
Gordon is now finished with her testimony.
Despite irking the judge today, Du Bois has managed to get a couple of interesting words into the record: "Diatribical," referring to Gordon's propensity to explain her answers without prompting, and "strategery," referring to Nina's alleged schemes.
"Strategery" happens to be one of your scribe's favorite nonsensical words. Comedian Will Ferrell employed this word while mocking President Bush's oratory skills on "Saturday Night Live."
We're back at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele is expected to be the next witness. Hans railed against the legal system's handling of his divorce in e-mails and phone calls to Steele and/or her office.
3:52 p.m.: Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff has taken a seat in the gallery. He stops in from time to time. He chatted with prosecutor Paul Hora during a short break -- the second one we've had this afternoon. Usually, we only take one break between lunch and 4 p.m., when we go home for the day. Seems like Du Bois' cross of Nina's divorce attorney has been taking a while.
Anyways, back to Orloff. He hesitated before taking a seat in a row marked "Reserved for Press." I motioned for him to take a seat in my (empty) row. "You're honorary press," I told him. "Honorary press," said the tall, bespectacled DA, chuckling.
Orloff's been the DA since 1995, and he's been with the district attorney's office since 1970. He remembers when both Nina's divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon -- who is on redirect -- and Hans' defense lawyer, William Du Bois, were prosecutors.
Over the years, many prosecutors have gone on to become high-profile defense attorneys, a la Du Bois (that should rhyme if you pronounce his name correctly).
As for Hora? Orloff said he didn't think Hora would ever switch sides.
Orloff has since slipped out of the courtroom.
12:34 p.m.: More squabbling in court. Defense attorney William Du Bois, continuing his cross of Nina's divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon, is pressing her on details of the couple's acrimonious divorce, including e-mails sent by Nina and Hans to each other.
At one point, Gordon described what she believed was the "myopic focus that Hans has on things."
Du Bois wasn't pleased with that answer, nor others she's been giving this morning-- and he made it clear, once again, in his tone to her.
For the second time today, Judge Larry Goodman rebuked Du Bois in front of the jury.
"Bill, if you ask a question and you don't like the answer, it's not her fault," said the judge, who calls attorneys by their first names.
Jurors were dismissed for the lunch break.
After the panel left, the attorneys then continued with their complaints with Goodman, but not before Du Bois asked that Gordon be excluded. The divorce attorney smiled and told the prosecutor she'd be in the hallway.
Prosecutor Paul Hora told the judge that "the defense attorney--Bill" was repeatedly and inappropriately challenging Gordon as to how she reached her opinions and what her sources were.
"And he's not liking the answers," Hora said. "It's not fair to the witness to be asked a question and then not be allowed to give a complete answer regarding the question. He doesn't like the answer, and he modifies the question."
When it was his turn, Du Bois said, "This witness is giving the most run-on, protracted, diatribical answers that I've ever heard. I suppose the problem is she's a lawyer. However, she hasn't been responsive. She's been allowed to run on, instead of answering questions yes or no."
Gordon has used every opportunity to "open her mouth" and let flow a "stream of consciousness" that goes far beyond the questions asked, Du Bois said. He said Gordon is "trying to put in information and material that we've moved to exclude."
The judge said he was very concerned that Du Bois, despite being "one of the best trial lawyers I know," seemed to be having problems controlling a witness, which shouldn't be a problem to veteran attorneys.
"I don't want to let her ramble, because she's a good rambler," Du Bois said.
More back and forth. More legal arguments over the admissibility of out-of-court statements in accordance with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as Crawford.
The judge has had enough. "We're not playing this game," he told Du Bois, accusing him of trying to "bootstrap Crawford."
Sigh. Can't we just all get along? After all, Du Bois and Gordon were once in the Alameda County district attorney's office like Hora is now, only at different times.
11 a.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Shelley Gordon, Nina's divorce attorney.
Du Bois is known as a skillful cross-examiner, and it shows: he's been making it clear that he doesn't like some of her answers by using phrases like "Listen carefully" and "Thank you for sharing."
Only thing is, Judge Larry Goodman doesn't seem to like Du Bois' style.
Du Bois asked Gordon if Nina Reiser would have any stake in his client's computer company, Namesys.
"I suppose she would have an interest in that--however, I think it's valueless," Gordon said. "If you have an interest in something that's not worth anything, it's not worth pursuing."
Du Bois paused. "Thank you for sharing," said the defense attorney, who throughout the trial has been objecting repeatedly when the DA's witnesses don't answer a question with a simple yes or no and, instead, add unsolicited commentary.
The judge, who routinely addresses attorneys by their first name, said, "Bill, stifle yourself."
Du Bois said he simply was trying to cross-examine Gordon on a number of points.
"I understand, but you can do it in a respectful manner," the judge replied, making it clear he was especially irked by Du Bois' use of the phrase, "Thank you for sharing."
Du Bois used that same refrain throughout his client's preliminary hearing, but Judge Julie Conger, who presided over that session, didn't call him out on it.
In other defense news, co-counsel Richard Tamor's cell-phone went off shortly after the morning session began today. But Goodman just gave Tamor a slightly amused smile. The defense attorney didn't notice, however, because he was busy fiddling with his device.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 27 2007 at 03:56 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Nov. 28, 2007
4:38 p.m.: Joyce Harnett, who works with Alameda County's Dept. of Child Support Services testified this afternoon that Hans Reiser owes $30,645 in child support as of a few days ago. The amount has been accruing since a court-ordered settlement in December 2005 and has continued after his arrest in October 2006.
"If all that money were to come in today--30 and whatever dollars you said--where would that money go?" prosecutor Paul Hora asked Harnett.
"It would probably be put into 'exceptions,' " Harnett said, referring to an administrative category.
"Because we don't know where the mother is?" Hora asked.
Yes, she replied.
"What if we knew where the mother was?" the prosecutor asked.
"It would go directly to her," Harnett said.
There was a small discrepancy in one of the billing statements, but Harnett said she didn't work in accounting and couldn't reconcile the issue.
Hora told her it wasn't a problem, because there would be time to clear it up because of the length of the trial.
Defense attorney William Du Bois asked a few clarifying questions on cross. Another question came up, and Hans said something that was semi-audible in the courtroom.
Judge Larry Goodman told Du Bois that he should tell his client to be quiet.
After all, "He's not testifying now," the judge said.
We're back tomorrow. At the end of each day, there's a running joke between the judge and the jury as to when we'll start the following day. Sometimes the judge needs some extra time, sometimes a juror has a special request. In the past, we've started anywhere from 9 to 10 a.m.
Today, the judge jokingly asked the panel when they'd feel comfortable coming back to work. They all laughed. Consensus? 10 a.m.
Next on deck: an Oakland police officer, an employee at the now shuttered Barnes and Noble bookstore where Hans bought a couple of books on homicide and murder cases and several teachers of the Reisers' children.
3:39 p.m.: Ron Zeno, the executive director of Safe Exchange in Oakland, where Hans and Nina dropped off and picked up their kids in 2005, is on the stand.
Zeno, who has been with the service for 18 years, testified that every time Nina came in, she'd get down on one knee, put her hands out and both kids would run to her.
Over defense attorney William Du Bois' objections, prosecutor Paul Hora asked Zeno if he believed Nina was the kind of person who would "voluntarily just disappear" and leave her kids.
"No, sir," said Zeno.
He testified that on one occasion, Hans told him that he'd be surprised if he knew "what Nina was into" with an ex-boyfriend, purportedly the one who was into S&M. Hora asked if Zeno knew why Hans told him that, and Zeno said no.
When he's not supervising child visitations at Safe Exchange, Zeno confirmed to me outside court that he's been greeting kids as Santa Claus for the last 15 years at Children's Fairyland in Oakland.
2:39 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois has begun his cross-examination of Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele.
Steele acknowledged that she may not necessarily recall the details of conversations with people who call her office. She had testified under direct that neither she nor her staff recalled talking to Hans in two separate phone conversations on Sept. 1, 2006, two days before Nina disappeared.
Du Bois flashed onto the screen part of a list of her 2006 campaign contributors. None of them was from county supervisorial District 2, or the Hayward, Union City, Newark and Fremont area that she represents. (Prosecutor Paul Hora earlier today had Steele confirm that she doesn't represent Oakland or the city's Montclair district, where the defendant lives. Hans donated $2,000 toward Steele's re-election campaign last year).
Steele noted that one of the contributors shown on the screen was a county employee. Another was none other than her son, Tim Tivoli Steele, of San Ramon. Some laughter erupted in court.
Under questioning by Du Bois, Steele testified that she believed it would have been "fruitless" to bring in then-U.S. Rep Ron Dellums to help revamp the family-court system, as Hans had suggested to her. It's hard to get elected officials to do things, the elected official said.
12:13 p.m. Hans Reiser sent Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele a number of e-mails after the two met in 2005, she testified today. The two shared a desire to improve the family-court system, she said.
On Jan. 3, 2006, Reiser sent her an e-mail that prosecutor Paul Hora said essentially gave her advice on how to interact with her grandchildren. Steele testified earlier today that her grandchildren were about the same age as the Reiser's children.
"I just thought it was a friendly message" that dealt with how to interact with and appreciate kids, "all that, in one fell swoop," Steele said.
In another e-mail Hans sent to the supervisor on July 7, 2006, he wrote, "I'll talk again with the attorney. I think he may be being (sic) overconservative. Hans." Steele told the prosecutor that she didn't know what Hans was referring to.
The defendant then wrote her a five-page, single-spaced e-mail several days later, she testified as Hora flashed a copy of the missive on a screen for the jury.
"This e-mail is his attempt to articulate the issues that happened in family court and what we could do to change it," she said. It included a "methodology study proposal" to change the family-court system, she said.
Steele noted that even as a supervisor, "I can't do anything with the courts, unfortunately. What I am saying is that the difficulty--in all due respect to the courts--is when there are issues of any kind, supervisors, nobody else has any authority to change it unless the court system chooses to do that."
"Did you tell Hans that?" Hora asked.
"Oh, I'm sure I did," Steele replied.
On Aug. 19, 2006, Hans wrote Steele another e-mail proposing that a new department--completely different from family court--oversee child-custody evaluations. If this "institutional framework," one "designed to reduce issues of bias" was successful in Alameda County, then other states and countries could replicate the new system, Hans wrote the supervisor.
Asked again by Hora if she took any action, Steele said, "The issue of changing court processes, I don't even know how to do it. And it turns out, unless one can get the support of the judiciary to make some changes within themselves, it feels almost impossible for either a lay person or an elected official to get these changes made."
On Aug. 28, 30 and Sept. 1, 2006, Hans left numerous messages with Steele's office. Steele said she didn't call him back. However, Hans' phone records show that on Sept. 1, there was a 16-minute phone call and a separate six-minute call between Hans and someone in Steele's office. But the supervisor said neither she nor her staff recalled talking to Hans.
On Sept. 3, 2006, Nina disappeared from the face of the Earth, as Hora has told jurors.
Steele testified today that she felt bad about not returning Hans' calls after learning that Nina was missing. "I'm very good at returning phone calls, but I get overwhelmed," she said. "I wish I had returned them because I didn't know what was going on."
Steele said she never found out why Hans was trying so hard to get a hold of her in the days before his wife disappeared. "He hasn't talked to us since that week," she said.
Steele did not testify at the preliminary hearing late last year, and that's because she never came forward to Oakland police about her contacts with Hans, she testified, adding she didn't think it was relevant. The supervisor confirmed to Hora that it wasn't until June of this year that investigators contacted her after finding her number on Hans' phone records.
We're on a lunch break, back at 2 p.m.
10:56 a.m.: Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele is on the stand on direct. She represents District 2 in Alameda County, which includes Hayward, Newark, Union City and parts of Fremont. A supervisor since 1992 and a former Hayward city councilwoman, Steele does not represent Oakland or the city's Montclair district where Hans lived, she told prosecutor Paul Hora.
She's known for having a soft spot for children who have lost their lives to violence and organizes an annual tree-planting memorial in their honor in an East Bay park. And each time a child dies violently, she asks that county flags be lowered to half-staff.
In court today, Steele said she first met Hans in 2005 outside the county Administration Building in Oakland, which sits across the street from the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse where this trial is taking place. Hans was upset about the family-court system and was gathering signatures for a petition, said Steele, who did not sign his petition.
Nevertheless, Steele testified that she was also concerned about family court and the plight of children in the system. "I was interested in what he had to say," said Steele, who estimated that she had a 10-minute conversation with Hans.
At one point this morning, Hora referred to the supervisor as Gayle Bishop. Bishop was a former Contra Costa County supervisor convicted in 1997 of misappropriating public funds and lying to a grand jury. But Hora didn't seem to know that and asked Steele, "Who's Gayle Bishop?"
"Different county," Steele replied with a smile.
In subsequent meetings or phone calls with the supervisor, Hans complained about the unfairness of the family court system, voiced his belief that child-custody evaluators were biased and said he didn't like what Nina was doing with regard to their children, Steele testified.
"He didn't like her choices," she said. Asked by Hora if Hans was obsessed about his beefs, Steele said she wouldn't go that far. Still, he was very upset, she said.
On one occasion, Hans brought his children to meet the supervisor. Hans didn't ask her to assess them, she said.
In early 2006, Steele was running for re-election. She testified that on April 28, 2006, Hans gave her two unsolicited money orders totaling $2,000 toward her campaign. In previous testimony, Nina's divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon, said that donation was made at the same time Hans was refusing to pay child support.
Posted by Eve Batey on November 28 2007 at 05:05 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Nov. 29, 2007
5 p.m.: Helen Campbell, the "head of school" or principal of Grand Lake Montessori, where the Reiser children went to school, was the last witness on the stand today.
Campbell said she founded the school in 1978 in a church basement.
As founder, does that mean you own the school, Hora asked.
"No, it owns me," Campbell said, prompting guffaws from the jury.
The school is now in its 30th year and is located in the Adams Point neighborhood of Oakland near Lake Merritt, Campbell said.
"Congratulations," Hora offered. "You're still accepting applications?" the prosecutor asked. More laughter.
Hans was "extremely hostile" in his dealings with Nina and school officials, Campbell said.
"He felt that the teachers were attacking his child as not being normal and that there was something seriously wrong about his son, and he was saying that was adamantly not the case," Campbell said.
"He was angry at Nina but he was also angry at the teachers," she said of a conference in early 2006. Hans once angrily told Nina through clenched teeth that their son was "absolutely normal," Campbell said.
Hans complained to Campbell that he believed Nina was "manufacturing problems" with their son. "He shared with me in an e-mail that she felt she was putting (their son) at risk, that she was a doctor and she knew about symptoms."
"Did he ever tell you that she was a pathological liar?" Hora asked.
"I do remember a conversation where he told me she was connected to the KGB and that she was a good liar," Campbell said.
Defense attorney William Du Bois objected to that answer, saying it was non-responsive. Judge Larry Goodman overruled the objection.
Campbell testified that the boy was drawing pictures at school that concerned teachers. "I don't recall detail, but I remember they involved violent images of persons or robots," she said.
At one point this afternoon, Hans was busy conferring with Du Bois. That distracted the defense attorney, who asked the court reporter to read back the last question Hora had asked.
The judge told Du Bois, "Tell your client to not do that, so we don't have to keep reading back stuff." It's the latest in a series of warnings the judge has made to Du Bois to shush his client.
Hans railed against Nina, accusing her of falsely claiming that their son had "weakness in his fingers," causing him to have problems learning how to write, Campbell said. In an e-mail read to jurors, Hans said the real reason for any calligraphy problems was that his son thought writing "is boring and uninteresting and does not want to learn it. I told him not to grip the pencil too tightly and to relax and enjoy what he is doing."
In a May 2006 e-mail to school officials, Hans wrote about a visit he made to the school.
"I asked (my son) to do cursive for 45 minutes straight without any pause. I assume you will agree, that is sufficient to completely dispel any possible notion that he has any weakness of the grip. He did it on the first attempt. I must say, he completely despises learning cursive now, but he did it in hopes of settling the issue. I think there is no task in this world he dislikes more, perhaps not even cleaning his room."
Campbell said she wrote an e-mail back to Hans that said, "Please refrain from visits where you become the director instead of the observer. The classroom setting is not appropriate. You are welcome to schedule visits where you follow your children's interests by observing politely and not disrupting."
Female teachers complained that Hans had a tendency to dictate to his son what to do and that Hans seemed to prefer male teachers, Campbell said.
Court is dark until 10 a.m. Monday.
3:06: U-Sef Barnes, who answered the child-abuse hotline run by Alameda County's Department of Children and Family Services, testified this afternoon that he received a phone call from Hans Reiser at 7:18 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2005, about a year before the defendant's wife disappeared.
Hans told Barnes that he believed Nina Reiser has Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, in which parents exaggerate or make up medical problems for their children to get attention or sympathy for themselves. Hans told Barnes that he was concerned about his son, then 5.
Barnes, reading from notes he took during the 20- to 30-minute call, said Hans -- identifed as the RP, or "reporting party" -- believed his wife -- identified as MO for "mother" -- had Munchausen "based upon his own research and knowledge about how people behave who have this disorder."
Barnes wrote, "RP stated that MO believes minor is suffering from Traumatic Stress Disorder, dissociation disorder and borderline bipolar disorder because minor plays too many violent video games. RP said he believes the mental disorders named by MO are nonsense, and that V (for "victim") is affected by ongoing divorce proceedings. RP describes V as normal, mentally healthy, brighter than most and a little lazy when it comes to school work."
In his notes, Barnes wrote, "RP said that the psychologist RP obtained to evaluate V supports RP's view about minor's mental health. RP said that the psychologist obtained by MO supports MO's beliefs about V's mental health. MO is not seeing a therapist."
Hans said his son was taking two different medications leading up to the boy's scheduled date for ear surgery. The surgery is necessary, Hans opined, noting that his son had a history of ear infections. But Hans said Nina did not give their son medications for the last two days before the surgery and that, as such, Nina was "medically negligent" during that time.
This afternoon, Barnes testified that he independently remembers Hans' phone call because of his insistence that Nina had Munchausen by Proxy and his assertions that "he had done a lot of research."
Barnes said this was his first call about Munchausen by Proxy. He said he recommended that the complaint by "evaluated out," meaning that there was no need to send social workers out to check on the boy, either immediately or within 10 days. Instead, Hans' call was simply made part of the department's records, Barnes said.
On cross, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Barnes if the decision to simply log the call means "take no action."
"When I listened to the call, I didn't, from my opinion, see any child abuse that we could go out on," Barnes said.
"Right," the defense attorney responded. "In other words, take no action."
"The action would primarily be to make it part of the record, but not to send someone out to investigate, right," Barnes said.
12:12 p.m.: In what has become a familiar refrain, Mary Aima, a teacher at Grand Lake Montessori in Oakland where the Reiser children attended, said she didn't believe Nina would abandon them.
"Those kids were her life," said Aima, who taught the couple's daughter.
On cross examination, she acknowledged to defense attorney William Du Bois that she didn't know the details of Nina's life outside the school setting or in Russia.
We're on a lunch break. Back at 2 p.m.
11:53 a.m.: Retired Oakland police Officer Ben Denson testified this morning on direct that he saw Nina and Hans exchange their two children at the Police Administration Building in downtown Oakland on a number of occasions in 2005, when he worked the patrol desk.
Denson said he recognized Hans in court today. Hans would play with his children for about 15 minutes during the exchanges, taking time to "toss them up in the air, swing them around," the retired officer said.
As for Nina, "My impression was that she was a caring, loving mother," Denson said, citing his 27 years as a police officer and his experience assessing people.
Denson said the enmity between Hans and Nina was apparent at the Police Department.
"It was almost an ever-present thing," Denson said. "They rarely talked for any length of time, but when they did engage in face-to-face conversation, it was my impression -- this is what I observed -- the defendant displayed hostility toward Nina, and I would call it barely restrained aggression."
Prosecutor Paul Hora asked, "Nothing physical happened in the Police Department?"
"No sir," Denson replied.
But during one visit, Denson said he was so concerned about the potential for fisticuffs that he went outside the police building to check on them.
Denson said he didn't believe Nina would voluntarily disappear and abandon her children. "She cared about them," he said. "She loved them."
Denson said during one visit, Hans seemed very upset. "He never put his hands on her but, you know, I could tell by the way he was looking at her, there was menace in his eyes," Denson said. "It was very hostile."
That's when the officer said he gave Nina some chilling advice: "I told her, 'You need to get yourself a gun.' "
On cross, Denson acknowledged that he's rarely--if ever--testified for the defense and that he was interviewed before his testimony by Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Bruce Brock--himself a former Oakland police officer and a lead homicide investigator for the Reiser case at that.
Denson confirmed that he never saw Hans touch or assault Nina to the point that the officer had to restrain him. But he told Du Bois that his client "used to loom over her. He used to glare at her. The hostility was palpable."
And Hans acted this way in front of the police, Du Bois asked.
People embroiled in domestic situations "don't care if the police are there or not," Denson replied. "That doesn't enter people's minds, because they're so wound up. They're so emotional."
Denson told Du Bois that yes, his impressions of Hans were all negative and that his impressions of Nina were all positive.
"Would it change if you found out she committed multiple acts of grand theft in her spare time?" Du Bois asked.
Hora objected, saying there was no foundation for that, and Judge Larry Goodman agreed, saying, "It assumes facts not in evidence."
10:50 a.m. Sandra Starr Rudd, an employee of the now-shuttered Barnes and Noble bookstore on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley, was the first witness on the stand today.
Under questioning by prosecutor Paul Hora, who flashed a store receipt for jurors on a screen, Rudd testified that Hans paid $28.25 in cash for two books on Sept. 8, 2006, five days after his wife, Nina Reiser, went missing.
The books were "Masterpieces of Murder" by Jonathan Goodman, about true notorious murder cases, and "Homicide," a book about the Baltimore police homicide squad by David Simon.
Hora played store surveillance video showing Hans--wearing a white shirt, dark pants and sneakers--making the purchase at 7:19 p.m. from Rudd, who is behind the counter. A second store camera shows Hans leaving a few minutes later as he walks out the front door of the store onto Shattuck with a green Barnes and Noble bag.
Rudd testified today that she doesn't independently remember the transaction--and that she wouldn't be able to identify--today--the man who bought those books. Hora started to ask Rudd if she recognized the purchaser in court today, but defense attorney William Du Bois objected, saying she had already said she wouldn't be able to.
On cross, Rudd told Du Bois that she hadn't read the two books that Hans purchased. Du Bois has said that the books don't mean a thing, and that his client just wanted to bone up on police procedurals because he knew he was being investigated.
Hora told jurors in his opening statement that Barnes and Noble clerks always ask if customers are "members," which makes them eligible for discounts. Hora said Hans paid for the books in cash--and not a credit card, suggesting that he didn't want his purchases tracked. The prosecutor said cops later found a Barnes and Noble member card in Hans' fanny pack. Rudd testified today that even if members don't have their card with them, they can be identified through their phone numbers.
Rudd said the Barnes and Noble in Berkeley closed in May 2007. Your scribe notes that Cody's Books on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley closed a year earlier. At least the Cody's on Fourth Street in West Berkeley is still open, knock on wood....
Posted by Audrey Cooper on November 29 2007 at 12:28 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 3, 2007
3:13 p.m.: A picture of the Honda CRX that police say was missing its right front passenger seat after Nina Reiser disappeared was shown to Hans' mother, Beverly Palmer, this afternoon. The picture shows the CRX parked on Monterey Boulevard, which parallels Highway 13 in Oakland, at the time police said they tailed Hans to the area and seized it Sept. 19, 2006, after he left. After technicians removed the carpeting from the front seat area, they noticed that the floorboard had been saturated with water, according to investigators.
Palmer said she doesn't recognize where the car--which belongs to her--is parked. She testified that she was angry that she couldn't find her CRX when she returned from the Burning Man festival on the Tuesday after Labor Day weekend last year.
Palmer said she wouldn't have noticed if her car was missing its front passenger seat (at any given time) because she "very rarely" uses it and doesn't remember the last time that she did.
"You wouldn't have noticed that the front seat is missing?" Hora asked.
"I just never noticed that car," Palmer said. "I wouldn't have any reason to look inside it."
"Do you ever remember a time when it was missing its right front passenger seat, the CRX?" the prosecutor asked.
"No," she said.
She said she usually drives her Honda hybrid. To make matters worse, her son then borrowed her hybrid around Sept. 6, 7, or 8, which "left me stranded, without a car," she testified. That's tough because she lives in the Oakland hills, she said.
Palmer said she asked her son to return her hybrid. But Hans said he needed the hybrid because the CRX wouldn't start. She assumed that the battery was dead.
12:30 p.m.: Hans told his mother, Beverly Palmer, that Nina was missing on Sept. 6, the day after she returned from Burning Man, Palmer testified this morning.
Hans waited because he knew she was tired and would get upset if he had told her immediately, she said.
"I was upset when I heard about it the next day," Palmer said.
"Why were you upset?" prosecutor Paul Hora asked.
"Well, you wouldn't be upset if the mother of your grandchildren is missing?" Palmer replied in an even tone.
Hora asked if she was concerned about the children, and Palmer said, "Yes, of course."
What did Hans tell her, Hora asked.
"I don't remember exactly what he said," Palmer said. "I just remember he said she was missing."
Naturally, did she have any questions, Hora asked.
"He didn't seem to know anything about it," Palmer said. "I asked him about it, and he didn't seem to have any information."
Hora asked, "He didn't refuse to discuss the matter with you?"
"No," Palmer said.
She said that her son told her that he and Nina had a disagreement over who was supposed to have the kids that weekend and that they "decided to share them and split it up."
Palmer testified that she believed "something must have happened to her," referring to Nina. She said she believed she could have been kidnapped. Hora asked if she thought "maybe she ran away to Russia."
"That's possible," she said.
She said Nina left her children twice before, once with a nanny and once with her parents, although Palmer acknowledged that she didn't tell police this when she was first interviewed by them on Sept. 8, 2006.
"Do you know where Nina is?" Hora asked.
"Do I know where Nina is?" Palmer repeated. "No."
We're on a lunch break, back at 2 p.m.
Noon: Beverly Palmer, Hans' mother, is a multimedia artist who attended the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert during Labor Day weekend 2006, when police say her son killed his estranged wife.
Palmer testified today that she's been to Burning Man four times in all. Last year, she said she left for Burning Man on Aug. 26 and returned on Sept. 5. Nina was last seen on Sept. 3, 2006 after she dropped off the couple's two children at the home Hans shared with his mother on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills.
Palmer testified that her son knew that she'd be going to Burning Man. She said she witnessed the actual burning of the 4-story wooden "man" on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2006.
There is no cell phone coverage in the area of Burning Man, Palmer testified.
Hans did not tell her who had custody of the couple's children prior to her leaving for Burning Man, she testified.
During the 2004 Burning Man, Palmer helped create a "video installation" underneath the Burning Man structure entitled "Black Hole of Desire," according to a Web site maintained by her friend, video installation artist Mark McGothigan.
McGothigan and Milton Fabert also worked on the project, which enabled people to "record their desires. A playback feature produced a cacophony of recorded desires. This has been combined with video and sound they collected to make an intriguing DVD," according to a Web site about the project. Another description said the project involved a round video projection screen mounted on a 10' by 10' wall.
"We are using the metaphor of a black hole--a dense force drawing all matter around it inexorably around it--to portray the human capacity to relentlessly desire, never reaching a point of stasis."
11:05 a.m.: In an interesting aside, Alameda County prosecutor Christopher "Casey" Bates was briefly in the courtroom gallery this morning.
Bates, the son of Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, is prosecuting Eric Mora, who is charged with murdering his girlfriend, Cynthia Alonzo, in 2004.
Alonzo's body hasn't been found, just like Nina's body hasn't been found. The defense attorney for Mora is none other than William Du Bois, Hans' attorney. And the judge presiding over Mora's ongoing preliminary hearing? Judge Larry Goodman, who is the trial judge in the Reiser case.
10:45 a.m.: Beverly Palmer, Hans' mother, is on the stand today.
As court clerk Fil Cruz asked her to state her name and spell it for the record, Palmer apologized, saying if she could have a moment to put her hearing aid in. She also apologized to Judge Larry Goodman, but he motioned to her not to worry.
Palmer said Hans is her only child, born Dec. 19, 1963, in Seattle. He was 7 when his mother moved to Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills in 1970. She confirmed for prosecutor Paul Hora that the home is in a wooded, brushy area about a block from Skyline Drive.
Hans' father is Ramon Reiser, but he and Palmer broke up. Palmer remarried, but her husband died in 2000. Hans went to UC Berkeley at the age of 14. He eventually got a degree in "systematics."
Palmer said she met Nina at the airport when she arrived in the United States from Russia. She told Hora she had a vague memory of Nina attending high school in Rhode Island.
"What was your first impression of her?" Hora asked.
"I liked her," Palmer replied. "She's very likable. She has a very likable personality."
Her English skills were very good, she said.
"Did they show love and affection for each other?" Hora asked.
"Yes, I would say that's true," she said.
The prosecutor asked if Hans ever expressed displeasure that Nina was pregnant with their first child, a son, or ever complained that Nina trapped him.
No, she said.
"He was excited about having the baby?" Hora asked.
"That's right," she said.
Posted by Audrey Cooper on December 03 2007 at 10:45 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 4, 2007
5:14 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois asked Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, if Reiser had any social skills. Palmer laughed heartily at that question.
"Hans is a programmer," she said, and programmers have a reputation for not having great social skills. She called her son a "klutz" socially.
"A nerd among nerds?" Du Bois asked.
Palmer laughed again and said yes.
Du Bois ended his cross-examination of Palmer, and prosecutor Paul Hora had no redirect.
Court broke 15 minutes early today because Hora thought Du Bois would go longer on his cross. During our mid-afternoon break, Hora had told his next witnesses -- teachers of the Reiser children -- that they probably wouldn't get to them this afternoon.
We're back at 10 a.m. with the teachers on the stand.
3:30 p.m.: The jurors weren't immediately brought in after the lunch break. Hans Reiser is addressing the judge directly, complaining once again that he believes his 8-year-old son, as soon as he was done testifying as a prosecution witness just before Thanksgiving, was spirited back to Russia by his maternal grandmother in violation of a juvenile court judge.
There are reports that Juvenile Court Judge Stephen Pulido is none too pleased that the boy failed to appear in his court and is considering sanctions.
Today, Reiser expressed his displeasure with the whole thing and mentioned a ruling related to the custody issue by an appeals court. He said he wanted to attend a separate juvenile-court hearing this week in lieu of his criminal trial.
Judge Larry Goodman, who is presiding over Reiser's murder trial, interrupted the defendant and saying that "in all due respect," the judge believed he could better interpret an appeals court ruling than Reiser could.
"The bottom line is, Mr. Reiser, you're not going to the (juvenile court) hearing," Goodman said.
Reiser was clearly unhappy and was about to continue talking, but defense attorney William Du Bois then told the judge that he wanted to withdraw his request that his client be able to address Goodman directly.
Du Bois then said he was forwarding a second request on behalf of his client: Reiser wants to see all the evidence collected against him, minus the Honda CRX that police found after Nina Reiser vanished, its front passenger seat removed and interior apparently hosed down.
"What about the two boxes that he's been schlepping all over the place?" Goodman asked.
Well, there's plenty of other things, like exhibits, Du Bois said. Reiser, who prides himself for having been able to memorize pages and pages of discovery, admitted that there were some things he can't recall off the top of his head.
Prosecutor Paul Hora said he's already handed over some 10,000 pages of discovery and that it's an "absurd request" to ask for everything. "So what do you want the court to do?" Goodman asked Du Bois. "Frankly, I hadn't gotten that far in my thinking of this issue," the defense attorney admitted.
The judge suggested that the attorneys get together some other time to hash out a time where Reiser might be able to look at the exhibits. Reiser continued to confer with Du Bois as the jurors buzzed, signaling that they were ready to resume.
"Mr. Reiser, you should have discussions with your lawyer somewhere else. The jurors are coming down," Goodman said.
DuBois then resumed his cross-examination of Beverly Palmer, his client's mother.
Palmer acknowledged to Du Bois that her memory hasn't been as good since her second husband, Bernard Palmer, died of cancer in 2000. "But I never had a good memory, to tell you the truth," Palmer said.
She said she didn't search for Nina Reiser -- and neither did her son -- because they felt "unwelcome in the searches." Nina's mother, Irina Sharanova, and best friend, Ellen Doren, were both angry at them, she said.
"Also, I can't walk through the Oakland hills, which is what they were doing, because I get poison oak, and it's full of poison oak and I get violent poison-oak reactions," Palmer said.
"Does Hans have a similar reaction to poison oak?" Du Bois asked.
"Yes, he gets bad cases of poison oak also," she answered.
Du Bois flashed onto a screen pictures of her Exeter Drive home that were taken by police. As he showed her things in the picture, he tapped on a screen with a pen: Tap tap! Tap tap! That incurred the mock wrath of Judge Larry Goodman.
"Do NOT hit the screen--I told you about that!" Goodman said, his face reddening as he laughed.
"Sorry, I lost my head," Du Bois said.
Hans Reiser paid his mother $600 a month in rent to stay with her, Palmer testified.
She said she didn't remember whether she ever heard Nina say that she loved Hans.
Palmer said the couple grew apart when Nina began having an extramarital affair with Hans' best friend soon after the couple's daughter was born in May 2001. Nina also moved in with the friend, Palmer said. She filed for divorce in August 2004.
Du Bois asked if Nina's relationship with Hans' friend concerned her with respect to thie children.
"It concerned me greatly," she said. "I was afraid that it would ruin the marriage, that the marriage would break up."
And that's when co-counsel Richard Tamor's cell phone went off during testimony, for the second time during the trial.
12:54 p.m.: Outside court, defense attorney William Du Bois told reporters that he didn't think it was fair that Judge Larry Goodman barred hearsay statements with regard to what Hans Reiser told his mother, Beverly Palmer, about sleeping in her Honda CRX and washing the car's interior with water.
Asked why Hans hosed the car down, Du Bois cited statements made by Palmer that her son was "such a slob, an inconsiderate slob, which is probably accurate."
The whole issue of the CRX has "become part of a puzzle that each piece of the puzzle fits into, dangling modifier," Du Bois said.
Du Bois said he was trying to determine whether he continue crossing Palmer for a little bit more this afternoon or to instead bring her back as a defense witness later.
He agreed that Palmer is in a difficult position.
"Obviously, they're mother and son," Du Bois said.
Asked by NBC's Jodi Hernandez about sentiments that Palmer, 64, could be protecting her son, Du Bois said, "Some might say that, but if you heard her testimony, you probably get the idea that there are a lot of things in her life that she doesn't remember."
Du Bois said he doesn't want to speak ill of someone whose memory is impaired but noted that her second husband, Bernard Palmer, died of cancer in 2000, a fact that he planned to bring up in court. Since his death, "she's hasn't been quite as mentally agile as she once was, but as you can see from her project at Burning Man, she still can put things together."
Palmer, a multimedia artist, attended last year's Burning Man festival.
Yesterday, Du Bois told reporters that Palmer's memory "fails more than, let's say, average memory. You've probably seen that from her testimony. She's a much more fragile person than a woman of her age might be otherwise."
Bernard Palmer's obituary in the Chronicle said that the Berkeley Symphony violist and former San Francisco State education professor died at the couple's Oakland home on April 5, 2000, at the age of 79. He and Beverly Palmer were married 29 years.
12:34 p.m.: Prosecutor Paul Hora wrapped up his direct examination of Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, this morning by having her confirm the conflicting sentiments she's had about Nina Reiser and whether she chose to disappear as Hans was charged with murder.
"Well, I think people are a mixture of good and bad," Palmer said. "One doesn't necessarily exclude the other."
Defense attorney William Du Bois then began his cross of his client's mother, and that's when the bickering began among Du Bois, prosecutor Paul Hora and Judge Larry Goodman in front of the jury.
Du Bois tried several different ways to ask Palmer if she was aware that her son had been sleeping in the Honda CRX that he borrowed from her. (The defense has said Hans removed the front passenger seat to make the vehicle more comfortable for slumbering. The DA has hinted that Hans used the car to transport Nina's body somewhere.)
Du Bois asked Palmer if she knew why he stayed in the CRX instead of at his mom's house in the Oakland hills, and Hora objected, saying there was no foundation for that question.
The judge sustained the prosecutor's objection.
"Did (Child Protective Services) say to you that they wouldn't let you have the children at the house if Hans was there?" Du Bois asked.
"That's true," Palmer replied.
Du Bois asked if it was after that CPS call that Hans said he was living in the car, and Palmer said, "That's right." As Palmer answered, Hora objected again on foundation grounds.
"Was it after that that Hans informed you he was living in the car?" Du Bois persisted.
Hora objected, this time saying, "That's hearsay."
A frustrated Du Bois complained to the judge that Hora had "put in a lot of hearsay by my client" and that the DA "can't have it both ways."
Goodman said, "Mr. Du Bois, Mr. Du Bois, if you don't object, I don't rule. If you object, then I rule," the judge said.
Hora's hearsay objection was sustained. "Move on, Mr. Du Bois," said the judge, who usually addresses attorneys by their first name.
"I don't know what he's afraid of," Du Bois said of Hora.
"Bill, you know better than to make comments like that in front of the jury--don't do it again," the judge said.
Du Bois then asked Palmer another question. That drew complaints by the prosecutor that Du Bois was leading the witness.
The defense attorney next tried to ask Palmer how she became aware that there was a lot of water on the floorboard of the CRX. (The DA has suggested that Hans tried to rid the clean the area of incriminating evidence.)
Hora said there's no foundation as to how the water got in the car, nor whether Palmer became aware of the fact that water was in the car.
The attorneys squabbled with each other over when they objected and when they didn't.
Goodman said, "Look guys, you're both trial lawyers, you both know what you're supposed to be doing. I'm not going to be making objections if you don't object."
More grumbling by Hora. That drew a rare warning to the prosecutor by the judge, who addressed him as "Mr. Hora."
In the middle of all this, Hans raised his finger a couple of times in hopes of getting his attorney's attention. It didn't work.
Du Bois eventually resumed his cross of Palmer, but not before showing her a picture of a plainclothes Oakland police officer sitting in Palmer's Exeter Drive home in the Oakland hills.
"If I said that was an Oakland police officer, would you object?" Du Bois said, addressing the prosecutor.
Hora said he'd stipulate to that fact.
Du Bois then asked the judge for more discussions about the CRX outside the presence of the jury. Goodman dismissed the jurors for lunch.
Du Bois complained that the DA was allowed to bring in hearsay statements for his witnesses but that the defense essentially couldn't do the same with regard to what Hans had told his mother about sleeping in the CRX and hosing the front passenger seat area.
The judge commented that Palmer's "memory was faulty on direct."
Playfully, Du Bois asked the judge, "Why do you say that?"
"Oh, I don't know," the judge replied.
"Good answer," interjected Hora.
The judge, mimicking many of Palmer's answers, said, "I don't remember," drawing laughter.
Goodman told Du Bois that his dilemma could be solved if his client simply took the stand and testified about sleeping in the car and hosing it down.
Du Bois insisted that his client's state of mind was "pure and not criminal." He grumbled that "the prosecution is allowed to offer all sorts of oblique statements by him and saying those are state of mind, whereas we offer statements that are not admissible."
Du Bois said he believed this was violating his client's due-process rights and that he was objecting.
Goodman gave a smile and said, "Very well, Mr. Du Bois."
"Thank you," said Du Bois.
"That's not what I'm saying, but that's your take on it," the judge told the defense attorney, referring to his accusation that the defense could only get certain statements in if Hans took the stand.
There are other solutions, the judge said. There could be a witness who saw Hans sleeping in the car or hosing it down, Goodman said.
11:30 a.m.: Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, is back on the stand today, still on direct.
Prosecutor Paul Hora played for jurors a phone call between Hans and his mother that was recorded by Oakland police. The call was made Sept. 23, 2006, 20 days after Nina Reiser disappeared. As the call was played, Palmer, jurors, Hans and the attorneys followed along with the help of a transcription.
Hans railed against Nina in the call, discussing their bitter divorce battle and essentially giving a list of reasons as to why "Nina is dead," the DA told jurors in his opening statement, during which this call was first played.
Palmer tells her son that Nina "didn't deserve whatever it is that's happened to her. Don't you think?"
Hans replies, "I think my children shouldn't be endangered by her. 'Cuz all I ever wanted was to be nice to her, give her an opportunity to come to the United States" and "have some children."
Palmer says, "Still, Nina didn't deserve whatever it is that happened to her."
"And neither did I, and neither did (the Reisers' son)," Hans answers.
Palmer says in closing, "Well hopefully we'll somehow get through all this."
Hans tells her, "I love you a lot."
Palmer laughs and says, "Good. Bye-bye" and the two hang up.
At the time of this call, Palmer assumed that her phone was wire-tapped but denied changing her behavior because of this knowledge, she testified today.
In another wire-tapped call Sept. 19, 2006--the same night police seized the Honda CRX that Hans left off Highway 13-- Hans asks her to pick him up at the Mormon Temple in the Oakland hills because "I want to talk to you about something."
"At the Mormon Temple?" an incredulous Palmer is heard on the call, which was also played for jurors. (By this time, Palmer was peeved that her son "stranded" her by taking both her CRX and her Honda Civic hybrid. She eventually found her hybrid).
"Uh-huh," Hans says.
"Hans, we're trying to set up this ... why do I have to pick you up there?" Palmer asks.
"Mom, could you just do it, OK?" Hans replies.
Oakland police tailed Hans and his mother as they went to a Budget Rent-a-Car in Hayward on Sept. 21, according to testimony.
"Do you know why Hans was renting a car there?" Hora asked.
"Well, I assume it's because the police had the CRX and he needed a car," Palmer said.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 04 2007 at 11:29 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 5, 2007
5:09 p.m.: Prosecutor Paul Hora this afternoon played a half-hour of voice-mail messages left on Nina Reiser's cell phone after she went missing Sept. 3, 2006.
Those who left messages included her boyfriend, Anthony Zografos, who was on the stand as the messages were played; her best friend, Ellen Doren; her mother, Irina Sharanova; her divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon; and an ex-boyfriend, Sean Sturgeon, who had been Hans Reiser's best friend.
Sturgeon -- who had dressed in drag as the "maid of honor" at the Reisers' 1999 wedding -- later had an extramarital affair with Nina Reiser, attorneys on both sides have stated in court. Hans Reiser did not leave any messages.
"I'm panicked about your whereabouts, as your friends are," Gordon said in a message.
Doren and Sharanova left a number of messages in Russian.
"I'm afraid something is wrong, and I hope it's not bad," Zografos said in a message. "But I'm worried about you. Please give me a call." Sturgeon also left a message saying, "Please give me a call. Where are you at? We're all worried."
In another call, Sturgeon said, "All I need to say is if you actually get this and you are ... need to get away from anything for a while ... when you can, you can call me and I won't say anything about it to anybody."
He ended the call by saying, "I love you."
Zografos' children also left a message. Zografos testified today that he encouraged his children to do so. Zografos appeared to tear up as he heard himself leave a message telling his girlfriend, "I want to see you. I'll come pick you up."
The prosecutor showed the jury pictures of Nina Reiser in Lake Tahoe and near Big Sur during trips she took with Zografos in February 2006, a month after the two began dating. Many of those pictures were the same ones seen on missing-persons posters and on billboards throughout the East Bay and on television after she disappeared.
Court resumes at 10 a.m. tomorrow.
3:24 p.m.: Anthony Zografos, Nina Reiser's boyfriend, is back on the stand this afternoon on direct examination.
He described his unsuccessful search for her in the days after she disappeared in September 2006. He went to her home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood, where she lived with her children and Basil the cat.
"She loved her cat very much," Zografos said.
Prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors pictures of each room of her house as Zografos narrated. A framed picture of his girlfriend with her son as a baby hangs over her bedroom. Some of the rooms are adorned with pictures of butterflies or butterfly art.
Zografos said he and Nina Reiser looked at Craiglist personal ads on her computer as entertainment. He turned over that information to police, he said, and also told them that he had found $2,000 in cash in her house.
Nina Reiser sent him a text message on his phone on Aug. 8, 2006, less than a month before she disappeared. "Have a good trip, pirates! One beatiful (sic) cat and I are missing you a lot. Love you a lot. Love you."
"Without getting too personal," Hora said, what's the pirate thing that she called you?
"She called my entire family pirates because we like the ocean, and we tend to be a little rowdy," Zografos said.
At least twice, Zografos expanded on his answers without prompting by Hora, prompting defense attorney William Du Bois to object on the grounds of "narrative."
Zografos said he e-mailed Hans Reiser on Sept. 6, 2006, three days after she went missing. Zografos said he wrote that he didn't believe Nina Reiser would leave on her own and that the last time Zografos saw her, she was in good spirits.
Zografos said he never received a response from Hans Reiser, nor was there any response when Zografos e-mailed him and offered to set up a play date with the Reiser children and Zografos' children. Zografos said he assumed the Reiser children would be in shock because their mother was missing and that a play date would help matters.
Hora asked Zografos if he believed Hans Reiser had helped pass out any of the 5,000 "Missing Adult at Risk" flyers with Nina Reiser's picture. "I'm not aware," Zografos said.
Zografos also arranged for 18 billboards with his girlfriend's picture to be placed in Oakland, Hayward, Berkeley for free. Zografos said he participated in searches for Nina Reiser but didn't see Hans Reiser at any of them.
"Did you get any poison oak?" Hora asked. "No," Zografos replied. The reference to poison oak first came up when Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, was on the stand. Palmer testified yesterday that neither she nor her son searched for the missing mother in the Oakland hills because they felt unwelcome -- and that both were susceptible to nasty poison-oak reactions.
2:27 p.m.: Greg Dolge, the Alameda County prosecutor who handled Hans Reiser's preliminary hearing late last year, is in an adjoining courtroom, before Judge Philip Sarkisian, handling a Piedmont robbery case this afternoon. Dolge confirmed to me that he didn't call county Supervisor Gail Steele to the stand during the prelim because investigators didn't know that she had been communicating with Hans Reiser about the county's family court system until June of this year.
During the lunch break, a woman asked reporters in the hallway how she could get some flowers to Fil Cruz, Judge Larry Goodman's court clerk. The courtroom was closed at the time. Apparently, no sheriff's deputies were around because the same woman, flowers in hand, appeared in the doorway after jurors had settled into their seats for the afternoon session.
Defense attorney William Du Bois asked Goodman if he could take "judicial notice" that it's Cruz's birthday. Everyone laughed. Prosecutor Paul Hora jokingly asked the judge if they should sing "Happy Birthday" to Cruz, but Goodman smiled and said no. The flowers were presumably brought into Goodman's chambers out of the view of the jury.
12:38 p.m.: Nina Reiser had plans to take a job with San Francisco's public health department assisting Russian immigrants, and she was also preparing to take a medical licensing exam at the time she disappeared, her boyfriend, Anthony Zografos, testified this morning.
Reiser was a gynecologist in her native Russia, and she was seeking her license to practice in the United States.
Prosecutor Paul Hora said he forgot to ask Zografos about his job and educational background. Zografos said he's the director of a medical-equipment company and that he has a PhD in engineering and an MBA from UC Berkeley. He was again hard to understand with his Greek accent, and some jurors looked at each other quizzically as he spoke. "Even after all that school, you still have that accent?" Hora joked as laughter erupted.
"Maybe because of all that school," Zografos said. More laughter. Nina Reiser was studying for her medical exam at Berkeley Kaplan Center. Hora showed jurors a Kaplan log showing that she last attended a study session there on Aug. 31, 2006.
She told Zografos that she and her estranged husband, Hans Reiser, had disagreed over who had custody of their children during Labor Day weekend last year.
On Sept. 2, 2006, a day before Nina Reiser disappeared, she, Zografos and their children went to the beach in Alameda. Later that night, the six of them went to Pasta Pomodoro, he testified. After the meal, Reiser's daughter had what appeared to be paint on her face, and Zografos and Reiser realized that the girl had been busy eating crayons, which Zografos said he had found disturbing.
Defense attorney William Du Bois wasn't sure he had heard correctly. "Eating crayons? Oh," the defense attorney said.
As Zografos testified about the last few days he had with her, he began tearing up and drinking from a glass of water on the stand. Judge Larry Goodman handed Zografos some tissues.
Zografos said he last saw Nina Reiser on Sept. 3, 2006, when he dropped by her home in Oakland before he took his kids on an overnight camping trip at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County.
That day at 12:55 p.m., Zografos got a text message from her. A picture of that message was flashed onto a screen for jurors. It read, "We are at the BB finally and are having lunch. I'm sorry I missed your call, my love. It's great that you stopped to say goodby. Have a fun trip, pirates. Love you lots." BB refers to Berkeley Bowl, where Nina Reiser took her children shopping on the day she was last seen.
Outside court, Du Bois said he'd reserve comment on Zografos' testimony until cross-examination. "He's been very helpful to us today," Du Bois said without elaborating. "We'll see what else he has to say."
Asked about the video showing Nina Reiser as an attentive mother, Du Bois repeated a refrain he's used repeatedly in and out of court. "Well, looks can be deceiving," he said, adding he couldn't comment on the evidence nor what he believed would be coming because "that would be unethical."
"There's going to be some real interesting revelations about this testimony, and we'll wait with bated breath for that," Du Bois said. As Du Bois was speaking to reporters, Hora led Zografos out into the hallway from the judge's chambers. The two dashed down the stairs, but a camera crew caught up with them and shot some video.
Hora later returned to the courtroom because he forgot a bag. He was mum as he emerged, which has been his practice. We asked him about the import of the video, and he said he couldn't discuss it because it's a piece of evidence in the case and he doesn't discuss the evidence.
Lunchtime. Back at 2 p.m.
11:27 a.m.: Anthony Zografos, Nina Reiser's boyfriend at the time she disappeared in September 2006, is the first witness on the stand today in the Hans Reiser murder trial.
Zografos said he met Nina in 2005 after posting an online ad seeking play dates for his two children.
Prosecutor Paul Hora asked if he and Nina had taken any serious steps in their relationship by the time she went missing in September 2006.
"We had not discussed marriage, per se, no we had not," Zografos replied. "We had this discussion about possibly moving in together."
Asked to describe her mothering skills, Zografos said, "She was a very good mother. She was very caring and very devoted."
"Did she love her children?" Hora asked.
"Very much," Zografos said.
Hora asked him if he had ever heard her children saying negative things about her.
"Unfortunately, I did," said Zografos. Mostly the Reisers' son -- but also their daughter -- would call their mother "a liar, a thief that stole their dad's money," said Zografos.
At times, Zografos was difficult to understand because of his Greek accent, prompting defense attorney William Du Bois to ask court reporter Annie Mendiola to read back what Zografos had said. Mendiola also asked Zografos to repeat himself.
Hora noted to Zografos that while his voice is strong, it might be his accent that is making him hard to understand. Zografos smiled and agreed that he did have an accent. "I don't think there's anything we can do about it," Hora said with a smile.
Zografos said Nina Reiser was saddened by her children's remarks. He said he told her this was serious, that her son "needs help" and urged her to consult with a child psychologist because he believed this wasn't something she could handle on her own.
Zografos testified that he also urged Nina to call Hans Reiser and "tell him what (his son) had just said."
Zografos said he believed the Reisers' divorce affected their children.
"Would it be fair to say you loved Nina?" Hora asked.
"Yes," Zografos said.
The prosecutor, repeating a question he's asked many other witnesses in this trial, asked Zografos if he believed Nina Reiser "would be the kind of mother that would just voluntarily vanish and abandon her kids."
"Absolutey not," Zografos said. "Her kids were her life."
Hora then showed for jurors a 21-minute videotape taken by Zografos in September 2005 at the Reisers' son's 6th birthday party at Head Over Heels gym in Emeryville. Present were the Reisers' son and daughter, Zografos' children and their friends.
Jurors and Zografos smiled and laughed as they watched the kids romping around on mats, swinging on ropes, jumping into foam blocks and playing around on gymnastics equipment. At one point we see the Reiser's son doing the "crab walk." Later, we see the kids wearing party hats while eating cake. We also see a smiling Nina Reiser jumping around and tending to the kids.
Courtroom observers smiled as they heard '80s songs being played at the party, including Debarge's "Rhythm of the Night," Pat Benatar's "Love is a Battlefield," Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody."
At one point on the video, Zografos zooms in on the Reisers' son and asks him how old he is.
"Six," he says.
"Are you sure?" Zografos asked.
"Yeah," he said.
"Show me six," Zografos challenged.
The boy apparently holds up seven fingers, and Zografos calls him out on it.
"I'm six," the boy insists.
"OK, if you insist," Zografos says.
The kids sing "Happy Birthday" to the boy. Nina Reiser is again shown smiling on the video.
"From what we saw there, was that typical Nina?" Hora asked Zografos.
"Yes," he said.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 05 2007 at 11:28 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 6, 2007
6:47 p.m.: Dr. Dorit Bar-Din, who had been the Reiser children's pediatrician, was the only witness this afternoon. She testified that she wrote Nina Reiser a letter in 2005 saying that she could no longer be the children's doctor. Hans Reiser had written her an angry letter saying he didn't want his kids to be treated by her without his permission. He also threatened to sue the Berkeley doctor, who has received high marks on the Berkeley Parent Network, an online forum for parents.
One parent wrote of Dr. Bar-Din in January 2000, "Our primary pediatrician is Dorit Bar-Din who has been wonderful, always willing to take the time to explain in as much detail as we wanted, and she has such a wonderful rapport with kids. I have never felt slighted for asking questions."
Dr. Bar-Din graduated in 1982 from the George Washington University School of Medicine, according to records with the Medical Board of California.
The trial is dark on Fridays, so testimony resumes Monday morning.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 06 2007 at 11:16 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 10, 2007
5:08 p.m.: Monica MacDonald, a teacher at Grand Lake Montessori school in Oakland, was the last witness on the stand today. Both the Reiser children attended the private school in Oakland's Adams Point neighborhood.
In 2004, the couple's then 5-year-old son was undergoing counseling for having "bad dreams," so teachers there "kept a closer eye" on him, MacDonald testified under direct examination by prosecutor Paul Hora.
The boy brought candy to school early on, which was in violation of Grand Lake's strict no-sugar policy, MacDonald said. The issue was brought to Nina Reiser's attention, and she took care of it, MacDonald said.
Teachers also had concerns that the boy wasn't gripping his pencil properly, she said.
But there was even more concern when the boy drew pictures with "a lot of guns and a lot of dead people and violence," MacDonald said. Asked about the pictures, the boy told teachers that this was what he saw while playing video games at the father's house, MacDonald said. Teachers brought up this issue with Nina Reiser and gave her the pictures, in accordance with school policy, MacDonald said.
On several occasions, the boy, when he was 6, made outbursts at school, telling MacDonald to "shut up" and that "I don't need to listen to you, you're a woman and women shouldn't have their rights in this country," according to MacDonald. "They were odd remarks for a 6-year-old."
Nina Reiser was a kind and generous parent who opted in June 2006 to take her children to public school because "she was no longer able to afford our tuition," MacDonald said.
When Hans Reiser picked up his children, he often made accusations against his wife, saying things like, "Did you know Nina is a liar?" or "Would you think Nina is a thief," or "Did you know that Nina had Munchausen...something," MacDonald said, referring to the defendant's belief that his estranged wife had Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, in which parents exaggerate or make up medical problems for their children to get attention or sympathy for themselves.
She agreed that Nina Reiser wasn't the kind of mother who would voluntarily vanish and abandon her children.
On cross-examination, MacDonald told defense attorney William Du Bois that she didn't have the expertise to determine whether the Reisers' son had been experiencing post-traumatic stress at the time he drew those pictures depicting violence.
Du Bois persisted in his questioning about MacDonald's lay opinion, prompting Hora to say, "Sounds like she wouldn't know."
"Sustained," said Judge Larry Goodman.
MacDonald told Du Bois that the boy was angry, violent and hurtful around the time he was dropped off or picked up by his father. She acknowledged to the defense attorney that she had known Hans Reiser for a number of months, compared to a number of years with respect to Nina Reiser.
Du Bois asked her to clarify what she observed of the boy in 2004, when she first got to know him, and in 2006, when Hans Reiser began to pick him up more and more. He interrupted her a number of times, prompting both the DA and the judge to say, "Let her finish her answer."
The boy would have "outbursts against children, where he would come in and he would be angry, violent or rude or just not himself," she said.
Du Bois again interrupted her as she continued speaking.
"May I answer your question?" said MacDonald.
"Let her finish your answer, Bill," the judge told Du Bois.
"Oh, I'm sorry -- I didn't know it was still going on," the defense attorney said.
MacDonald said after the boy's episodes of bad dreams in 2004, everything became more or less normal until 2006, when teachers noticed the boy's problems resurfacing. "We noticed (the boy) coming with bad language, bad acts toward teachers, bad attitudes about women and violent pictures, with the blood and the guns and the people," MacDonald said.
She confirmed that she told the boy that he couldn't tell her to "shut up." Instead, he would have to be quiet and speak to her when he was ready to speak to her in a polite way.
3:20 p.m.: Nina Reiser's landlord, Anthony Britto, took the stand this afternoon.
Britto owns the house on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood where Reiser lived.
Britto works in risk management at Wells Fargo Bank. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked if he should have gone into banking instead of the law. "Judging by your suit, you seem to be doing fine," Britto told the prosecutor as jurors and others erupted into laughter.] Hora laughed but didn't quite catch what Britto had said. Judge Larry Goodman told the DA that Britto had commented on his suit. The prosecutor motioned to his threads with a big smile and remarked that he doesn't get embarrassed quite easily -- and this might be one of those times.
Hora showed Britto a copy of a Patelco check that Nina Reiser wrote on Aug. 31, 2006 for $2,100. It was her rent payment for September 2006; Britto never received. Cops found the check inside an envelope with Britto's name on it in her abandoned Honda Odyssey off Highway 13. Inside that vehicle were Berkeley Bowl grocery bags, its contents askew as if someone had been driving wildly, the DA has told jurors. Britto said he regained possession of the home, which he once lived in, in November 2006.
"It was in very good condition," he said.
Hora asked Britto if he would have returned her $2,000 deposit had she provided him with proper notice and moved out, and Britto said yes.
Britto also confirmed that he would have used that last month's rent for her last month of tenancy had she given him 30 days' notice in late July or early August.
"By her vanishing, she essentially gave up $4,100?" Hora asked.
"Correct," Britto said.
On cross-examination, defense attorney William Du Bois joked that he's been meaning to talk to someone at Wells Fargo about rates on his charge card. Britto said that's not his purview but that "I work closely with those folks."
Britto said based on his discussions with Nina Reiser's boyfriend Anthony Zografos and her best friend, Ellen Doren, he got the impression that they didn't know where Nina Reiser but that they left open the possibility that she could come back.
Britto told Du Bois that Nina Reiser never paid him in cash but that rent for one month came from ex-paramour Sean Sturgeon's account at one point. Britto also said that he believed Zografos wrote a check on her behalf when she was in Russia.
3:09 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Mark McGothigan, the artist friend of Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer.
"Did Hans have a history of damaging Beverly's car?" Du Bois asked.
"Unfortunately, yes," McGothigan said. "He put several dings in the CRX over the couse of the years, and he also put a dent in the hybrid," referring to Palmer's other car, a Honda Civic.
Reiser hired some guys from the street to cover up the dents with putty, McGothigan said, adding that solution "wasn't very good." Palmer was also upset that the Reiser children left crumbs when they ate in her car, McGothigan said.
Du Bois asked McGothigan if Reiser cares for his children very much. "I would say so," McGothigan said.
The defense attorney asked if McGothigan, whose technical expertise is in computers, ever "talked computers" with Reiser, and McGothigan said yes.
"How would you characterize his knowledge of computers?" Du Bois asked.
"He was very knowledgeable," McGothigan said. "Extremely knowledgeable. He was expert level."
Asked if he could characterize the defendant's social skills, McGothigan said simply, "Inept."
"Would it be accurate to say that Hans Reiser was devoid of social skills?" Du Bois asked.
"Not entirely," McGothigan replied. "He just wasn't very good at it."
At that point, McGothigan sneaked a couple glances at Reiser, who was busy scribbling notes and didn't return eye contact.
"Do you know Hans to be a calm and gentle person?" Du Bois asked.
"Sometimes he can be that way," McGothigan said.
"Is he that way often?" Du Bois pressed.
"Um, sometimes," McGothigan answered.
"And would you characterize Hans as calmer and steadier than Nina?" the defense attorney asked.
"Mmmm, that's hard to say," McGothigan said. "Nina was not a calm person generally. She was very energetic."
Asked to provide an example, McGothigan said, "She would tackle projects, and she would do things and she viewed everything as doable."
Du Bois asked if Hans Reiser was the other way, a slug.
"No, he wasn't a slug," McGothigan said.
"But?" Du Bois asked.
"He was one-dimensional," McGothigan said.
"By that you mean?" Du Bois prompted.
"He was very into his work," McGothigan said.
"By that you mean his computers?" Du Bois queried.
"Yes," the witness replied.
"And in that area he might have been a real energetic person," Du Bois said.
"Yes," McGothigan said.
"In other words, a slob?" Du Bois asked.
"A slob yes, a slug no," McGothigan said.
As Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Bruce Brock searched for the next witness, we got an answer as to whether court will be in session on Thursday, Dec. 20. "The jury has voted," Judge Larry Goodman told the attorneys, and the answer is no.
12:37 p.m.: Also on the stand this morning was Mark McGothigan, an Oakland artist and technical writer who frequently works with fellow artist Beverly Palmer, Hans Reiser's mother.
McGothigan said he and Palmer, whom he called his best friend, have attended the Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. The two returned from the festival about 2 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, two days after Nina Reiser disappeared.
It wasn't until dark that Hans Reiser came over to McGothigan's house near Mills College in Oakland to pick up his mom, McGothigan testified. Reiser spent about an hour at McGothigan's home after arriving in his mother's Honda Civic.
"He was a little tired, but that's not unusual," McGothigan said. "He was very tired. He's a computer guy. He works, he has funny hours in Russia. I've seen him that way many times."
McGothigan, who said he himself was on the "brink of exhaustion" that day after returning from Burning Man, said Reiser was lying on his couch but didn't fall asleep.
Reiser did not mention that his estranged wife was missing, nor did he talk about using his mother's Honda CRX, McGothigan testified. But he said he remembered discussions about how the CRX was apparently "out of commission," possibly with "an electrical problem of some sort."
Palmer did express concern about her missing CRX, McGothigan confirmed today. Eventually Palmer found her Civic in San Leandro, he said.
McGothigan testified that Reiser was arrested Oct. 10, 2006, at McGothigan's home on Simson Street in Oakland.
Defense attorney William Du Bois will cross-examine McGothigan after lunch.
11:20 a.m.: Some housekeeping: Before we began this morning, Judge Larry Goodman told jurors that we will end at 3:30 p.m. this Wednesday, a half an hour early. Next Wednesday, Dec. 19, court will be dark because the judge has other matters to attend to. The day after that, Thursday, Dec. 20, it will be up to the jury to decide whether they want to be in session. The lawyers are ambivalent, Goodman told the panel. After that date, we won't be back in session until January.
The judge also told jurors that he wasn't sure they'd be finished by Jan. 17, the target date they'd originally been given when the case began. Everyone laughed, as that didn't seem to be any surprise.
The first witness on the stand today was Clare Conry-Murray, a former Oakland resident who moved to Rochester, N.Y., in summer 2006 with her husband and their two sons, now 2 and 6.
Prosecutor Paul Hora had Conry-Murray confirm that the DA's office paid for her and her family to fly to the Bay Area yesterday to testify.
Conry-Murray said she's a visiting professor at the University of Rochester who teaches developmental psychology courses to undergraduates.
Her older son went to Grand Lake Montessori, where the Reiser children attended, she said. She gave a small wave to the defendant when Hora asked if she recognized Hans Reiser in court.
During a class party in April 2006, five months before Nina Reiser disappeared, Hans Reiser remarked to her that "his family and Nina Reiser were a financial burden to him" and that he'd be better off financially if "he didn't have to take care of them," she testified. "He was complaining about Nina."
Nina Reiser wasn't present at the party, which was held at the Oakland home of a parent from the school, she said.
"I thought it was a very strange thing to say," Conry-Murray said. "It really stood out, because it just seemed so inappropriate. Normal things that parents would complain about aren't on that level."
In November 2006, Conry-Murray said she was reading sfgate.com when she saw a picture of Nina Reiser and realized that she was missing. The Gate story had an e-mail address to send tips, so she sent police an e-mail about Hans Reiser's comment to her at the party, she said. "The statement stood out enough for me because it seemed like it could be important," she said.
Asked by the prosecutor to describe Nina Reiser, Conry-Murray said she was the most patient mom. "She was very, very gentle, very soft-spoken. She was just really, really great with her kids, always trying to find educational, fun things for them to do. She was a great parent."
On cross-examination, she acknowledged that she hadn't had any conversations with Reiser before or after his remark at the party. Defense attorney William Du Bois suggested that she may not know "what (Reiser) really meant," and she agreed.
Conry-Murray's husband, Andrew Conry-Murray, then took the stand. He works for a company that publishes computer magazines.
He testified that he, too, was at the April 2006 party and heard Hans Reiser say that "having a wife and children were making things hard on him in terms of his life and business."
"Why were you shocked?" Hora asked.
"His tone was kind of vehement. I just felt like it was just not the kind of thing you would expect to hear at an occasion like this, a casual social occasion."
He said he hadn't pursued the topic with Reiser.
On cross, Du Bois asked if Reiser's comment was "consistent with someone who lacks social skills," and Conry-Murray replied, "I suppose so, yes."
The defense attorney asked if it was true that "all parents suffer a little in order to raise children." Again he agreed.
"All parents give up some of their income to pay for the nurturing and upbringing of their children, wouldn't you say?" Du Bois asked.
"I would," Conry-Murray said.
"And all parents -- or at least a lot of parents -- even though they're miserable, they're in a way happily miserable while they're bringing up their kids, isn't that true?" Du Bois asked.
"I wouldn't say 'miserable,' " the witness replied.
Du Bois asked him whether he might have slept better in recent years if he didn't have children.
"That's true," Conry-Murray said.
Then why wouldn't he say at a party that he hadn't had enough sleep and was short on money and that he'd be better off with more of both?
"I suppose I could, but in a social situation, usually that's leavened by humor or some sort of commiseration by the parents," Conry-Murray said. "Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, there's sort of an underyling humor that accompanies it." He again noted that "there was the vehemence with which he delivered those statements."
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 10 2007 at 11:18 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 11, 2007
12:12 p.m.: Deserae McClindon, another teacher at Grand Lake Montessori school in Oakland, was the last witness on the stand today. McClindon taught the Reisers' son from 2003 to 2006.
"He was a good student," McClindon said. "He had a few challenges, like all children did. But all in all, he was a hard worker."
She said she was concerned about nightmares the boy said he was having and pictures he drew. "They were very odd drawings, violent," she said. "Black-red drawings, the colors that he chose."
Nina Reiser was given the drawings, McClindon said. "She said that he was receiving counseling and she had shown the drawings to the counselor," the teacher testified.
The boy talked about dreams of wars, McClindon. "We talked to his mom, had a sit-down conference," she said.
Reiser cried after hearing about the dreams, McClindon said. "She was loving. He loved her," McClindon told prosecutor Paul Hora.
She was someone who could be counted on and went beyond simply being a parent by actively helping in class, McClindon said.
Hans Reiser told McClindon that he disagreed with assessments by teachers and Nina Reiser that their son had problems with his pencil grip. He came to class one day and had his son write for 45 minutes, she said.
The boy "had a desire to please dad" and wrote the whole time, said McClindon, who was busy helping other children. The teacher later told Hans Reiser that it was inappropriate for him to have had his son write for that long.
McClindon said she was sad to learn that Nina Reiser disappeared. The teacher said Nina Reiser wouldn't be the type of person to abandon her children, "because she cared so much about their well-being."
On cross-examination, defense attorney William Du Bois asked if the school "took a dim view of Mr. Reiser just showing up and trying to control" his son in class.
"Typically, when a parent comes into the class, they're an observer," McClindon said.
"They're not an active participant?" the defense attorney asked.
"Yes," McClindon said.
"They don't control what happens?" Du Bois asked.
"Yes," she said. "He chose that activity."
"And the school didn't like that?" Du Bois asked.
"Well, it's something that we ask parents not to do," she said. And with that, at noon, jurors were sent home for the day by Judge Larry Goodman.
We asked the DA why we were ending so early. Hora responded that the next witness, whom he didn't name, would have been fairly short and it wouldn't have made sense to ask the jury to come back for just a half-hour after lunch.
Court is dark until 10 a.m. tomorrow. Ellen Doren, Nina Reiser's best friend, will be among tomorrow's witnesses.
11:23 a.m.: The first witness on the stand today is Darya Druch, an Oakland bankruptcy attorney. In August 2006, Druch was contacted by Nina Reiser. Druch was referred to Reiser by her divorce attorney, Shelley Gordon.
"She wanted to discuss the possibility of filing for bankruptcy," Druch said of Nina Reiser, who was a candidate for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the ability to wipe out unsecured debt such as credit card bills.
Druch said she met with Nina Reiser. The attorney asked her to bring her last filed tax return, her paychecks for the last six months, a list of her bills and bank-account information.
"Did you get the impression that she was serious about the process?" asked prosecutor Paul Hora.
"Yes, she was determined to get it over with quickly," Druch said.
Hora asked if Nina Reiser ever discussed her personal situation. Druch didn't respond directly but said that she had told Nina Reiser that it would be best if she and her husband, Hans Reiser, filed for bankruptcy together because they shared a number of accounts and they would save on costs. Nina Reiser told her, however, that that would not be an option because she likely wouldn't be able to work it out with her husband, from whom she was getting divorced.
Nina Reiser told the attorney that she was "very proud" of her kids. She said she was getting a new job by the end of September 2006, so the two agreed that it would be prudent to get the bankruptcy petition filed quickly, Druch said. Any income earned beginning the day after a bankruptcy filing wouldn't be affected, the attorney said. "She wanted a fresh start," the attorney said.
Nina Reiser owed nearly $83,000 on her credit cards, of which $75,000 was joint debt with Hans Reiser and the remaining $8,000 was personal debt, Druch testified.
Nina Reiser listed $62,740 in assets, including a $7,000 bank account, a $3,500 account with her landlord, $40 in cash on her person, artwork, $1,000 in jewelry and her 2001 Honda Odyssey with a blue-book value of $16,000, Druch said.
Nina Reiser also reported that she had an interest in her husband's software company, Namesys, "but she didn't think there would be anything there for her," Druch testified. Nina Reiser also said she was owed $15,000 in child support, which is considered a claim, the attorney said.
Nina Reiser disappeared Sept. 3, 2006. She was to have met with Druch 17 days later to discuss the filing of the bankruptcy petition, but that never happened, Druch said. Nina Reiser never phoned or called her, she said.
On cross-examination, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Druch what would happen if a trustee found that Namesys was worth half a million dollars.
Druch said the trustee would sell that interest to whomever wanted to buy it. Nina Reiser had 50 percent interest in Namesys, Druch said. Du Bois asked Druch how it was possible that Nina Reiser had saved $7,000 in a bank account.
"She told me she was getting gifts," the attorney said. "She had some income from gifts, because her monthly expenses exceeded her income." But it appeared that Nina Reiser had a "net operating loss" each month of $916, Du Bois said.
That could be from gifts, or there may also have been "other jobs that she didn't get paychecks for," Druch said.
Nina Reiser did not list any debts to her boyfriend Anthony Zografos or former paramour Sean Sturgeon, Druch testified. The gifts came from an undisclosed friend, the attorney said. Zografos has testified that Nina Reiser borrowed money from Sturgeon in May or June 2006, even after Zografos began dating her in January 2006.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 11 2007 at 11:20 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 12, 2007
4:30 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois has finished his cross-examination of Ellen Doren, Nina Reiser's best friend, without any more fireworks.
Court recessed at 3:30 p.m., a half-hour early, to allow attorneys in a separate case to meet with Judge Larry Goodman -- proof that the wheels of justice continue to move, however slowly, in other matters at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse near Oakland's Lake Merritt. As the afternoon session in the Reiser trial drew to a close, Deputy District Attorney John Brouhard and defense attorney James Giller sat in the gallery, waiting for the proceedings to end before meeting with Goodman to certify the record in the already-concluded rape and murder trial of Alex Demolle.
This Friday, when the Reiser trial is dark, Goodman is expected to formally sentence Demolle, 32, to death for killing 11-year-old Jaquita Mack in 1999 after he lured her inside his Oakland apartment with the promise that she could play video games.
Also in the Reiser gallery today was prosecutor Colleen McMahon, who won a first-degree murder conviction last month against Alfonza Phillips III, 22, for killing Antar Bey, 23, the then-head of Oakland's Your Black Muslim Bakery, in a failed 2005 carjacking in North Oakland. Phillips will also be sentenced Friday, albeit by a different jurist -- Judge Jon Rolefson -- two floors above the Reiser trial.
Phillips' defense attorney, Leonard Ulfelder, also watched the Reiser trial during breaks in the bakery case and while awaiting a verdict. Lorna Brown, the defense attorney for current bakery leader Yusuf Bey IV also made an appearance early on as a would-be spectator in the Reiser trial. She tried to sit in the front row -- which is OK for officers of the court including attorneys, but not for the public -- but then immediately left in apparent frustration after a deputy told her something.
Brown is defending Bey against charges of vandalism and civil-rights violations for allegedly trashing two Oakland liquor stores in 2005 whose employees sold liquor to Muslims. Another attorney is defending Bey, 21, in an alleged real-estate scam and charges of torture and kidnapping for allegedly accosting a woman in Oakland in May of this year.
There's yet another link between the bakery and the Reiser case. DA's Inspector Bruce Brock investigated Hans Reiser and searched his home when Brock was still a homicide sergeant with the Oakland Police Department. Brock left OPD for he DA's office and is currently shepherding witnesses in the Reiser trial and serving as prosecutor Paul Hora's right-hand man.
Brock was also on the scene Aug. 2 after Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey was allegedly killed by shotgun-wielding bakery handyman Devaughndre Broussard, 20, at 14th and Alice streets in downtown Oakland, just blocks from the courthouse.
3:41 p.m.: Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Ellen Doren, Nina Reiser's best friend.
Du Bois pressed Doren about her knowledge of Sean Sturgeon, with whom Nina Reiser had an extramarital affair beginning in 2001. Sturgeon had been Hans Reiser's best friend and had dressed in drag as the "maid of honor" at the Reisers' 1999 wedding.
Doren said she didn't know much about Sturgeon at first because she and Nina Reiser "really hadn't shared any personal infomation the first year or so" that they were friends.
Du Bois asked if Nina Reiser had expressed concerns that her husband was in Russia all the time on business. Doren said she had seen an e-mail written by Hans Reiser to Sturgeon saying that Nina Reiser wouldn't be the only woman in Hans Reiser's life, that "he will have other women in his life besides Nina and he needs to have more children."
That marked an acknowledgement by Hans Reiser of the end of his marriage and the affair between Sturgeon and Nina Reiser, Doren testified. She acknowledged to Du Bois that she no knowledge of other women being in the defendant's life.
"Did Nina ever tell you that she looked on the Net for men to have sexual relationships with?" Du Bois asked.
"No," Doren said.
Du Bois then turned to Doren's perception of her friend's boyfriend, Anthony Zografos. (Earlier in the week, prosecutor Paul Hora had asked Zografos why Doren had called his behavior "odd." Zografos said he didn't know).
Du Bois seized on Doren's testimony that Zografos could be a jealous boyfriend.
Du Bois tried to ask a number of questions with respect Zografos' jealousy, but Hora successfully objected.
The defense attorney sought to question Doren's credibilty by suggesting that what she said to police about Zografos differed from what she was saying now.
Hora again objected, and Judge Larry Goodman told the defense attorney that if he wanted to prove "inconsistent statements," he would have to do it properly by telling Doren what he was referring to as far as dates of her statements and so forth. "You just can't pull it out of thin air," the judge said.
"Of course not -- and I wouldn't do that," Du Bois replied.
But Du Bois ran into more roadblocks with another query, prompting Hora to complain that the line of questioning was irrelevant.
Doren herself asked Du Bois if he was asking about Zografos' perception that Nina Reiser was seeing other men or if it was true that Nina Reiser was seeing other men. Those are two distinct questions, Doren told Du Bois.
The defense attorney asked Doren if Zografos would follow Nina Reiser. She replied yes, that was his personality.
Du Bois asked some more questions about Zografos, and Hora twice objected on the grounds of speculation. The judge twice sustained the objection.
Du Bois then asked Doren if she had told police that Zografos was able to "uncode" Nina Reiser's passwords to access her e-mail. Doren said yes.
Doren confirmed that this upset her friend, who told her not to write but to call her because she didn't want Zografos to read her e-mail. Doren also confirmed that Nina Reiser got a new e-mail account, which upset Zografos.
"Because he didn't have the password, right?" Du Bois asked.
Hora again objected on the grounds of speculation. The judge sustained the objection.
Du Bois pressed Doren on whether Zografos proactively got into Nina Reiser's e-mail without his girlfriend's permission, and that drew more objections by the DA.
The judge told Du Bois that he never grilled Zografos, when he was on the stand, as to whether he "hacked in," and so Du Bois couldn't ask Doren about that now.
"I think we did," Du Bois said. Hora disagreed. Hans Reiser tried to get his attorney's attention, without success.
Du Bois struck a deal with the judge -- subject to a motion to strike, how about if the defense continues to press this point, assuming that the record will show that Du Bois had asked Zografos about how he accessed Nina Reiser's e-mail and whether she had explicitly given him permission. (Zografos testified that she gave him access when she went to Russia at one point).
The judge mulled it over and then agreed, so long as Du Bois was "making a good-faith offer."
"If it isn't, then I'll get into trouble," Du Bois promised.
"You will, substantially," the judge said.
But Du Bois continued to be thwarted in his efforts to question Doren about various issues, such as what she knew about Zografos' wife's feelings.
Asked for an explanation by the judge, Du Bois said, "It's part of a larger puzzle."
"No, it's not relevant," the judge countered.
"I'm just trying to put the two together, judge," Du Bois said of his intent to explain disparate accounts.
The judge later rebuked the defense attorney for editorializing at one point. "We don't need you to comment on the evidence, thank you," Goodman said.
Du Bois then turned to Doren's knowledge about what the Reisers' son had told investigators about the day his mother disappeared. Du Bois asked if she had asked the boy about a statement he had made saying his mother hugged him and left his father's home that day. Doren said no.
Asked why she didn't press the boy on a number of details, Doren said she was scared about the situation and wanted to wait for the police. The defense attorney continued to try to grill Doren about the boy's statements, and the DA objected. But it didn't matter. The judge grew furious.
"Mr. Du Bois, if you comment on the evidence that's not before the jury one more time, I'm going to find you in contempt, and that's the end of it," Goodman thundered in front of the jury. Du Bois tried to interrupt and referring to something that the boy said.
"I DON'T CARE what (the boy) testified to at this point," the judge continued, glaring at the defense attorrney. "I know what you're doing, and you know what you're doing, and I don't appreciate it." Du Bois again opened his mouth in a futile attempt to explain. "Mr. Du Bois, I'm warning you for one more time, and it's going to cost you money. The objection is sustained."
Du Bois tried once again.
"In chambers!" Goodman ordered the attorneys. The three disappeared for several minutes.
A chastened Du Bois and Hora then returned.
"Next question," Goodman said simply.
Du Bois resumed his cross.
12:11 p.m.: The Reisers' children were placed with Alameda County Child Protective Services after their mother disappeared, Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, testified this morning.
During a visit with the children in September 2006 while they were in protective care, Doren said she and Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, brought them some toys, and they played with them as if they had never seen a toy in their life, Doren said, bursting into tears for a second time today.
Her friend's possessions were eventually sold, and Doren became the Reiser children's foster parent, not legal guardian, Doren testified. By December 2006, the children left Oakland to live with Sharanova in St. Petersburg, Russia, she said.
Doren said she saw the children in July 2007 in Russia. Prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors pictures of the Reiser children with Doren's two children.
While all of them visited a tourist attraction in Russia, the Reisers' son noticed some American tourists nearby speaking English and went over to them, saying, "Hi, I also speak English," Doren testified.
The little boy then asked them, "Have you seen our mom? Are people still looking for my mom?" according to Doren.
The befuddled tourists didn't know what the boy was talking about, said Doren, who said she picked him up, didn't really provide an explanation to the tourists and instead just said sorry.
Doren said Nina Reiser was not the kind of mother who would abandon her kids.
Defense attorney William Du Bois will cross-examine Doren after lunch.
11:56 a.m.: Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, is on the stand today.
Doren and her husband have two children, ages 5 and 7, and live in Oakland. Doren said she cooks for a living as a personal chef through her business, Chez Ellen.
Doren, a native of Russia, began crying when prosecutor Paul Hora showed her a picture and asked her to confirm that she met Nina Reiser in September 2003.
"There's some tissues next to you," Hora said, and Doren began dabbing at her eyes.
Nina Reiser was a caring mother who "made every child feel welcome in her home," Doren said. "I trusted her 100 percent with our children."
Reiser, a trained OB/GYN in her native Russia, was trying to get certified to be able to practice in the U.S. and also hoped to become part of Doctors Without Borders, an international medical humanitarian organization.
Asked to describe any negative attributes of Reiser's boyfriend, Anthony Zografos, Doren acknowledged that Reiser described him as as jealous, "but it didn't seem like it concerned her that much. She would sort of laugh about it and say that he loved her too much and that was his way of showing it."
Doren said Zografos tended to call Reiser "quite often," making sure he knew where she was and when she'd be home. Zografos also was able to check Reiser's e-mail, and he told her about that, Doren said.
Doren said her friend wasn't dating other men at the time she was seeing Zografos; she said Reiser would have told her if she were.
Zografos is a wonderful father who dotes on his children and went to their soccer games, Doren said, when Hora asked her to describe his positive aspects. Reiser and Zografos enjoyed cooking together and making soap to give as gifts, Doren said.
Turning to Hans Reiser, Doren testified that her friend confided that the couple had "really different views" about raising children and that Hans Reiser exposed their children to violent video games.
Two weeks before she disappeared in September 2006, Nina Reiser also said that she was considering filing for bankruptcy because she was in debt after using her credit cards to pay for her children's tuition at Grand Lake Montessori, a private school in Oakland. Hans Reiser wasn't making payments for the school like he promised, Doren said her friend told her.
Nina Reiser reluctantly accepted money from her mother, Irina Sharanova, on a couple of occasions, Doren said. "She was a little embarrassed to take money from her, but she had no choice," Doren testified.
Doren said her friend didn't tell her if she had borrowed money from Zografos. Asked whether former paramour Sean Sturgeon had loaned Nina Reiser money, Doren said she believed Sturgeon helped her friend with phone payments and was a co-signer on Nina Reiser's house.
Nina Reiser complained that her husband was getting "more and more difficult" and that she "couldn't get Hans to agree on anything" during their divorce battle, Doren said.
The two once fought over a date for a dental appointment for their son, Doren said.
Doren met Nina Reiser for coffee on Sept. 1, 2006, two days before Reiser disappeared. Her friend was "very happy," Doren said. "She was the happiest I had seen her," because the day before she learned that she had gotten a job with San Francisco's Department of Public Health, Doren said. Reiser was particularly excited because the job was in the medical field, Doren said.
Hans and Nina Reiser bickered over who had custody of their two children during Labor Day weekend, and the two ultimately decided to split custody. Nina Reiser told Doren that she planned to take her son and daughter to Hans Reiser's Oakland hills home at 2 p.m. Sept. 3 and then go shopping at Berkeley Bowl before meeting Doren for dinner at 6 p.m. that evening.(Police and the DA now believe that Nina Reiser eventually decided to go to Berkeley Bowl first with her children before dropping them off, based on surveillance-camera footage at the store and other evidence).
Nina Reiser never showed up at Doren's home at 6 p.m., Doren said. Doren said she called her friend's cell phone at 6:30 p.m. and left a message. "Nina has never been late before," Doren testified. "She was a very punctual person, and I was very surprised that she never called me to say that she was going to be late."
Doren said she kept waiting and calling. At 9 p.m., she left another message on Nina Reiser's phone. This time, it didn't ring and ring and instead went straight to voice mail, Doren said. (The DA has told jurors that by then Hans Reiser had removed the battery from his wife's cell phone).
Monday, Sept. 4, was a holiday. On Sept. 5, Doren said she picked up the Reisers' children at Joaquin Miller Elementary School, which they attended after leaving Grand Lake Montessori. Doren said she didn't see Hans Reiser that day. She later called him to say that his children were with her and asked if he knew where his wife was, noting that Nina Reiser was apparently last seen at his home.
"He said, 'I need to talk to my lawyer,' " Doren said.
"That's it?" asked Hora.
"That's it," Doren replied.
"Didn't ask how the kids were?" the DA asked.
"No," she said.
Doren said she helped search for her friend in local parks. Hans Reiser never participated, she said.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 12 2007 at 11:57 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 13, 2007
3:56 p.m.: Six days after she disappeared, Nina Reiser's gold 2001 Honda Odyssey was reported to police on Fernwood Drive in Oakland's Montclair district, with groceries "jumbled" in the back, Chris Bunn, who lives on the street and called the police about the minivan, testified this afternoon.
The groceries were "jumbled on the floor, not bagged," Bunn said. "They were just kind of scattered throughout the space in the back."
Bunn said he noticed a melon in the vehicle. A neighbor of his saw a tub of sour cream. Those groceries were from Berkeley Bowl, where Nina Reiser had gone shopping with her children the day she disappeared, according to the prosecution.
Bunn said he and other neighbors had noticed that the minivan had been parked near a retaining wall on Fernwood Drive for several days. "That's not entirely unprecedented, but it's not a great idea to leave a car there overnight," Bunn testified. "There have been, from time to time over the past several years, some cars vandalized up there, so it was unusual to see a car there day after day."
Fernwood Drive is just a stone's throw from Highway 13, Bunn confirmed as prosecutor Paul Hora projected a Google Earth map of the area on a screen for the jury.
According to the prosecution, on Sept. 19, 2006, Oakland police secretly tailed Hans Reiser to Monterey Boulevard and, after he ran up a steep road at full speed, seized his mother's Honda CRX that he had been using. That's when police discovered that the car was missing its front passenger seat and that the floorboard was soaked, according to the DA.
Monterey Boulevard is also a stone's throw from Highway 13.
According to prosecutors, Reiser parked both vehicles in areas in which he could have easily gotten a ride, or walked -- or run at full speed -- back to his home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills.
On cross-examination, Bunn acknowledged that he didn't call Oakland police until Sept. 9, 2006, even though the minivan had been parked on his street for several days.
Defense attorney William Du Bois then posed a curious question. Was Bunn familiar with nearby Capricorn Avenue?
Bunn said he wasn't. Du Bois then asked if Bunn was familiar with all those "astrological streets" off Broadway Terrace. Not really, Bunn replied.
It could have been an innocent, throw-away question. Or maybe not: Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, lives on Capricorn. But Du Bois didn't mention that in court. It's not clear if the jury made the connection.
Judge Larry Goodman, who repeatedly rebuked Du Bois yesterday afternoon as the defense lawyer vigorously cross-examined Doren, may have caught it, because the jurist put his head in his hand and stared directly at the defense attorney, as if waiting to see whether Du Bois would go any further with the whole Capricorn thing. He didn't.
We are dark until Monday at 10 a.m.
3:21 p.m.: Mary Jo Williams, associate executive director of Bay Area Community Resources, was the first witness this afternoon. The mission of the nonprofit organization, which has an annual budget of $20 million, is to promote healthy development in youth and families, Williams said.
The group collaborated with the San Francisco Department of Public Health last year to find a candidate who would fill a vacant position to help Russian-speaking immigrants as part of a project called "Let's Be Healthy," she said. They advertised online on Craiglist, among other places, Williams said.
Nina Reiser saw the Craigslist ad and applied for the position of project director, who would be responsible for devising "healthy lifestyle activities" for the immigrants, such as putting together walking groups and cooking classes as well as developing a media campaign encouraging immigrants to change their diet or lifestyle, Williams said.
Williams said she and a public-health department project manager interviewed Nina Reiser on Aug. 10, 2006. Reiser was among four people interviewed from a group of 10 whose resumes were reviewed. "I thought she was well-qualified," Williams said. "I thought she was someone who would fit in well with our organization. She was very energetic and enthusiastic and had some great ideas about how she might go about implementing some of the projects to reach this population."
During the interview at the Ocean Park Health Center in San Francisco, Reiser talked about being an OB/GYN in Russia and discussed her plans to take the necessary exams to become a licensed physician in the Unites States. Reiser also said that she had children and that she was "either separated or divorced or going through a divorce," Williams testified.
During a second interview on Aug. 29 at the Chinatown Health Center in San Francisco, staffers got to meet Reiser as well. "The staff felt that she would fit in really well with them, that they would get along very well with her, that she would have some great ideas for reaching Nina's population. She was competent, smart and very likable," Williams said.
Two days later, on Aug. 31, they offered her the job. "She was just a good fit," Williams said. "She was extremely qualified, and I felt that her values were consistent with our agency and she wanted to do a good job. She wanted to improve the health of people like her. She felt like she had a lot to offer." Williams agreed with prosecutor Paul Hora that Reiser was excited about the job that they were excited to have her.
The full-time job paid $50,000 a year and included health benefits, sick leave and three weeks of vacation the first three years, Williams said.
Reiser accepted the job the next day, Sept. 1, Williams said. Officials agreed with the single mother's request for flexible hours, which would allow her to pick up her children, Williams said. Reiser was to have signed some papers and submit her fingerprints for a background check Sept. 7. She was to have started her job Sept. 21. But she never showed up on those days, Williams said. Nina Reiser was last seen Sept. 3.
The Public Health Department kept the spot open for Reiser after she disappeared, hoping that "she would come back or we would hear from her," Williams said. Hora asked if Reiser would have still been given the job had she come back, and Williams said yes. The spot was eventually filled by a woman who had ranked second after Reiser.
On cross-examination, defense attorney William Du Bois seized on the fact that Reiser was fingerprinted as part of a background check. Du Bois sought to confirm that a background check is designed to root out criminals and asked about the extent of the check. Williams said she wasn't sure, but that the check would have been for felony convictions in California.
So if a child molester from another state tried to apply, would his background not be uncovered? Du Bois asked. A male juror in the front row smiled slightly, as if bemused by Du Bois' question. Williams said she wasn't exactly sure.
Hora, who normally doesn't conduct redirect examinations, did so this time around. The prosecutor asked Williams if Reiser suddenly said, "Forget it, I don't want the job," or, "Guess what, I'm a convicted felon" after being told that her fingerprints were needed. Reiser did neither, said Williams, adding that she hadn't spoken to her about those points.
That prompted Du Bois to move to strike that last answer. Judge Larry Goodman said, "All right."
12:14 p.m.: Natalie Potter, who works at Adventure Time at Joaquin Miller Elementary School in Oakland's Montclair district, was the second witness on the stand today. The Reiser children went to the after-school program there.
Prosecutor Paul Hora showed a copy of a Patelco check that Nina Reiser wrote for $497.52 on Aug. 28, 2006, the first day of school. Potter said she was there when the mother of two signed up and paid for the service.
Hora asked how much time that check would cover, and Potter said a month and a half, or six weeks.
Hora then alluded to the fact that Nina Reiser disappeared Sept. 3, 2006, eight days after she wrote that check in her neat, cursive style. The prosecutor asked Potter whether Reiser would have paid "five weeks too much" if she had planned to enroll her kids for only one week. Potter said yes.
Hora asked if Reiser had ever mentioned that she was planning to go on an "extended vacation" a week after enrolling her kids. Potter said no.
Hora played for the jury a tape of another Adventure Time employee leaving a message on Reiser's cell phone on Sept. 5. That's when Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, came to the school at about 2:30 p.m. to see if she was there and to pick up the Reisers' daughter, then 5.
"Hi Nina, this is Claudette from Adventure Time. I have Ellen Doren here to pick up (the Reisers' daughter) and I didn't get any message from you or her dad." The woman then said she'd try to reach Hans Reiser.
Potter said neither parent ever called back, and Doren wasn't allowed to leave with the Reisers' daughter at that point.
But at about 5 p.m. that day -- at the moment Nina Reiser was supposed to pick up her children -- Hans Reiser showed up at Adventure Time, looking "very nervous-like," Potter testified. "There was no eye contact with me whatsoever, just very hyper. Was not calm at all."
Hans Reiser asked if he could set up a meeting to discuss the after-school program's enrollment policies, Potter said. He said he wasn't there to pick up the children, she said. He also didn't mention anything about receiving a message from Adventure Time about Doren being at the school several hours earlier, Potter said.
He wrote down a cell phone number as a contact that turned out to be incorrect, she said.
After Potter asked him if it was all right for Doren to pick them up the children, he said that was fine.
Hora asked Potter if she ever saw Hans Reiser interact with his children during his 10-minute visit at Adventure Time. Potter prefaced her answer by saying, "From what I was told," prompting defense attorney to object, "That's hearsay."
Hora asked Potter if she personally saw any interaction, and she said no.
Doren picked up the children at 5:15 p.m. after the after-school program got Hans Reiser's permission for her to do so, Potter said. From that day forward, Potter said she never heard from either Hans or Nina Reiser.
"No policy meeting?" Hora asked.
"No policy meeting. He never followed up," Potter said.
11 a.m.: Jack Stabb, 51, who lives across the street from Hans Reiser on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills, was on the stand this morning. Stabb, a self-employed building contractor, identified his house, Reiser's house, Skyline Drive and other points of interest on a GoogleEarth picture that prosecutor Paul Hora showed to jurors on a screen.
During the Labor Day weekend last year, Stabb said he was out of town in Half Moon Bay. He left his house Sept. 3, 2006, the day Nina Reiser disappeared, and he returned Sept. 5.
At about 10 p.m. that night, Stabb said he was watering his deck plants and heard the sound of "a lot of water across the street." Stabb said he saw Hans Reiser "watering in his driveway" for about a half hour at some point between 10 and 11 p.m.
"It was odd, even for Hans," Stabb testified. "We're outdoors a lot. We never really see Hans participating in any exterior activities like cleaning or watering. He just comes and goes. I just thought it was kind of strange, especially because I had no idea what he was doing, like 'Washing the driveway?' It seemed out of character, that's all."
Stabb said he had seen the Honda Civic belonging to Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, at the Reiser home, but Reiser wasn't washing it that night.
Stabb noted that it was a "hot summer night, crickets" and he was in his bare feet, wearing a T-shirt and shorts. Reiser, meanwhile, was "dressed for winter," wearing what looked like a hooded hunting jacket, Stabb said.
Stabb said he wondered, "What the hell is he doing? It didn't make sense what he was doing out there."
The next morning, Stabb said he looked at Reiser's driveway, and it didn't look as if his neighbor even tried to do a good job cleaning his driveway.
Hora asked Stabb if he was aware that there was a Honda CRX connected to the Reiser property, and Stabb said yes. But Stabb said he didn't see the CRX that night. Stabb referred to the CRX as a "P-O-S." A female juror scrunched her face in befuddlement. Hora then asked Stabb to confirm that what he meant by "P-O-S" was "piece of.... and then it's bleeped out?"
Stabb said yes and added that he had promised his wife he wouldn't swear. Jurors laughed.
On cross-examination by defense attorney William Du Bois, Stabb acknowledged that he didn't know if anyone washed down Reiser's driveway on Sept. 3 or Sept. 4. Du Bois asked how he could be sure of the time that he saw Reiser in the driveway, and Stabb said he knew the Giants game was on and that he keeps pretty good tabs on the time.
Stabb confirmed that all he saw was Reiser with a hose but nothing more. At one point, Stabb, without prompting by Du Bois, said it was possible that his neighbor was hosing down floor mats from a car. (The DA has told jurors that they found the Honda CRX with its front passenger seat missing on Sept. 19, 2006. The floorboard was wet, as if someone had tried to wash it down, jurors were told.)
Du Bois asked Stabb about his remark on direct that what Reiser did was "odd, even for Hans." The defense attorney asked if it was fair to say that his client "is an odd guy." Stabb said it was.
"Well, 'odd' would be graceful?" Du Bois asked.
Stabb acknowledged that he's had some disagreements with Hans Reiser over parking spaces near their homes. Stabb would occasionally talk to Bernard Palmer, the defendant's late stepfather, to ask that a car be moved.
Du Bois asked, "He used to park his P-O-S where you wanted to park your T-R-U-C-K?" Everyone laughed, including the defendant and his co-counsel, Richard Tamor, who shook his (newly shorn) head at the joke. Stabb said yes.
Du Bois asked if Stabb believed his neighbor was a "self-centered, selfish" kind of guy, and Stabb again agreed.
"You didn't get along with him?" Du Bois asked. "You tried to avoid him"?"
"I didn't know him much," Stabb said.
"Is it fair to say he wasn't a good neighbor?" Du Bois asked.
"It's fair to say that," Stabb said.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 13 2007 at 11:01 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 17, 2007
5:14 p.m.: While the jurors were on their midafternoon break, defense attorney William Du Bois and proseuctor Paul Hora haggled over whether the DA could show jurors a clip from KTVU Channel 2 on Feb. 13, 2007.
On that date, Hans Reiser was in custody at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. Another inmate, Arthur Gomez, said he saw Reiser race to the television when KTVU reporter Kraig Debro was shown introducing a report about the discovery of a body in the Oakland hills off Claremont Avenue near where it turns into Fish Ranch Road.
It's not relevant, Du Bois argued to Judge Larry Goodman, especially when this took place in February and Debro later says the body is that of a 26-year-old African American male. (The body was later identified as that of Hodari Benson, 26. Police said Benson's cousin, Haki Thurston, killed the victim during a dispute; Thurston himself was shot and killed by Santa Rosa police later that month.)
Hora argued that it's clearly relevant if Reiser "waded through weather, which doesn't affect him, and traffic, which doesn't affect him, until the report came on."
Du Bois countered that up until that time, there was no idea as to "what happened to Nina (Reiser), only that she's missing. All this shows is that the defendant is interested in any information that may bear on her being missing and, perhaps, being found."
Goodman told the defense attorney that well, doesn't this make it relevant?
Du Bois said the whole thing is equally consistent with guilt as it is with innocence.
The judge seized on that, noting that that's a common jury instruction, the one that says, "If you have a reasonable explanation which points to guilt, and a reasonable explanation which points to innocence, you must accept the one which points to innocence." Hora said, "He showed a lot of interest in body that was found." The judge made his ruling about the video. "I think the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect. I will allow it," Goodman said.
In came Gomez, wearing a red jail jumpsuit. In came the jury. Gomez confirmed to Hora that he had been arrested and then was released on bail on a domestic violence case and that none other than Goodman put him back in the clink two weeks ago because of a "dirty" or positive drug test. Goodman smiled. Gomez confirmed to the DA that Goodman's order was separate from the inmate's appearance in the jurist's courtroom.
Gomez said he was introduced to Reiser while both were in jail. Reiser introduced himself as Thomas, Gomez said. (Thomas is Reiser's middle name).
Hora played the KTVU clip for the jury. We see Kraig Debro doing a quick teaser for the body story. We see reporter Claudine Wong doing an intro for another story. We hear the familiar Channel 2 anthem. We see Steve Paulson giving a quick weather update, followed by Sal Castaneda and traffic. (No major problems at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza on Feb. 13, 2007 at about 6 a.m., by the way).
Then anchor Pam Cook reintroduces Debro, who incidentally has also been covering the Reiser trial from time to time.
Gomez testified today that Reiser rushed up to the TV when Debro first teased his report and then watched intently as the story about the body was reported. When Debro said the body was that of an African American man, "he seemed relieved," Gomez said.
An African American juror in the front row looked at a fellow African American juror sitting next to him and chuckled.
When Gomez got out of jail, he sought out Hora and talked to him and Alameda County DA's Inspector Bruce Brock in May. Gomez said he wasn't promised any leniency in exchange for the information. "I've always done my time and faced the consequences," Gomez said.
Why did Gomez go to all that trouble? Hora asked.
"I've had my share of domestics," Gomez said. But for someone to lose a life, "that's just the ultimate if you want to take someone's life," Gomez said as Du Bois unsuccessfully tried to object.
Gomez confirmed to the DA that he has four felony convictions dating back to 1995, including assault with a deadly weapon, two domestic-violence cases and a conviction for cocaine possession.
On cross-examination, Du Bois grilled Gomez about his criminal history. Did he ever use the alias David Diaz? Du Bois asked.
"Pardon me?" Gomez said. Du Bois repeated the question, and Gomez said, "Oh yeah, I believe that sounds right."
The defense attorney asked about Gomez's 1995 conviction for "beating your wife."
"She wasn't my wife," Gomez replied evenly.
"Just your significant other?" Du Bois asked.
Yes, he replied.
And a 2001 conviction is for beating your significant other? Du Bois asked.
"I don't know if you want to say 'beating,' but 'convicted,' yes," Gomez said. "We were fighting."
"Who did you assault with a deadly weapon?" Du Bois asked.
"If I remember, this guy hit me on my mouth, and I stabbed him," Gomez said. "That's defending myself."
"Another day, one of your days on the streets?" Du Bois asked.
"Yeah," Gomez said. "I'm born and raised in Oakland."
Gomez told Du Bois that he considered his client "a wuss." He confirmed that "I was just introduced to him. I shook his limp hand." Hora laughed at his table. A male juror did the same.
"O.G. Is that what you are? O.G.?" Du Bois asked.
Du Bois then asked if O.G. stood for "old gangster."
"No, original gangster," Gomez said.
Hora laughed again from his table. More chuckles from the jury.
Reiser "gave you no respect?" Du Bois asked. "In fact, he actually offended you by the way he was acting?"
No, it offended him that Reiser was in jail for "what he was arrested for," Gomez said.
So when someone's arrested in a domestic-violence situation, except when you're involved, it offends you? Du Bois asked.
"No, when death is involved," Gomez responded.
"But you don't know if there's a death involved," Du Bois pressed.
Gomez maintained that based on Reiser's actions that day, that's the conclusion that Gomez and other inmates drew.
Du Bois interrupted Gomez at one point, prompting Hora to complain, "He's not letting him finish his answer."
"Let him finish his answer," Goodman told Du Bois.
Gomez appeared to testify that he believed Nina Reiser's body had been found, but he denied that assertion moments later when Du Bois asked him about that.
4:44 p.m.: Goli Fahid, a biotech firm employee who used to live on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills, was on the stand this afternoon. Hans Reiser and his mother, Beverly Palmer, lived on Exeter.
Fahid said she believes she saw Reiser walking on Shepherd Canyon Road in the hills in September 2006. "It looked like, it could have been my neighbor, but I'm not 100 percent sure," Fahid said.
Prosecutor Paul Hora played for the jury a tape of Fahid speaking to a Oakland police officer about what she had seen at about 10 or 11 p.m. a week before she was interviewed on Sept. 25, 2006. That would place the date she possibly saw him around Sept. 18, 2006, when police say they saw Reiser sprinting up that same street that night.
Fahid recounted on tape how she was driving up the hill when she saw a man wearing black pants and a white shirt walking up the hill, in the downhill lane of traffic. As she approached in her car, "he started running," Fahid told police. "The man looked a lot like my neighbor."
3:42 p.m.: Artem Mishin, a judo student who attended Cahill's Judo Academy in San Bruno with Hans Reiser, resumed the stand this afternoon.
Mishin said he spent Sept. 18, 2006, waiting in a courtroom hallway in hopes of testifying as a character witness at the request of Hans Reiser at his child-custody hearing in downtown Oakland 15 days after Nina Reiser disappeared.
Mishin said his day "was wasted," so Hans Reiser said he'd take him out for a drink or possibly dinner. Mishin agreed because he had nothing else planned.
Mishin said he drove the two to Berkeley in Mishin's BMW. Mishin said Reiser had told him he had driven his car to Berkeley and taken a bus to the Oakland hearing.
So the two men got into Mishin's car. Mishin testified that he had "no idea" at the time that Oakland police were secretly watching them. "They did a good job," Mishin said.
"Later, I learned a LOT," Mishin said to laughter. Reiser grinned.
According to testimony by a police officer at Reiser's preliminary hearing last year, Reiser paced up and down streets in Oakland after leaving the hearing. Mishin checked his car as if he was looking for tracking devices, the officer said. Mishin made several evasive maneuvers while driving through Berkeley, such as making numerous turns off San Pablo Avenue and at one point driving so slowly on Solano Avenue it caused a traffic jam, police have said.
After the two left Fonda restaurant on Solano Avenue -- where an undercover officer secretly watched them dine -- Mishin dropped Reiser off at San Pablo and Ashby avenues in Berkeley, where Reiser again walked back and forth before getting into his Honda CRX, police have said.
But in court today, Mishin gave a number of innocent explanations for their behavior.
Mishin said he had been looking for any scratches or marks on his sports car because it was parked (at a broken meter) in a "questionable neighborhood in Oakland." He was unfamiliar with Oakland and Berkeley, so Reiser was helping him navigate, Mishin said.
Mishin said he had driven slowly at times because he was busy conversing with Reiser and turned his head to speak to him.
As for any detour off San Pablo Avenue, Mishin said the two of them decided that there wasn't any place to eat in that area and made some turns to go somewhere else.
When Mishin dropped Reiser off at San Pablo and Ashby, the two shook hands, and that was it, Mishin said.
Prosecutor Paul Hora asked what time that occurred, and Mishin mulled it over for a moment. There was some laughter from jurors. Alameda County DA's Inspector Bruce Brock, sitting in the gallery, also chuckled as he looked on a screen where Hora had put a map of the intersection of San Pablo and Ashby avenues on the screen. The time "7:48 p.m." was clearly marked on the map. But Mishin didn't notice. He guessed 8:30 p.m. or 9.
"How does 7:48 sound?" Hora asked, again alluding to the fact there there had been police surveillance at the time.
"OK," Mishin said. More laughter.
"Leading," objected defense attorney William Du Bois, and Judge Larry Goodman agreed.
"Do you remember what you were doing at 7:48 that evening?" Hora asked.
"No," Mishin replied.
"That's another way of asking," Hora said, smiling at Du Bois.
Reiser didn't say that he had car trouble, Mishin said.
"Did he tell you why he parked his car all the way in Berkeley?" the DA asked.
"He said that he didn't want to drive into Oakland. He said something ... it seemed like a reasonable explanation, but I don't remember word to word what he said," Mishin replied.
But then he added that Reiser may have said something like the police were "following him without authorization," something about a warrant for a search, Mishin said.
That's when Reiser raised his eyebrows in apparent concern or confusion.
"He didn't like the fact that police were harassing him or stalking him," Mishin said. "He expressed something like that."
"Did he tell you he parked the car in Berkeley because he didn't want the police to find it?" Hora asked.
The prosecutor ended his direct examination of Mishin by asking him if he had joked with Reiser when he first saw him.
"Yes, I did," Mishin said, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"Do you remember what you said to him?" Hora asked.
"I called him Scott," Mishin said as he rubbed at his eye and explained he was referring to Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son.
On cross-examination, Du Bois asked Mishin to confirm that he had been innocently looking at his car.
"Absolutely," Mishin said.
"You had nothing to fear of the police whatsoever, and you would be surprised if your actions were interpreted as suspicious, is that right?" Du Bois asked.
"That's correct," Mishin said.
"You were surprised when you saw it on the Internet that police thought you were looking for surveillance devices, right?" Du Bois asked.
"Yes, that's correct," Mishin replied.
1:31 p.m.: Artem Mishin, a judo student who attended Cahill's Judo Academy in San Bruno with Hans Reiser, took the stand this morning. He is a mechanical engineer who was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the Reiser children are now living with their maternal grandmother.
Mishin, 36, has a third-degree black belt in judo.
"That means you're a supertough guy?" joked prosecutor Paul Hora.
Mishin ultimately agreed with that characterization. Reiser grinned.
Reiser holds a first-degree black belt. Mishin said the two were had sparred when Reiser was still a brown belt.
Hora asked Mishin if he recalled the date of Sept. 18, 2006. "I remember that day," Mishin said. That was when Oakland police launched a surveillance operation of Hans Reiser, whose estranged wife had disappeared 15 days earlier, Hora has told jurors.
Police tailed Reiser in numerous undercover vehicles and even in a plane circling overhead. They followed him as he left a daylong child-custody hearing in Oakland with Mishin, whom Reiser had hoped to be a character witness.
We expect to hear from Mishin as to how Reiser behaved that day. Police have said Mishin checked his BMW for tracking devices after the two left the hearing and that they made numerous turns in the car in Berkeley, as if they were trying to evade police.
But we didn't get to any of that yet, as it was time for lunch.
"So you can wait a little bit longer," Hora joked to Mishin.
We're back at 2 p.m.
12 p.m.: Willy Cahill, a judo expert who runs Cahill's Judo Academy in San Bruno, was the second witness on the stand this morning. Hans Reiser attended his school for the past 10 years, up until his arrest in October 2006, Cahill testified.
Hans Reiser attended the school "once for sure" after his wife, Nina Reiser, disappeared in September 2006, said Cahill, 72, an eighth-degree black belt who coached U.S.Olympic judo teams in 1984 in Los Angeles and in 1988 in Seoul.
Prosecutor Paul Hora asked if Cahill was famous in the world of judo. "My kids tell me so," Cahill joked.
Reiser earned his first-degree black belt from Cahill about three years ago, Cahill said.
Cahill's cell phone went off while he was on the stand. Judge Larry Goodman waved it off. Hora said, "Don't worry, it happens to us too." It then went off a second time moments later, and Cahill fiddled with it.
Cahill confirmed that judo teaches the art of choking and throwing. (Hora told jurors in his opening statement that police found no murder weapon but that the defendant was a judo expert. The DA noted that Hans Reiser was trained in the art of choking and that "when you choke somebody, it's fast, it's quiet and it's deadly.")
Cahill said he never taught Nina Reiser but met their children. On cross-examination, Cahill told defense attorney William Du Bois that black belts are conferred only on people who show character and an ability to work with other people.
"Was Hans aggressive or was he passive?" Du Bois asked.
"He was both," Cahill said.
Du Bois asked if Reiser ever had trouble with his throws.
"Yeah, throws didn't come easy for him, but later on he did it. He was really good," Cahill said.
"I take it he didn't have any temper-control problems?" Du Bois asked.
"No," Cahill replied.
Du Bois asked Cahill if he indeed watched his students for any signs of temper-control problems, and Cahill said yes.
"And Hans didn't have temper-control problems?" Du Bois asked.
"None of my students," Cahill answered.
Du Bois asked if Cahill confronted Hans Reiser after his wife vanished. Hora objected, saying that was hearsay. But the judge said that was only a question.
The defense attorney asked Cahill if he had asked Hans Reiser if he had killed his wife. Hora objected on the same grounds. The judge overruled the DA again.
"What did he say?" Du Bois asked.
"That's hearsay," Hora said.
"Sustained," Goodman said.
There was a pause as Du Bois looked at some papers.
"Want me to answer that?" Cahill said.
"No, don't answer that," Goodman said politely.
11:43 a.m.: Judge Larry Goodman welcomed the jury back. He told them he'd been up since 3 a.m. today signing search warrants, so he's a little bleary-eyed. Prosecutor Paul Hora confirmed what everyone's been talking about this morning -- he got a haircut, and a pretty significant buzz cut at that.
Dr. Peter Koltai, a children's ear, nose and throat doctor and surgeon at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University Medical Center, was the first witness on the stand today. Koltai went to Albany Medical College in Albany, N.Y. The doctor is also a professor and chief of pediatric otolaryngology at Children's Hospital. After court clerk Fil Cruz asked the doctor to state his name and spell it for the record, the doctor asked for the question to be repeated, saying he had some hearing loss.
Koltai saw Hans and Nina Reiser's son May 24, 2005, after the then-5-year-old boy was brought in by his mother. He had been having ear infections, had trouble hearing, snored, had fluid in his ears and was wetting the bed. She wanted a second opinion on a previous doctor's recommendation that her son needed surgery to put tubes in his ears and to remove his adenoids, which are structures behind the uvula near where the nose connects to the throat.
Koltai examined the boy and noticed that his adenoids were indeed enlarged and that he had the "facial appearance of a child who was a mouth-breather" because he couldn't breathe through his nose. The doctor said he agreed that the boy could benefit from a single surgical procedure. "It's a common operation that we do together," he said.
Asked by Hora about his dealings with Nina Reiser, he said she was "really charming and very professional. She clearly had an accent. I, not having been born in the United States, I asked her where she was from. She told me she was an OB/GYN doctor that was trained in Russia, that she was from St. Petersburg. I told her I had been to St. Petersburg, what a beautiful city it was. It was a comfortable interaction, nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that she was from Russia."
The prosecutor asked Koltai to describe the level of her concern about her son. "She was concerned generally and appropriate," she said.
The boy had a 40-decibel hearing loss, which is equivalent to plugging your ears, Koltai said. Referring to his notes, he said he had strongly recommended to Nina Reiser that she return to her original doctor to have the boy's surgery done locally.
But Koltai testified that the original doctor didn't want to take on the case because Hans Reiser had threatened him with a malpractice suit if he performed the operation. "She pleaded with him to please take the case, please take care of (her son)," Koltai said.
Koltai ultimately took over care of the boy. The doctor said his philosophy is "do what's right for the kid, you'll always come out OK."
He confirmed to Hora that the surgery that would be performed on the boy was common and "part of the similar spectrum of surgery" as taking out one's tonsils. The hospital does "eight to 10 adenoids a week," he said.
Koltai said he got a call from Hans Reiser sometime before the surgery was scheduled. "He told me that he was firmly opposed to the child having any surgery, that he didn't think the child needed surgery." The defendant told thet doctor that Nina was engaging in what he called Munchausen by proxy, a psychiatric condition in which parents make up illness for their children.
Koltai said he told Hans Reiser that "you don't have Munchausen by proxy with a 40-decibel hearing loss and symptoms this child was having and the physical findings this child was having." But Hans Reiser stated, "If you operate on this child, I'm gonna bring a lawsuit against you," according to Koltai.
At the defense table, Hans Reiser's attorney William Du Bois shook his head.
Koltai said he delayed the surgery and asked the hospital's social services department to clarify the legal situation because of the "divergence between the parents." Once social services confirmed that Nina Reiser indeed had the authority to give consent to the surgery, Koltai rescheduled the surgery for Oct. 28, 2005.
Hora asked why the doctor didn't stand down and forget about performing the surgery.
"I felt that I was being manipulated and I was being threatened. I really don't like that," Koltai said, turning to look straight at the defendant. "I find that really negative, and I respond negatively to that, like (when) someone confronts you like a bully. I was right, simple as that. I was right. I was doing what was right for this child."
Koltai said he received a second phone call from Hans Reiser during which the defendant said, "I don't think (the boy) needs surgery" and again threatened to bring a malpractice suit if the operation went forward.
Koltai said he then told him, "We have nothing to talk about" and that was the end of the conversation.
The doctor said he was taken aback by Hans Reiser's actions, as "I assumed I was talking to a rational human being, a father." Koltai said he recited a litany of the boy's problems, "Hans was not interested," said Koltai, again fixing his gaze on the defendant.
Nina Reiser called him before the surgery and "apologized for all the difficulties we were having in getting this done," he said. She was "very apologetic about the problems that Hans was causing us in getting this child taken care of," he said.
On a couple of occasions as Koltai was testifying, Hans Reiser spoke vigorously to his attorney.
Koltai said the surgery was done successfully. The operation confirmed that the boy had a "huge adenoid pod" and had something equivalent to a "huge Swedish meatball" up his nose, the doctor said.
After the surgery, the boy could hear the turn signal in the car, which he couldn't hear before, Koltai said. A hearing test also showed that everything "went back to normal," he said. Nina Reiser was "delighted with the outcome," the doctor said.
On cross-examination, Koltai gave more potentially damaging testimony after Du Bois asked him a question.
Koltai described to Du Bois how his client, while on the phone, had a "very cold affect, this strange, monotonal voice on the phone. It was bizarre -- and keep in mind, I've been in this business for a very long time -- I've never had a parent call and say, 'Don't operate on my child or I'll sue you,' especially with a kid that clearly needed help. It was so out of the ordinary. It was hard not to remember."
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 17 2007 at 11:32 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 18, 2007
12:17 p.m.: Oakland police crime-scene technician Bruce Christensen testified this morning that he processed Nina Reiser's 2001 Honda Odyssey minivan Sept. 9, 2006, the day when resident Chris Bunn found it on Fernwood Drive off Highway 13. Bunn has testified that the vehicle had been there for three or four days.
Prosecutor Paul Hora flashed pictures of the minivan and its contents on a screen as Christensen narrated. Among the things found in the Odyssey was a purse, a compact mirror, a comb, a cell phone charger and a flip-style cell phone in the open position and with its battery detached, Christensen testified. He said search dogs were directed to some of those items in hopes that they could detect her scent and eventually find her.
There were groceries in the minivan and Christensen said he noticed the smell of "groceries going bad." On Sept. 3, store surveillance cameras captured Nina Reiser and her two kids going shopping at the Berkeley Bowl. Police say she then dropped off the children at her estranged husband's home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills and disappeared.
Christensen said he also helped process Hans Reiser's home on Sept. 13 and Sept. 14. While the crime-lab collected evidence, Christensen said he and a technician trainee took photographs at the home; those photos were shown to the jury today.
10:51 a.m.: Redwood City police Sgt. Eric Stasiak took the stand this morning. Stasiak, a 13-year department veteran, pulled Hans Reiser over on Sept. 13, 2006, 10 days after Nina Reiser disappeared. Stasiak said he wrote Reiser a ticket for failing to yield while making a U-turn in a 1988 Honda CRX. Reiser was heading north on El Camino Real when he made the maneuver in front of a SamTrans bus heading south on El Camino Real at Madison Avenue, Stasiak said.
Asked by prosecutor Paul Hora if he recognized Reiser in court, Stasiak said, "He looks familiar. I can't say for certainty that was the exact person in the car. I did check the driver's license of who was sitting in the car. The person in the driver's license photo was the person sitting in the vehicle." Reiser was the lone occupant of the vehicle, and the passenger seat was present, Stasiak testified. "It was dirty inside," the sergeant said of the car. "He appeared a little nervous," but that's not out of the ordinary when police issue a citation, Stasiak said. The sergeant said he had "no idea" at the time that Reiser's wife was missing in Oakland.
Hora showed Stasiak a police photo of the Honda after it was seized by Oakland police Sept. 19 -- at which time police say the front passenger seat was missing. In the photo, there's a bumper sticker on the back of the car that reads, "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."
It's not clear what Reiser was doing in Redwood City, as Reiser didn't mention anything to Stasiak and the sergeant didn't ask. But Hora did have Stasiak confirm that San Bruno, where Reiser's judo professor had his dojo, is north of Redwood City along the Peninsula. On cross-examination, Stasiak told defense attorney William Du Bois that his client apologized to Stasiak about the U-turn, saying, "I'm sorry, I miscalculated."
Stasiak confirmed that there was nothing unusual about the car -- such as blood -- that would have made him investigate further and that the car was full of food wrappers and clothing.
"Sort of like it was lived in, almost?" Du Bois asked, and Stasiak agreed. A key defense assertion is that Reiser removed the front passenger seat because he was living in the vehicle and wanted to make it more comfortable.
Posted by Trapper Byrne on December 18 2007 at 10:45 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Dec. 18, 2007
6:55 p.m.: Hans Thomas Reiser turns 44 on Dec. 19, 2007. Court is dark that day -- and won't resume until Jan. 14, 2008 -- so Reiser will be among some 500 inmates biding their time at a downtown Oakland jail run by the Alameda County sheriff's office. Reiser gets no special treatment just because it's his birthday, said sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson, the department's spokesman.
Reiser was arrested on suspicion of murdering Nina Reiser on Oct. 10, 2006, so he will have been in custody for about 435 days by the time of his 44th birthday. He turned 43 while behind bars as well.
While in trial, Reiser is being held at the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility near Oakland police headquarters. That's to make it easier for deputies to transport him from jail to the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, Nelson said.
Reiser had earlier been held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where inmate Arthur Gomez said the defendant rushed over to a television set when a news report came on about a body being found in the Oakland hills. Reiser seemed relieved when the body turned out to be an African American male, according to Gomez.
4:23 p.m.: Prosecutor Paul Hora called his right-hand man, Alameda County DA's Inspector Bruce Brock, to the stand this afternoon.
Brock worked at the Oakland Police Department for nearly 25 years. He spent seven years in the department's homicide section and investigated Hans Reiser and searched his home. Brock retired from the OPD on Dec. 3, 2006.
Hora asked Brock when he joined the DA's office.
"Dec. 4, 2006," Brock said, prompting laughter from the jury.
"So you had dinner," joked Hora. (It is common for veteran police officers to join the Alameda County DA's office as inspectors.)
Brock testified that he and Hora, in May, inspected the 1988 Honda CRX that was seized by Oakland police on Sept. 19, 2006 on Monterey Boulevard off Highway 13. The car was taken to A & B Auto Co., a tow company on G Street in East Oakland. Hora showed pictures of the car with its front passenger seat missing.
As Brock testified, two other DA's inspectors brought in a replica passenger seat from another Honda CRX.
Brock said he found the replica seat at Pick-N-Pull, a salvage yard on San Leandro Boulevard in East Oakland. The seat came from a 1989 Honda CRX Si model, one year newer than the Honda CRX Si connected to the defendant, Brock said.
The salvaged seat is the same color and has the same fabric and characteristics as the one that would have been in Reiser's car, Brock said. (The car belonged to his mother, Beverly Palmer, according to previous testimony.)
Brock said the salvaged seat has a different seat-belt attachment, and the rails and runners that connect it to the floorboard are different than the system in Reiser's car.
At Judge Larry Goodman's invitation, several jurors stood up to watch as Brock described the rail and runner system on the replica seat. On cross-examination, Brock told defense attorney William Du Bois that he "wouldn't be surprised at all" if Oakland crime-scene technicians removed parts of the floorboard from Reiser's car. And with that, the trial came to an end for 2007.
"That does it for the year," Goodman told the jury before giving his standard admonition not to discuss the case with anyone or read or view media accounts of the trial or do their own independent investigations.
"We're getting there," the judge told the panel, noting that they've heard from 35 witnesses and seen 129 exhibits -- 130 if you count the replica car seat -- during 20 days of trial.
The judge wished the jury a great and safe holiday. We won't be back until 10 a.m. Jan. 14, 2008.
3:19 p.m.: Nina Reiser was studying for her medical exam at the Kaplan Center in downtown Berkeley at the time she disappeared, center director Chris Weimer testified this afternoon.
Reiser, a trained OB/GYN in her native Russia, paid thousands of dollars for programs related to what is known as Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is required to become a licensed physician in this country, Weimer said.
Reiser would have needed to complete Steps 1, 2 and 3 before sitting for exams to get her U.S. license, Weimer said.
Reiser first signed up with Kaplan in 2002 and last signed in with Kaplan on Aug. 31, 2006, said Weimer, based on records the center kept.
At the time she disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006, she still had 15 visits paid for, Weimer said.
"She still had credit on the books, so to speak?" asked prosecutor Paul Hora.
"That's correct," Weimer said.
Hora asked if Weimer would have let Reiser carry over any unused visits after a Sept. 10 deadline had passed, had she asked. "You're a nice guy, right?" Hora asked.
Weimer said yes, but defense attorney William Du Bois jokingly objected, "The question is leading and suggestive!" That prompted laughter from jurors.
Weimer confirmed to Du Bois that Reiser put her Kaplan studies on hold for a bit while she was out of the country in 2003, apparently in her native Russia.
Posted by Michael Collier on December 18 2007 at 06:55 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 14, 2008
4:30 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois ran into some stumbling blocks this afternoon as he tried to grill Oakland police Officer Shan Johnson on his surveillance of Hans Reiser.
Du Bois asked Johnson how police know when a subject they're following knows that they're being followed. Johnson replied that sometimes the person smiles and waves. What the person doesn't do, Johnson noted, is to continue countersurveillance.
So should people who know they're being followed by cops just smile and wave? What should they do and what's the best way to stop police surveillance? Du Bois asked.
Johnson paused. "I'm sure many people want to know the answer to that question," the officer said as jurors and others in the courtroom guffawed.
Moments later, Du Bois rattled off a license plate and asked Johnson to confirm that that was the minivan he was driving when he tailed Reiser. Johnson, befuddled, looked at Judge Larry Goodman and noted that he couldn't answer that as it was an officer safety issue and cops don't like to discuss their "covert vehicles."
4:09 p.m. On cross examination, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Oakland police Officer Shan Johnson this afternoon if he had ever surveilled anyone who was not a suspect. Johnson gave a surprising answer: he's surveilled other cops. Asked to explain, Johnson said he's watched other undercover officers for safety reasons. Some officers turn their radios off, and Johnson was tasked to watch them to ensure officer safety.
"But those are people who are happy that you're watching?" Du Bois asked.
"Yes sir," Johnson replied.
"Have you ever surveilled anyone who was not a suspect?" Du Bois pressed.
"No sir," the officer replied.
"It's not something you do for recreation?" the defense attorney asked.
"No sir," Johnson said.
"It's something that's part of the job," Du Bois said.
"Yes sir," Johnson confirmed.
"Was Hans Reiser a suspect?" the defense attorney asked, which led Johnson, without prompting, to note that Reiser had asked for an attorney when asked by Nina Reiser's best friend where she was.
"Is that a long way of saying he was a suspect?" Du Bois asked.
Potentially at that point, Johnson said.
Du Bois asked why the Reiser children were taken into protective custody. To protect from harm "from anybody, sir" not just Hans Reiser or anyone else, Johnson told Du Bois. The children's mother was missing, and there could be someone dangerous at their home, and it was important for the police to make sure they were safe, Johnson said. "The children could be in harm's way," he said.
3:45 p.m. Prosecutor Paul Hora showed the jury a surveillance video from the Berkeley Bowl grocery store showing Nina Reiser and her children shopping on Sept. 3, 2006 at about 2 p.m. The DA previously showed this video during his opening statement. We see only parts of them on the video. There's a fleeting glimpse of Nina Reiser, wearing a sun dress and flip-flops, pushing a shopping cart out of camera view.
On cross examination, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Officer Shan Johnson how he could be so sure that it was Nina Reiser and her children on the video. Johnson responded that based on the video, as well as store receipts and witness accounts, that he was confident that those three were the ones depicted on the video.
Search teams looked for Nina Reiser during a massive multi-agency operation at Redwood Regional Park in the East Bay on Sept. 23, 2006, Johnson said. "Sometimes, people use our park system as a dumping ground for trash," Officer Shan Johnson testified. Nina Reiser wasn't found during that search or subsequent ones.
3:35 p.m. Police found five passports in Nina Reiser's home in a file folder marked "Passports," Officer Shan Johnson testified this afternoon. Nina Reiser's U.S. passport was issued in May 2004, and her Russian passport was issued in August 2005. Officers also found passports belonging to her children, Johnson testified.
At that point, defense attorney William Du Bois objected to the officer testifying who the passports belonged to, saying it was hearsay. Johnson noted that he collected the passports, but that didn't satisfy Du Bois. "Let's bring them into court, so we can see them," the defense attorney said.
Du Bois and prosecutor Paul Hora traded some barbs. Judge Larry Goodman stepped in. "Bill, we're not going to have this discussion in front of the jury," the judge said.
2:30 p.m. Oakland police Officer Shan (pronounced "Shawn") Johnson is on the stand. He testified how he and Officer Mark Battle secretly tailed Hans Reiser on Sept. 8, 2006 as he drove to Joaquin Miller Elementary School in the Oakland hills, where his children went to school. For about 15 minutes, Reiser parked underneath some trees and apparently did nothing for 15 minutes, Johnson said. "I still to this day don't know what the reason was," Johnson testified.
Battle, who was assigned to follow Reiser, and Johnson, who was tasked to keep eyes on Reiser's car, follow him as he gets a cup of coffee.
The officers then followed Reiser onto southbound Highway 13 as it snakes through the Oakland hills, Johnson testified as prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors a GoogleEarth map. Reiser initially entered the freeway at a normal speed but then "begins to vary his speed dramatically" from 45 mph to 70 mph, as well as change lanes "without apparent purpose" in what the officers believed were common countersurveillance tactics, moves people make when they want to see if they're being followed, Johnson said.
At one point, Johnson had to let Reiser pass him, the officer said. Reiser then exited at 98th Avenue, gets right back on the freeway and travels north or westbound on Interstate 580 in the direction that he came from, Johnson said. Reiser made "less aberrational moves" on I-580 but then exited Park Boulevard, Johnson testified. Reiser then gets back onto southbound Highway 13, but at a very slow speed, about 10 mph, Johnson said.
Reiser continued on, to eastbound I-580 and exited the freeway and pulled to the side of the road, Johnson said. Reiser then drove into a residential area, and the police decided to terminate the surveillance because they didn't want Reiser to know that they were following him.
That day, Johnson picked up Reiser's two children from the school. They were taken to the Alameda County Family Justice Center, and the children were interviewed at the Child Abuse Listening, Interviewing and Coordination Center, known as CALICO, Johnson said.
Johnson testified that on Sept. 15, 2006, he helped search Nina Reiser's home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood. Hora showed pictures taken of the rooms of her home. Johnson said police wanted to get a DNA sample for her from the residence. Investigators ultimately found underwear from her laundry basket, two disposable razors and two contact-lens cases, Johnson said. The items, contained in plastic bags mounted on a board, were shown for the jury.
11:45 a.m. The jury got a crash course this morning on how Oakland police officers navigate the city. As defense attorney William Du Bois cross-examined police crime-scene technician Bruce Christensen, the lawyer asked him a number of questions about directions, i.e. north, south, east, west.
In Oakland, streets that are parallel to the hills run east and west, while the "avenues," i.e. 23rd Avenue or 73rd Avenue, run north to south, according to OPD's designation. This system is used even if those directions don't match those on a compass, Christensen explained.
"So the sun rises in the north in Oakland," Du Bois said.
"Yes," Christensen said with a laugh as jurors joined in.
Speaking of orientation, Du Bois then put one of Christensen's pictures on a screen. It looked like of strange. Turned out Du Bois had it upside down. More laughter.
11:15 a.m. During a break outside the presence of the jury, prosecutor Paul Hora and defense attorney William Du Bois haggled over whether a piece of evidence the DA wants to introduce -- something found on a computer screen at the home of Reiser's mother's friend, Mark McGothigan -- was a confidential, private communication. Judge Larry Goodman said had he known about this issue earlier, he would have spent more time reviewing it. However, at this point, "This is not, in fact, a private communication," Goodman said.
Du Bois then said he wanted the entire communication, not just part of it, to be shown to the jury and "not to have this smidgen taken out of context."
As Du Bois argued his points before the judge, Reiser repeatedly raised his hand to get his attorney's attention. Du Bois all but ignored him or shushed him with a loud "Shh!"
We'll likely hear more about this later.
10:15 a.m. Judge Larry Goodman welcomed everybody back this morning and wished jurors a Happy New Year.
Oakland police crime-scene technician Bruce Christensen is back on the stand today. Under questioning by prosecutor Paul Hora, Christensen described pictures taken on Sept. 13 and 14, 2006 of Hans Reiser's home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills. The DA flashed onto a screen pictures of the basement, which included a family room, a storage area and an area under construction. Hora also showed pictures of the defendant's three garbage/recycling bins on the driveway.
On Oct. 10, 2006, the day the defendant was arrested, Christensen went to the home of Mark McGothigan, a friend of Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, on Simson Street in Oakland, where Reiser was arrested.
On a computer screen in the Simson home was a Yahoo search page showing news headlines that included, "New: Police, FBI Search Reiser's house again," "Home of Missing Woman's Husband Searched in Oakland," "Billboard up to find Oakland Woman" and "Oakland Billboards and Web site for Missing Woman," Christensen testified.
8 a.m. The trial resumes after a nearly monthlong break at 10 a.m. today.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 14 2008 at 05:46 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 15, 2008
3:42 p.m. On. Sept. 28, 2006, Oakland police conducted another surveillance of Hans Reiser, Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero testified this afternoon. Guerrero said he noticed a television camera crew at the corner of 5th and Washington streets near the Oakland Police Department. (It was NBC11 reporter Jodi Hernandez and cameraman Eric Frick). Yours truly was also present.
Prosecutor Paul Hora then played a video of the NBC report that aired that evening. We see Reiser carrying a box with a telescope that he wants to give as a birthday gift to his son, who turned 7 that day. Off-camera, we hear Hernandez calling out to Reiser, "Hans, where are you -- why aren't you talking to police?"
And that's when Reiser takes off running -- at a full clip -- telescope and all. The footage also shows me running after him while I'm carrying my metallic clipboard/notepad and bulging folder of crosswords and sudoku puzzles.
"The guy who's chasing him, he's not one of your (surveillance) units?" Hora asked Guerrero.
"No," the officer replied.
The prosecutor asked the officer if he knew who it was that was following Reiser, and Guerrero replied, "He's sitting in the back, the gentleman in the blue shirt. I believe his name is Mr. Lee."
Jurors laugh as all eyes turn to this reporter, who's trying to disappear.
The record now reflects that Henry Lee was chasing after Reiser. If it can't be made any clearer, Du Bois chimes in, "Let the record reflect that the witness has identified The Chronicle."
(By way of explanation, your scribe rarely sees news subjects run away at full speed in lieu of a more standard "no comment." There was an interest on my part to see where he was going and to seek comment. Reiser eventually runs at full speed into a county building to see his kids, startling two Alameda County sheriff's deputies at a booth who see this man with a long tube in his hands yelling at them to get whoever it was that was chasing him to stop. I quickly left the building at that point to avoid any confrontation.)
Wired's David Kravets needles me on my "jogging" on his blog here, which includes a sketch by artist Norman Quebedeau. (In my defense, I do speed up after the clip ends).
Later that day, Reiser is detained for a court-ordered DNA sample and then released. He's not arrested until Oct. 10, 2006.
2:53 p.m. Prosecutor Paul Hora is playing for the jury a video "retracing of the steps" that Hans Reiser took after he got out of his friend Artem Mishin's BMW at 7:48 p.m. on Sept. 18, 2006 at Ashby and San Pablo avenues. Oakland police Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero is reenacting the steps that Reiser took. We the video, without sound, for a number of minutes. Cops say Reiser got into his Honda CRX -- which they had been looking for -- on a side street at 8:20 p.m. after a 32-minute walk that included strolls on Acton, Mabel and Carrison streets.
But the jury just saw Guerrero walking for far less than 32 minutes on the video. Why the difference? Hora asked Guerrero.
Hans Reiser spent much more time waiting at street corners, talking on the phone and looking around "in all directions," looking for people in cars or on foot, Guerrero testified. "He's not walking the entire time," the officer said.
"He did not know that he was being followed," the officer said. In fact, he was "cleaning himself," making sure he wasn't followed," said Guerrero, who said he's been tailing suspects since 1991. "I'm a 100 percent confident" that Reiser didn't know he was being tracked, Guerrero said.
Reiser initially walked past his own car, all but ignoring it, Guerrero said.
Reiser eventually got into the Honda and drove away as cops continued their surveillance, Guerrero said after Hora played for the jury another "retracing of the steps" video showing the officer driving a vehicle on Highways 24 and 13 in Oakland. Reiser parked the Honda on Monterey Boulevard along Highway 13 in Oakland and, on four occasions, walked away from the car before returning and opening and closing the trunk, Guerrero said.
1:45 p.m. An Oakland police "secret" is out: the the location of the department's "covert lot," or parking lot for undercover vehicles, was revealed, however unwittingly, by Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero this afternoon, but only in response to a question by prosecutor Paul Hora. Guerrero, a 21-year veteran, was another officer tasked with surveilling Hans Reiser. The lot is located on Washington Street near the Police Department in downtown Oakland, adjacent to a courthouse where a dozen cops launched a full-scale surveillance of Reiser by car and plane on Sept. 18, 2006.
"Do you see the covert lot here?" Hora asked Guerrero as the prosecutor flashed a GoogleEarth aerial map on the screen. Jurors laughed at the curious question.
"No," Guerrero said as more laughter erupted. The officer was being entirely truthful--the covert lot is covered by Interstate 880 and can't be seen from the air.
Speaking of the air, Guerrero provided a unique look into the fixed-wing plane -- not the Oakland police helicopter, Argus, as some have wondered -- that was used to track Reiser that day. The plane files at an extremely high altitude such that no one would be able to see it, Guerrero said. Besides the pilot, a police observer sits in a seat behind the pilot. That observer wears headphones to communicate with ground officers and pushes a button on the floor of the plane to talk. The observer puts his or her arms on an armrest and peers through special gyroscope-mounted binoculars that enable for jiggle-free viewing. The officer looks out through a large plexiglass window on the side of the plane.
On Sept. 18, 2006, Reiser paced up and down streets in downtown Oakland after leaving a custody hearing for his children, Guerrero said. Then he got into a BMW driven by a friend, Artem Mishin, who who checked the car, Guerrero testified. (Cops believe Mishin was looking for tracking devices, an allegation Mishin denied earlier in the trial. Mishin testified that he wanted to make sure no one had messed with his expensive car.)
Mishin made several evasive maneuvers while driving through Berkeley, such as making numerous turns off San Pablo Avenue and at one point driving so slowly on Solano Avenue it caused a "minor traffic delay," Guerrero testified.
Cops tracked Reiser and Mishin to the Fonda restaurant on Solano Avenue, where undercover Officer Eric Karsseboom confirmed that the two were dining, Guerrero said. When Reiser and his friend left the restaurant, Mishin again checked the hood of his car, Guerrero said.
At about 7:45 p.m., Mishin dropped Reiser off at San Pablo and Ashby avenues in Berkeley, Guerrero said.
11:25 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Oakland police Officer Shan Johnson. Du Bois didn't delve much into the surprise new footage of Nina Reiser and her kids at the Berkeley Bowl; he had only had the officer confirm that he hadn't seen the footage until today.
Du Bois then revisited the issue of Johnson's countersurveillance of Hans Reiser on Sept. 8, 2006. Johnson confirmed that he didn't want to mention the license plate number of the "covert vehicle" he had been using, "primarily for officer safety."
Johnson did reveal under cross that a fruit from a cherry or plum tree, "material from an urban setting" and other plants were found stuck on the tires of Nina Reiser's Honda Odyssey minivan when it was found parked and abandoned on Fernwood Drive in the Oakland hills. A leaf consistent with a cherry tree was found on the passenger floorboard in a Honda hybrid used by the defendant, Johnson said, citing a plant expert that police consulted. The fruit could be found growing on Fernwood and not near the defendant's home on Exeter Drive higher up in the hills, Johnson testified. That may suggest that the two cars were both on Fernwood at some point, the officer said. Johnson acknowledged that the source of the leaf couldn't be confirmed and that no leaves were found in Nina Reiser's minivan.
10:55 a.m. Court began late this morning as we waited for co-counsel Richard Tamor to arrive from a different commitment. We ultimately started without him.
Oakland police Officer Shan Johnson is back on the stand. Prosecutor Paul Hora played for the jury new footage from Berkeley Bowl surveillance cameras showing Nina Reiser and her two children shopping at the grocery store on Sept. 3, 2006, the day she disappeared. We hadn't seen this earlier; Johnson explained today that a technician had previously reported that she wasn't on the video, which police first obtained on Sept. 15, 2006.
Hora asked Johnson to come over to the prosecutor's office before court began for the day to view the tapes for himself.
"Were you surprised when you saw them?" Hora asked.
Johnson smiled and said, "Yes, sir."
On one video, we see Nina Reiser in a white sun dress as she's being assisted at the checkout counter. We see her daughter, then 5, wearing a yellow dress. We also see her son, then 6, wearing a green shirt. Both are kids are walking around in the aisle until Nina Reiser hoists them both into her shopping cart.
From another camera, we see the three of them browsing in an aisle. In the foreground is a sign reading, "Cheese Island." At one point, we get a clear shot of all three of them. It's unmistakable: Nina Reiser and her children did go shopping together at Berkeley Bowl. (During the initial stages of the case, it was believed that perhaps she dropped off her children first before going alone to the store.)
"So the video guy missed her?" Hora asked in conclusion.
"Yes -- and we've got somebody else doing that now," Johnson said with a laugh.
Before court began today, Hans Reiser appeared to be looking intently at the footage.
(Tamor arrived at about 11:15 a.m.)
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 15 2008 at 03:40 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 16, 2008
3:53 p.m. Officer Bruce Christensen, a crime-scene technician, is back on the stand. Christensen took pictures of the home of Mark McGothigan on Simson Street in Oakland, where Hans Reiser was arrested on Oct. 10, 2006.
Christensen took pictures of a laptop computer on a kitchen table. He also took a picture of text on a screen. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Christensen to read the text out loud, and defense attorney William Du Bois unsuccessfully objected, saying, "The document speaks for itself. It would be cumulative" to have it read in court.
After Judge Larry Goodman overrule the defense objection, Christensen read what was on the screen: "(The two Reiser children) are available to do root-beer commercials. I guarantee they will be convincing. I don't need to offer root beer to get him to play politically incorrect computer games."
Under a subheading entitled, "Protecting the Children," Christensen continued reading, "There is something about protecting children that attracts the very worst sorts of people, at least as much as it attracts the best."
The author also railed about divorce attorneys and the family court system. "If they're telling people what they want or at least expect to hear, and they are lying, they aren't the good guys. Prior to meeting divorce lawyers, I have to tell you I have never met a demographic group before with the majority of persons who enjoy hurting others. In the name of protecting the children, family law suspends every constitutional right that matters. Many of you may read this and think that it is an exceptional case for the courts to grant sole custody to someone alleging "traumatic stress disorder" and violent computer games.
The missive appears to have been written by Hans Reiser, but the jury isn't explicitly told that. Du Bois had no questions for Christensen.
3:30 p.m. Oakland police Officer Leo Sanchez is on the stand. Sanchez, a 10-year veteran, is assigned to the Targeted Enforcement Task Force, or TETF. Sanchez was in an airplane surveilling Hans Reiser on Sept. 18, 2006, assisting ground surveillance units.
Sanchez, echoing earlier testimony from Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero, testified that from the airplane he saw Reiser park his Honda CRX on Monterey Boulevard off Highway 13 that evening. Reiser walked back and forth from the CRX four times, opening the hatchback each time and moving things about inside, Sanchez said.
2:38 p.m. Oakland police Officer Jim Saleda took the stand this afternoon. Saleda is a 10-year OPD veteran who previously served three years as an Oakland Housing Authority police officer. He served 13 years in the Navy and 14 years in the Army Reserve. Saleda was deployed to Iraq from 2003 to 2005 as a cavalry scout, conducting reconnaissance and surveillance.
Saleda said he was surveilling Hans Reiser's home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills on Sept. 18, 2006 when fellow officers radioed to report that Reiser was in a cab apparently headed for the Oakland International Airport. By that time, it was nighttime. Saleda then started to drive down the hill. But moments later, he learned that Reiser wasn't in the cab after all.
At about 9:20 p.m., Saleda then said he and Officer Mark Battle saw a man they believed was Reiser moving quickly on foot on the side of Shepherd Canyon Road in the hills in the dark. The man was doing a "fair jog and, at times, a brisk walk," Saleda said. The man was on the side of oncoming traffic, Saleda said. "He was moving," Saleda said. Asked by prosecutor Paul Hora to explain, Saleda said, "A good jog. Not a full-on sprint."
Was the man believed to be Reiser doing anything else? Hora asked.
"He kept looking around, behind him and to the sides," Saleda said. "He looked at us when we passed."
Saleda said he and Battle pulled off onto Gunn Drive. They saw Reiser, dressed in a white or off-white shirt and dark slacks, pass them. He appeared to be carrying leftovers from a meal, Saleda said. The officers went back to Reiser's home on Exeter Drive, guessing that would be his final destination. But the officers never saw him at the home. They did notice that a red rented Toyota that had been parked outside the home earlier was now gone, Saleda said. Under questioning by the DA, however, Saleda stressed that he believed he would have beat Reiser back to his home that evening.
Although police located Hans Reiser's Honda CRX the night of Sept. 18, 2006, they didn't tow it until the next morning, Saleda said. The car was locked, and Saleda told the tow-truck driver to wear gloves so as not to disturb any evidence. The car was towed to a secure yard at the Oakland police Eastmont substation in East Oakland where the tow-truck driver opened the car with a slim-jim, Saleda said.
2:11 p.m. Oakland police Officer Larry Robertson, a 25-year department veteran, took the stand this afternoon. Robertson, a former Oakland police "Officer of the Year," is assigned to the Targeted Enforcement Task Force, or TETF, which primarily works for the homicide section to locate witnesses and murder suspects.
"Do you often work in an undercover capacity?" prosecutor Paul Hora asked.
Robertson, who wears his hair in a short ponytail and has a graying beard, gave a small smile before saying, "Yes." Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Bruce Brock, a retired OPD homicide detective, gave a knowing smile from the gallery.
Robertson described today what he saw on Sept. 18, 2006 after Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero reported seeing Hans Reiser park his Honda CRX on Monterey Boulevard along Highway 13. Robertson said he saw a taxi pull up to Reiser, who may or may not have gotten the taxi driver's attention. The taxi drove away, and Robertson no longer saw Reiser, leading him to believe that he was in the cab.
Other police officers followed the cab as it headed toward Oakland International Airport, but it was determined that Reiser wasn't inside, Robertson said. Robertson and Officer Omega Crum went up to the abandoned CRX and noticed that the front passenger seat was missing, Robertson testified.
The officers took pictures of the CRX but didn't get into the locked vehicle, Robertson said. Crum installed a GPS tracking device on the car.
11:45 a.m. Through his cross-examination of Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero, defense attorney William Du Bois is trying to hammer home that his client was not trying to hide his CRX, as the DA believes. Guerrero acknowledged that the CRX was found parked on a public street with its license plate clearly visible. But the officer insisted that Reiser was trying to hide the car from the cops. After all, it wasn't at his Exeter Drive home in the Oakland hills, and Reiser was dropped off by friend Artem Mishin in Berkeley a distance away from the CRX, Guerrero said. And Reiser didn't drive the CRX straight home, instead parking it along Monterey Boulevard, the officer said.
Judge Larry Goodman got exasperated as both prosecutor Paul Hora and Du Bois spent some time trying to reconcile whether cops stopped surveilling Reiser at one point because he knew he was being followed. It appeared that Guerrero may have testified one way at the prelim and another way today.
At one point, when Du Bois continued to press Guerrero, the judge told the defense attorney that he had already gone over this "ad nauseum" yesterday. But Du Bois insisted that the DA bring in the actual transcript from the prelim. However, in the interest of time, Hora was allowed to show the defense attorney and Guerrero part of the transcript on the DA's laptop computer. Du Bois repeatedly insisted that Hora bring in the actual transcript, prompting a frustrated judge to report that he was upset with both sides and that this was the way they were going to do it. The attorneys continued to ask questions of Guerrero. Goodman complained that this was going far beyond what was reasonable. Finally, it was time for lunch. Goodman gave jurors the standard admonition not to discuss the case and told counsel to see him in chambers.
10:15 a.m. Oakland police Officer Eugene "Gino" Guerrero, among the officers who surveilled Hans Reiser, is back on the stand on cross. Today, the 21-year department veteran is wearing his Oakland police uniform. Yesterday, he wore a suit.
Guerrero acknowledged to defense attorney William Du Bois some of the pitfalls of undercover surveillance. Sometimes suspects think the plainclothes folks who are following them are drug dealers. The cops are somtimes confronted by someone other than the one they're tailing. Sometimes targets know they're being followed and wave. Or they speed up like they're being pursued. Or they enter the freeway from an off-ramp. Guerrero said it's hard to follow suspects on BART, because officers lose radio contact once trains go underground. In one case, undercover officers marooned a DEA agent on foot at a BART station when they took off in vehicles in two directions, trying to guess where a suspect on BART went.
After Sept. 28, Reiser knew the police were following him, Guerrero said. "We made it obvious to him that we were following him," said Guerrero, who yesterday said this different style of surveillance is known as "bumper locking," in which cops get close to one's bumper if the need arises.
Reiser deliberately hid his Honda CRX from the police, Guerrero said in response to a question by Du Bois. "He did not want the vehicle to be found," Guerrero testified, and Reiser conducted countersurveillance to make sure he wasn't being followed. Under the totality of the circumstances, or "one giant scheme," as Guerrero put it, that's what was going on.
"That's your opinion? You could be wrong?" Du Bois asked.
"That's my opinion. I could be wrong," Guerrero agreed.
In the weeks after Nina Reiser disappeared, police followed Reiser throughout the Bay Area, from the Financial District, where they pulled him over for driving recklessly, to Du Bois' law office near 16th Street and Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland, to the People's Park area in Berkeley, Guerrero testified.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 16 2008 at 04:15 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 17, 2008
4 p.m. The trial resumes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22. We'll be in session Tuesday and Wednesday only next week. Monday Jan. 21 is a court holiday for Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. We're taking Thursday, Jan. 24 off at the request of a juror. As usual, we're dark on Fridays. "Have a nice weekend," Judge Larry Goodman told the jury.
3:30 p.m. After the mid-afternoon break, an Alameda County sheriff's deputy who's usually not assigned to this courtroom proclaimed that "Department 11 is now in session." Problem is, we're in Department 9. The deputy recognized his mistake and said we were, in fact, in Department 9. "We know where he used to work," joked Judge Larry Goodman.
Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining OPD criminalist Todd Weller. Defense attorneys can be quite meticulous. Du Bois asked Weller if he was familiar with the children's book "Runaway Bunny," which was found in Nina Reiser's abandoned Honda Odyssey minivan. Had he ever read the book? What is it about? Du Bois asked.
"It's about a bunny that ran away," Weller said as jurors laughed. Weller told Du Bois that he didn't remember how it ended.
Weller may have solved a little mystery during cross: the meaning of RD, as in the RD number assigned to each case. Previous witnesses opined that the R stood for "report." No one seemed to know what the D stood for. Weller testified this afternoon that RD, in fact, stands for "Records Division." A male juror in the front row looked over at a fellow panelist and nodded, apparently appreciating how this loose end has been tied up.
2:15 p.m. OPD criminalist Todd Weller is back on the stand on direct. Weller testified that a number of other items in Hans Reiser's home, including a white comforter and a mattress and a throw pillow, were found with stains suspected to be that of blood. Items were either swabbed or packaged for transport to the OPD lab, Weller said.
In the basement or crawl space of Reiser's house, police found two brand-new or unused tools, including two shovels and a pick, Weller said as prosecutor Paul Hora flashed a picture of the tools as they were found for the jury.
There was a blood stain on a light switch in an unfinished room in the basement, Weller testified. Hora showed jurors a picture of the stain. There was a white powdery substance near the foot of a door leading into the home, Weller said.
It was probably bound to happen at some point. As Weller testified about "indicia" or written documents found in Reiser's home, defense attorney William Du Bois' cell phone sounded. Du Bois peered at it and put it on the table.
Noon. A bloodstain with a "nice, rich red color" was found on a post in the entryway of Hans Reiser's home on Exeter Drive, OPD criminalist Todd Weller testified. Prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors a picture of the stain and asked Weller if he could tell how old the stain is. "I'm very hesitant to do that," said Weller, adding, "No one has that capability. It would just be a guess."
Three bloodstains were found on a black leather couch in the living room, Weller said.
Jurors haven't yet heard testimony about the source of the blood, although according to previous testimony, the blood on the post belonged to both Hans and Nina Reiser.
11:35 a.m. Oakland police criminalist Todd Weller testified that he also helped to look for evidence at Hans Reiser's home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills. In Reiser's trash were a number of items. One was an e-mail printout that included a message from Reiser to Nina Reiser: "(Their son) does not have asthma. He once had an asthmatic component in his cough. What does that mean in more detail? What were the circumstances and causes of that?"
In a response dated Dec. 10, 2005, Nina Reiser wrote back, "It means that he had wheezing once while he was sick. Dr. Bar-Din prescribed albuterol and flovent for a week. This episode was two years ago and he never had any wheezing since then. (Their son) is seeing Dr. Cook, who has no concerns about asthma. Nina."
Also found was another e-mail from Nina to Hans dated Jan. 18, 2006. "I suggest 'Hoodwinked' at the Grand Lake Theater to accommodate (their daughter), who does not want to watch 'Duma.' Want to meet at 5 for chicken noodle soup at Pho Place on East 18th? Miss Saigon is closed on Wednesdays. I'd like to make an argument that all our meetings and outings remain confidential and are solely for the purpose of establishing civilized relationships between kids and us and cannot be used for any legal purposes. See you soon and have a good day. Nina."
11:15 a.m. Wired blogger David Kravets, who has been attending the trial daily and posting online, shared chocolate-chip cookies with fellow reporters and defense counsel Richard Tamor during a court break. Tamor shared the cookies with lead defense attorney William Du Bois and court reporter Annie Mendiola. The cookies were baked by Kravets' mother, Lois, who mailed them from her Riverside County home. Author Stephen Elliott, who is also been a daily presence at the trial, has shared delectable goodies from Tartine in San Francisco in the past.
The jury was brought back in, but there was somebody noticeably missing. "Where's Bill?" asked prosecutor Paul Hora. Judge Larry Goodman laughed. Du Bois was just here a moment ago. A bailiff went out to find him. The defense attorney walked through the door moments later.
"Sorry, thought you were here," Hora said.
"How are you?" Du Bois smiled to jurors, who smiled back. "Thought I was here too," Du Bois joked.
10:14 a.m. Todd Weller, an Oakland police criminalist, took the stand this morning. Weller inspected Nina Reiser's Honda Odyssey minivan, which was recovered by police Sept. 9, 2006, six days after she disappeared. Her car was found parked and abandoned on Fernwood Drive in Oakland's Montclair district, off Highway 13. Groceries were jumbled on the floor, according to previous testimony. She had taken her two children shopping at the Berkeley Bowl on the day she disappeared.
An envelope with a $2,100 check was addressed to Anthony Britto was found inside the minivan, Weller testified. Britto has previously told the jury that he was Nina Reiser's landlord and that the payment was for rent for her home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood.
Also found in the center console of her minivan was $24.60 and one euro, Weller testified. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Weller if he knew how much a euro was worth in terms of dollars. "It keeps changing -- the dollar keeps falling," Weller said with a smile.
There was also the minutiae of everyday life inside her vehicle, which were displayed on poster boards pictured on the screen: Altoids, and iPod Nano, a handicap parking placard, a FasTrak transponder, a rosary, a necklace, a water bottle, CDs, a CD case, an ad featuring 80 percent off at a clothing store, loose change, an umbrella, a flowery bag, a flashlight, pens and pencils, vehicle registration and tools including pliers and a razor blade that didn't have any blood on it, Weller said.
Police also found a blue purse inside her car. The purse and its contents were put on a poster board; the actual poster board was placed on an easel for the jury as Weller described the contents. It contained $94.07 in cash, a $144.48 receipt detailing 51 items purchased from the Berkeley Bowl and dated 1:55 p.m. Sept. 3, 2006, a bracelet, a hair "scrunchie," an August 2006 earthquake-preparedness form from Joaquin Miller Elementary School, a cell-phone with its battery and battery cover detached (but present), her driver's license, credit cards, Blue Shield insurance cards for her children,a shopping list -- which included Lucky Charms, ham, cheese, pancakes, yogurt, eggs, milk, hamburger buns, chocolate milk -- a dental-office reminder for her son for an appointment 10:30 a.m. Oct. 9, 2006 and a card from a skin-care business that said "Your next appointment is Sept. 27, 2006."
In the center passenger area was bread, children's books including one entitled, "Runaway Bunny," bread and chicken. Asked by Hora if he had noticed an odor in the vehicle, Weller said, "It smelled like rotting food." He agreed that it was consistent with groceries being left in a car for nine days.
In the rear of the minivan were groceries including English muffins, Lucky Charms, apples, bananas, milk, eggs, yogurt and sour cream, Weller said. There was also a second Berkeley Bowl receipt for $15.18 dated 12:38 p.m. Sept. 3, 2006. These were for deli items, the receipt indicated.
Books found in her car were "Parent Power! A Common-Sense Approach to Parenting in the 90s and Beyond," "Kill as Few Patients as Possible," "The Best Advice I Ever Got, "First Things First," and "For Your Own Good: The Roots of Violence in Child-Rearing."
There was a stuffed animal found crammed into a cup-holder, Weller reported.
There were some stains found in the vehicle, but analysis for blood proved negative, Weller said. "No blood was found," he said. "I saw no evidence of a crime."
As Weller testified about fingerprints found inside the vehicle, defense attorney William Du Bois asked Judge Larry Goodman if the CSI's testimony could be read back. Du Bois said he had been distracted by his client. Goodman instructed court reporter Annie Mendiola to read back the testimony, but not before warning Du Bois to tell his client not to divert his attention.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 17 2008 at 03:44 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 22, 2008
3:11 p.m. Blood found on a light switch in the basement of Hans Reiser's home did not match anyone connected to the case, OPD criminalist Shannon Cavness testified this afternoon.
Police obtained a DNA sample from Sean Sturgeon, the onetime paramour of Nina Reiser and Hans Reiser's former best friend. Sturgeon's DNA sample was compared to various pieces of evidence in the murder case, but there were no links, Cavness said.
1:55 p.m. OPD criminalist Shannon Cavness remains on the stand on direct. Cavness said besides the presence of blood on the sleeping bag stuff sack, there were no signs of blood on the interior of Hans Reiser's Honda CRX. But there was "anywhere from half an inch to an inch" of standing water in a compartment of the vehicle, Cavness testified as prosecutor Paul Hora showed jurors a picture of the water on the screen.
Cavness said she analyzed two contact-lens cases, two razors and black underwear taken by Oakland police from Nina Reiser's home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal district. Cavness said she was able to create a DNA profile believed to be that of Nina Reiser from the items. The testing linked Nina Reiser's DNA profile with such certainty that only 1 in 45 trillion people would also match, Cavness said.
Under questioning by Hora, Cavness gave a brief primer of DNA. DNA is the "blueprint of life" and with the exception of twins, individuals have different DNA, she said. Everyone's cells contain DNA. Saliva, sweat, and epithelial cells from the skin all contain DNA, she said.
Cavness said she also analyzed bloodstains found on a pillar in Hans Reiser's home. "When I saw it, this was the first stain I had seen all day. It's very bright red, and it's thicker here," Cavness said, using a red laser pointer on a picture of the stain, "than it is up here." Cavness said she used the chemical phenolphthalein and the sample gave a positive chemical indication for the presence of blood. There was both a major and minor donor to the blood, one female and one male, she said.
Further testing showed that the stain on the pillar contained DNA belonging to both Hans Reiser and his wife, Cavness said. She added that most likely, the DNA came from blood. "I doubt that someone licked this pillar," she said.
Testing of several bloodstains found on a black leather couch from Hans Reiser's home revealed DNA from at least three people, including a female who was not Nina Reiser, Cavness said.
10:10 a.m. Oakland police criminalist Shannon Cavness is on the stand this morning. She has performed forensic biology analysis for seven years for OPD. Before that, she worked at the California Department of Justice's DNA lab.
Technicians examined Hans Reiser's Honda CRX on Sept. 26 and 27, 2006 at the Oakland police Eastmont substation in East Oakland. The car was seized by officers on Sept. 19, 2006 after they reported seeing Reiser park the car -- which belonged to his mother -- on Monterey Boulevard off Highway 13 in the Oakland hills.
Prosecutor Paul Hora showed to the jury pictures of the silver hatchback as it was parked in a secure facility at the substation. There's a bird dropping on the hood. On the left part of the rear bumper is a sticker reading, "Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty."
Overall, the car was in "dirty condition," Cavness testified. There was was a deformity of some kind on the fender above the left rear wheel, she said. The front passenger seat was missing, and the upholstery on the driver's side was torn, exposing padding, Cavness said.
"No blood was detected on the exterior of this vehicle," Cavness said. There was, however, white powder on the frame of the passenger side door, Cavness said. Jurors have previously heard testimony by OPD criminalist Todd Weller that a white powdery substance was found near the foot of a door leading into Reiser's home in the Oakland hills.
Cavness detailed the contents of Reiser's car. Inside was a sleeping bag, a siphon pump, a The North Face Cat's Meow stuff sack, packaging from a 40-piece socket-wrench set, a socket wrench, a green Arizona tea container, Wheat Thins, V-8 tomato juice, a bag of nuts, a tent, a California atlas, a map of the Stockton area, two crime books, plastic bags, wrappers and three bolts on the floor of the passenger side, Cavness said. The bolts that had been found removed fit into holes on the floorboard, she said.
Other items found in the car were mounted on a board placed on an easel for the jury. The items included a roll of 32 blue shop towels, Cavness said. Hora showed jurors a similar, unopened roll containing 55 towels, the implication being that 23 towels were missing.
The floorboard in the passenger area was wet, she said.
A receipt dated 4:17 p.m. Sept. 17, 2006 for a socket wrench set from Kragen Auto Parts was found in the car, Cavness said.
In the front seat area was the hardcover book "Masterpieces of Murder," by Jonathan Goodman, about notorious murder cases, Cavness said. The other book, a softcover found near the tent, was "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" by David Simon, about the Baltimore police homicide squad, she said.
Also found in his car was an Oakland Tribune newspaper article dated Sept. 14, 2006 and entitled, "Police search home of missing woman's spouse," Cavness said.
Other receipts found in the car included one from Patelco credit union dated 12:08 p.m. Sept. 11, 2006 showing a $130 transaction, a Target receipt dated 9:33 p.m. Sept. 11, 2006 with purchases including Hanes fleece, a U-Haul printout dated Sept. 17, 2006 detailing a proposed trip from Manteca to Oakland on that same day, a receipt for a Motel 6 in Fremont showing an arrival date of Sept. 10, 2006 and a departure date for the next day, Cavness said.
Defense attorney William Du Bois piped up, noting that he didn't want these receipts introduced for "the truth of the matter," suggesting that the info they contained might not be legit. Hora said evenly, "They could be fakes" but noted that Cavness was "simply talking about what she discovered in the car." Hora said he expected things to be tied up later, and Judge Larry Goodman sided with the DA.
Police found an insurance card with the name of Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer, and a copy of the ticket Reiser received from a Redwood City police officer on Sept. 12, 2006, Cavness testified.
Another receipt was one from Kragen Auto Parts found in the trunk area of Reiser's car, Cavness said. The receipt showed a purchase of shop towels and isopropyl alcohol, she said.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 22 2008 at 02:24 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 23, 2008
12:26 p.m. Defense attorney Richard Tamor continued his cross of OPD criminalist Shannon Cavness far beyond the time to break for lunch, and now we know why: Judge Larry Goodman's clerk, Fil Cruz, has a personal matter to attend to and, as a result, we won't be in court this afternoon. Tamor had been going through a lot of calcuations as to the odds of Nina and Hans Reiser's DNA being on various items. One juror got permission to stand up and stretch. He also did a twirl. "That was very graceful," Goodman said, giving him a thumbs-up as fellow jurors laughed.
Another juror had previously requested that we not be in session on Thursday, Jan. 24 to attend a seminar, so we're dark until Monday, Jan. 28 at 10 a.m. As usual, court is dark on Fridays. Prosecutor Paul Hora estimated that he has about two more weeks of evidence to present.
10:40 a.m. Hans Reiser's other defense attorney, Richard Tamor, is cross-examining OPD criminalist Shannon Cavness. We hadn't heard a peep from Tamor during the entire trial until yesterday, when Tamor said he didn't want to voir dire Cavness or confirm that her credentials justified her being called an expert in her field.
Tamor graduated from UC Berkeley and UCLA School of Law. He was admitted to the California State Bar in 1995 and maintains offices in Oakland and Pleasanton with his wife, attorney Jovita Tamor.
This morning, Tamor asked Cavness to confirm that one can't determine exactly when bloodstains are left on something, that it could be up to 30 years ago that blood may have deposited. He then referred specifically to bloodstains found on a pillar in his client's home. Cavness testified yesterday on direct that DNA matching both that of Hans and Nina Reiser were found in the bloodstains. "You can't tell us whether those mixtures in this case were deposited at the same time. You can't tell us whether one DNA sample was deposited days before the other DNA sample, isn't that right?" Tamor asked.
"That's correct," Cavness replied.
"You can't tell us if DNA sample 1 was deposited even years before DNA sample 2?" Tamor asked.
"That's right. I have no way of dating a DNA sample," Cavness said.
"And the other thing about DNA isn't this true, is you can't tell us exactly how it was deposited?" Tamor asked.
"That's correct," Cavness said.
Tamor then elicited an acknowledgement by Cavness that she had, in fact, made a mistake while swabbing the bloodstains on the pillar. She said she should have taken two samples instead of one on an area of the pillar where blood was seen.
"That's a mistake?" Tamor asked.
"I'll admit that I should have taken at least two samples," Cavness said.
"If you had to do it over, you would have swabbed it two different times, right?" Tamor asked.
"At least two distinct areas, yes," Cavness said.
"And isn't it generally accepted in the forensic community that what you do is you swab them separately when you see two distinct bloodstains like that?" Tamor said.
"Yes," Cavness said.
"And you didn't do that in this case?" Tamor asked.
"No, I didn't," she said, adding that she had believed the blood came from a single source, "which is a mistake on my part."
Tamor then asked if what Cavness had analyzed in the lab wasn't what she had found in the field.
"No, I wouldn't agree with that," said Cavness, who noted that she had taken a "substrate control sample," swabbing an area four inches below the bloodstain on the pillar to look for DNA. She said she found no alleles or samples in that control area.
Tamor was on a roll until he asked Cavness if it was true that his client had been living in the Honda CRX that police had seized. Hora objected on the grounds of speculation, and Judge Larry Goodman sustained it. Tamor persisted, but the judge stood his ground.
Even so, Cavness confirmed to Tamor that the Honda contained food and drinks -- albeit with both full and empty containers -- as well as toiletry items, a sleeping bag and reading material. The judge and some jurors appeared to have bemused smiles on their faces.
The judge also seemed bemused when Tamor suggested that Nina Reiser may have drooled on a sleeping bag sack found in the defendant's car, accounting for her DNA being found in a bloodstain on the sack.
10:12 a.m. "Good morning," Judge Larry Goodman said to jurors as they filed into Dept. 9. "Everyone ready for some more DNA?" The panelists laughed.
"What is DNA?" defense attorney William Du Bois said in jest, to no one in particular.
"Deoxyribonucleic acid," responded the judge, smiling and adding, "We're off the record."
With jurors seated, we're now on the record and Oakland police criminalist Shannon Cavness is back on the stand. Prosecutor Paul Hora began by saying, "I don't know if I asked you before, but what does DNA stand for?"
Cavness looked at Goodman and said, "You could ask the judge that." Jurors laughed. Cavness then responded, "Deoxyribonucleic acid."
On a more serious note, Hora ended his questioning of Cavness with a hypothetical question: if he got some blood on his clothing, would he be able to wash it off somehow to get it clean?
"Probably every woman in here has the experience of getting blood in her underpants during the menses," Cavness said. "I find that cold water works extremely well for getting bloodstains out of stained garments."
Hora asked, "And if you use copious amounts of water, lots and lots of water, would that be better?"
"Usually, I would soak my garment in a bucket or in the laundry," Cavness said.
Hora continued, "I guess what I'm asking is, is it your opinion that water all by itself could be sufficient to wash out a blood stain?"
Cavness replied, "Yes, given that it's a blood stain. I guess it wouldn't matter how old it was. It would wash it away, yes." She added that blood cells lyse, or break apart, with the addition of water, as opposed to sperm cells. "Soap is not enough to break open a sperm cell," she said.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 23 2008 at 12:00 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 28, 2008
4:45 p.m. The mystery is solved. According to prosecutor Paul Hora, the man who was a co-signer on Nina Reiser's Chase Bank credit-card account was none other than Herman Lavrentiev, Nina Reiser's stepfather (married to Irina Sharanova), otherwise known as Hans Reiser's father-in-law. Public records had his name misspelled as "Layrentiev."The letters V and Y are often misread. That might explain why Oakland police Officer Michael Weisenberg couldn't locate a Herman Layrentiev. Other police officers are aware of Herman Lavrentiev, authorities say. Sharanova will testify later in the trial.
3:46 p.m. Patelco Credit Union internal audit and security manager Erin Morasch is now discussing accounts held by Hans Reiser. Morasch also reviewed Reiser's transaction activity from January to October 2006.
At one point this afternoon, a cell phone belonging to a male juror in the front row sounded with a funky song. The juror quickly silenced it and raised his hand with a smile in acknowledgment. His fellow panelists laughed. Judge Larry Goodman smiled.
Meanwhile, Morasch continued with his testimony on direct. "Banking, it's fascinating stuff," quipped Morasch.
"Especially at 3:45," prosecutor Paul Hora said.
Asked by Hora if he noticed any trends with respect to Hans Reiser's transaction activity, Morasch said, "Yes. There's a drop in transactions after July." Hora showed for jurors a bar graph prepared by Morasch visually depicting Hans Reiser's activity.
Hora showed the jury another graph, this time showing day-to-day transactions around that time. There's a gap between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15, Morasch said. But there was a significant increase in cash withdrawals from his account, including one for $5,000 on Sept. 21, he said.
2:22 p.m. Erin Morasch, an internal audit and security manager at Patelco Credit Union, is on the stand. He handles fraud investigations for the credit union, looking for abnormal transactions. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Patelco about a month ago for a review of activity on accounts held by both Hans and Nina Reiser.
Nina Reiser became a Patelco member in September 2004, Morasch testified. She had a checking and savings account and a debit card, he said. Hans Reiser's account was first set up in January 1991. Nina Reiser was added to his account at an unknown date, Morasch said. The joint account was closed in August 2004, he said. The same day that joint account was closed, a single account in the name of Hans Reiser was opened, Morasch said.
At this point, defense attorney William Du Bois said these were clearly business records that Morasch was referring to and that most likely he didn't have an independent recollection of these accounts being opened or closed. At the very least, Hora should identify each record and to properly lay each foundation as required by the evidence code, Du Bois told Judge Larry Goodman.
Morasch said he prepared the documents in question, which are known as MAIs, or Member Account Inquiries.
Morasch obtained all of Nina Reiser's transactions from January to October 2006, including checks that were written and deposited, ATM withdrawals and deposits and any in-person deposits that may have been made at any one of Patelco's 40 branches, Morasch said.
Morasch prepared a bar graph showing Nina Reiser's transactions each month in 2006. She had an average of 35 transactions a month, he said. She had 43 transactions in August 2006, but far fewer transactions in September 2006, the month she disappeared. There is no activity after that and, as a result, no bars for October to December 2006.
Nina Reiser made payments to the DMV, utilities and landlord Anthony Britto in the months before she disappeared, according to Morasch. She also used her debit card at gas stations in Oakland, a Target store in San Leandro, a Radio Shack, and at a Long's drug store in the weeks and days before she disappeared. Morasch also confirmed that he found two payments to the Berkeley Bowl on Sept. 3, 2006 - $144.48 and $15.18 -- the last debit card transactions on her account.
Her last check on her Patelco account was written on Aug. 28, 2006 to Adventure Time in the amount of $497.52, Morasch said. Adventure Time was the Reiser children's afterschool daycare at Joaquin Miller Elementary School.
Nina Reiser last logged in online to her Patelco account at 10:31 p.m. on Aug. 31, 2006, Morasch said. Her bank-account balance was $4486.22 on Sept. 3, 2006, Morasch said. As of this morning, her balance was $4504.41, he said. Her account, which accrued interest, is dormant, Morasch said. If she were to show up at a Patelco branch, would she still be entitled to that money? Hora asked. Yes, said Morasch. There has been no activity on her account since Sept. 3, 2006, including in-person deposits, checks written, ATM withdrawals, online deposits or anything else, Morasch said in response to a series of questions by Hora.
A check drawn on Hans and Nina Reiser's joint MBNA credit-card account was written in the amount of $7,500 on June 16, 2006, Morasch said. It was essentially a cash advance on her credit card, he said.
2:16 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois opened his cross of Oakland police Officer Omega Crum with a joke: "Do you have any relatives named Alpha?" Some jurors laughed. Du Bois asked several questions before sitting down.
12:15 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois has filed papers asking for a mistrial on the grounds that Judge Larry Goodman improperly rebuked Du Bois in open court last month. (Du Bois firmly believes that the Reiser's son clearly testified that on Sept. 3, 2006 he saw his mother walk up the steps of Hans Reiser's home, get into her car and drive away.) Du Bois and the judge got into a huge argument in front of the jury on Dec. 12, accusing Du Bois of commenting on evidence not before the jury. Du Bois persisted in his assertions, and the judge threatened to hold Du Bois in contempt. "In chambers!" Goodman barked at Du Bois at one point.
In his motion filed today, Du Bois called for a mistrial. If Goodman denies the mistrial motion, then the defense "moves this court to correct its error by informing the jury to specifically disregard its inaccurate, intemperate, unfair remarks referenced above" and to remind the jury that they are the "sole, exclusive judges of the facts in this case." It's up to the jury, Du Bois and co-defense counsel Richard Tamor wrote, to determine whether in fact Nina Reiser hugged her son "and as he testified at trial, left the house and walked up the outside stairs to her van, and as he testified at the PX (preliminary hearing) got in her van and drove away."
11:52 a.m. Oakland police Officer Omega Crum took the stand. He's an eight-year department veteran and another member of the Targeted Enforcement Task Force.
Crum said placed a GPS tracking device on the Honda CRX that police saw Hans Reiser driving on Sept. 18, 2006 during a massive surveillance operation. But the car never moved and Reiser never went back to the car after police saw him park it. Until that time, police didn't know where the CRX was. The next day, police towed it to the Eastmont police substation, Crum said.
Crum also said he placed a GPS device on a car rented by Hans Reiser on Sept. 18, 2006. When police went to retrieve the device on Oct. 13, 2006, the GPS unit was missing its battery. Crum said, adding that its absence was consistent with someone having intentionally removed it as opposed to it simply falling out by itself.
Police found in the rental car a red box consistent with a box seen sitting on a bookshelf in Hans Reiser's home, Crum said. Inside the box were numerous receipts, bills and paperwork with Reiser's name on it, the officer said. There was also a floppy disc and a printout entitled "Pediatrics," with a discussion of Munchausen-by-proxy syndrome, police said.
11:22 a.m. On cross-examination, OPD Officer Michael Weisenberg confirmed that a credit card belonging to Nina Reiser and found in her estranged husband's fanny pack on Sept. 28, 2006 had expired in 2005.
Weisenberg confirmed to defense attorney William Du Bois that the officer had interviewed the Reisers' son on Sept. 25, 2006. The boy told the officer that he had seen his mother leave his father's house, the officer said. Prosecutor Paul Hora objected to this line of questioning, saying it was "beyond the scope of direct" and that the boy's interview had been admitted as evidence. The judge allowed Du Bois to ask this single question. Weisenberg confirmed that that's what the boy said.
Police also interviewed Irina Sharanova, Nina Reiser's mother, Weisenberg said. The officer confirmed to Du Bois that maps of Stockton and Manteca and a Redwood City police citation dated Sept. 12, 2006 were found in Hans Reiser's car. Asked by Du Bois if he had noticed if anything had been circled on the maps, Weisenberg said he hadn't looked at the actual maps. Weisenberg confirmed that to his knowledge, police have not found any storage units rented by Hans Reiser. Hora unsuccessfully objected on the grounds of speculation, but Du Bois said he was only asking about the officer's knowledge. The judge overruled the DA's objection.
Du Bois asked Weisenberg if he had read the two books found in Hans Reiser's car, "Masterpieces of Murder" and "Homicide." The officer said he had not. Asked by the defense attorney if he knew what the subject matter of those books were, the officer said he only knew what the books were about generally, based on the covers.
"So everybody judges books by their cover, is that right?" Du Bois asked.
The mustachioed Weisenberg grinned and said, "I'm not going to answer that."
Reisenberg told Du Bois that police called storage centers in Redwood City, Union City, Hayward, Manteca and Stockton. No one reported any storage units rented by Hans Reiser, Weisenberg said.
Also contacted was a Motel 6, an ex-nanny for the Reiser children and MBNA, Bank of America and other financial institutions to see if there had been any activity on Nina Reiser's accounts, Weisenberg said. Her Citibank card had been used on Sept. 1, 2006 at a Long's drug store, but her BofA card hadn't been used since June 2006. Other cards hadn't been used since that time, either, Weisenberg testified. A Chase Bank credit card was used in August 2006, and the account was co-signed by a Herman Layrentiev, someone Weisenberg didn't know. Police conducted a full records check on Layrentiev -- including DMV and NCIC (National Crime Information Center computerized index of criminal justice info) for any criminal history and "I was unable to come up with any matches on this man," Weisenberg said.
Du Bois asked Weisenberg if it didn't strike him as strange as someone more or less "invisible" with apparently good credit was a co-signer on the Chase account. Du Bois asked if this man's last name was Russian. The officer said he didn't know and added that he doesn't even know if this person even exists.
"Did it strike you as unusual that there was this individual with a bank account with a co-signer" that he can't identify? Du Bois asked.
"Very unusual," Weisenberg agreed.
10:35 a.m. Oakland police Officer Michael Weisenberg, a six-year department veteran, is on the stand. He currently works in the Internal Affairs division. Prior to that, at the time Nina Reiser disappeared, he was assigned to the Special Victims Section. Weisenberg formerly worked for the Peralta Community College District and El Cerrito police departments.
Police served a search warrant on Yahoo to get access to the e-mail account email@example.com, Weisenberg said. Yahoo complied and provided police with a CD containing numerous e-mail messages, Weisenberg said.
One e-mail was dated 6:28 p.m. Sept. 16, 2006, 13 days after Nina Reiser disappeared, Weisenberg said as Hora flashed a printout of the e-mail on the screen. Defense attorney unsuccessfully objected to this e-mail on the grounds of hearsay.
The e-mail, apparently written by Hans Reiser to a group of employees at his company Namesys, included the subject line "Nina." It read, "As you will probably hear, Nina has disappeared. As her ex-husband, statistics require the police to investigate me in depth. I cannot comment on the matter, as my attorney says he will quit the case if I do so to anyone without his presence. It is my hope that you will all be insulated from this matter. However, I will be difficult to reach at times. I am sure you understand."
Police found a receipt from a Manteca 7-Eleven store in the Honda CRX that Hans Reiser had been driving, Weisenberg testified. The receipt was dated 8:57 a.m. Sept. 17, 2006, the officer said as Hora showed the actual receipt for jurors.
On Sept. 28, 2006, Oakland police detained Hans Reiser for a court-ordered DNA sample. Police took pictures of the contents of his fanny pack, Weisenberg testified. The items included an Oakland Public Library card, a Berkeley Public Library, a Barnes and Noble member card, a business card from California Self Storage in Manteca, a "frequent diner reward" card for Tomatina restaurant in Alameda, a card from Sundance Steakhouse, an AT&T phone card, a Citibank card belonging to Nina Reiser, a Borders Books card, several business cards, a receipt from Kragen Auto Parts in San Lorenzo for a $15.99 siphon pump, a Roseville Target receipt, a Patelco Credit Union transaction receipt, a Roseville Tooley Oil Company receipt, a 24 Hour Fitness card, a Blockbuster Video card, a Visa card belonging to Hans Reiser, an Exploratorium card and a Namesys business card with Hans Reiser's name on it, Weisenberg said as pictures of the items were shown to the jury.
10:12 a.m. Dennis Castro, who works for the Oakland Police Department's Information Technology or IT department, is on the stand. Castro told prosecutor Paul Hora that he examined a computer at the DA's request last week.
The computer was found in Hans Reiser's home on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills, according to Hora, who showed jurors pictures of the computer that were taken by crime-scene technicians.
The hard drive was missing but was there at some point, Castro said, citing scratches inside the computer tower.
Defense attorney William Du Bois consulted with Reiser before telling Judge Larry Goodman that there would be no cross-examination.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 28 2008 at 05:14 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 29, 2008
4:03 p.m. As CPS worker Seng Fong's testimony turned to the fact that the Reiser children are in Russia with their maternal grandmother, it was clear that this issue -- long a sore spot with the defendant -- was bothering him as he sat at the defense table. Judge Larry Goodman had said in open court that the issue over who had custody of the children was still on appeal. As prosecutor Paul Hora wrapped up his direct examination, defense attorney William Du Bois started to address Goodman, only to be interrupted by his client. "SHH!" Du Bois said loudly to his client. Reiser raised his hand -- as if someone, if not the judge, would call on him -- and began speaking loudly as jurors were present.
"Mr. Reiser, please," Goodman warned from the bench. "I'm as tolerant as I can be this afternoon, and I'm starting to lose my patience. Talk to your lawyer in a low tone."
Du Bois told the judge that his cross of Fong would "take a while" and suggested that he start fresh on Wednesday. Du Bois also noted that his client had some concerns that he wanted to address outside the presence of the jury. The jurors were dismissed for the day.
And that's when the fireworks started. Reiser said he didn't wish to stipulate that the issue of the children's custody was on appeal. The judge said he'd be happy to have court reporter Annie Mendiola prepare a transcript and that the lawyers could go over what was said in court. "If I misspoke, we'll fix it, but I don't think I did," the judge said.
Addressing the judge directly, Reiser said, "It's still an issue whether the U.S. courts have lost jurisdiction over the children completely."
"That's right, and what I said was it's still subject to appeal, who's going to end up with the kids," Goodman said.
Reiser replied, "That implies that the U.S. appellate courts have the power." Wagging his finger at the judge, Reiser asserted, "That doesn't apply."
"Mr. Reiser, you point your finger at me again and use that tone with me, you're going to have a serious problem," the judge said. "The bottom line is, is there any court of any jurisdiction in any country in this world who's said who's going to have custody of the kids in the end, to your knowledge?"
Reiser hesitated a bit, then said, "The U.S. courts doesn't have the power to compel the kids to return."
"That's not what I asked you," Goodman said. "Has it been settled in any court who's going to have custody of the kids in the end? Is it not still subject to litigation?"
Reiser said, "I'm hesitant to characterize the actions of the Russian court."
The discussion then shifted to Reiser's renewed request to see all the pieces of evidence in the case, everything the police have ever touched, as Du Bois put it. The judge has heard this request before and made clear he wouldn't allow Reiser access to simply everything.
"Unless you can show -- what I'm inclined to do is to have him come up with a specific exhibit with a reason why, and maybe then we can make those available," Goodman said. "But we're not going to haul all this in here so he can do whatever he pleases to do."
Reiser then raised his hand again and complained that the DA wasn't handing over evidence or discovery in a timely manner. Prosecutor Paul Hora objected to this characterization, saying he routinely shares things like interview statements with the defense as a courtesy.
Goodman told Reiser that his attorneys understand that it takes time to review material before they cross-examine witnesses. Reiser continued complaining about the way the trial was proceeding, leading Du Bois to remark that what his client was saying sounded awful lot like a Marsden motion, when a defendant expresses to the court a desire to have new counsel appointed. Problem is, Du Bois wasn't appointed by the court but was retained by Reiser himself, the judge told the defendant.
"You can fire him at any time you want, but that's not going to stop the trial from going forward," the judge said. Reiser said he believed he was allowed a delay of 60 to 90 days if he got a new attorney, but the judge said that only applied before the trial began. "Change your lawyers now, nothing's going to stop. I told you that," the judge said. "We're not stopping this trial for 60 to 90 days. That's not happening. You fire him, we go tomorrow with whoever you have."
Reiser continued with his grumbling. The judge said, "You know, Mr. Reiser, you can do whatever you want to do. You have the right to represent yourself. Call any lawyer in Alameda County and say, "You want to do my trial?"
Reiser said he couldn't phone people while in jail.
"Then you got friends who can make calls for you," the judge replied.
Reiser challenged, "So you're not offering me a realistic alternative?"
"I'm telling you how it's going to be be. This is becoming absurd, Mr. Reiser," the judge continued. "You've got two of the best attorneys. If you want to fire him, if you want to represent yourself starting tomorrow, go for it. Other than that, you get Mr. Du Bois, you get Mr. Tamor. They're doing a fine job. We'll see everybody at 10 tomorrow morning."
And with that, the judge left the bench. Reiser spent a number of minutes conferring with his attorneys before being led away. Du Bois later emerged, saying that as far as he knows, both he and Tamor are still on the case. Du Bois said his client tends to get upset when the issue of the custody of his children is raised.
2:43 p.m. Seng Fong, an eight-year employee of Alameda County Social Services, is on the stand. Fong works as a dependency investigations worker for children and family services, also known as CPS.
On Sept. 8, 2006, Fong was assigned the case of the Reiser children, who were taken into protective custody by Oakland police that day. Fong reviewed the case and filed a petition with juvenile court. She confirmed to prosecutor Paul Hora that if CPS doesn't file a petition, the agency can only release children to their biological parents, as opposed to grandparents.
On Sept. 13, 2006, there was a hearing about the Reiser children at Superior Court in Oakland. CPS makes every effort to notify parents, who have a right to attend the detention hearing, Fong said. Hans Reiser attended most of the 15 court hearings about where to place his children, Fong said. Nina Reiser didn't attend the Sept. 13 hearing, Fong said.
A judge ordered that the county take temporary custody of the children pending a trial on Sept. 18, 2006, Fong said. On that day, Fong testified, as did then-Oakland police Officer Ryan Gill, Irina Sharanova, Nina Reiser's mother; and Beverly Palmer, Hans Reiser's mother, Fong said. After the hearing, the judge ordered that the children be held in foster care, she said.
The children were still under the care and control of social services when they were placed with Ellen Doren, Nina Reiser's best friend, Fong testified. Until that date, the children were staying at a stranger's home, she said.
On Sept. 27, 2006, there was a jurisdictional hearing for the court to decide if the judge should take jurisdiction of the children, meaning the children would be under the care and custody of CPS outside their home, Fong said.
Additional hearings were held -- or simply continued, or delayed -- on these dates: Oct. 4, 11, 12, 19, 25, Nov. 9, Dec. 6, 14, 2006. (Hans Reiser was arrested on Oct. 10, 2006 but nevertheless appeared at most of the hearings while in custody). At each hearing, there are attorneys representing Hans Reiser, his children and the social services agency. Reiser fought for custody of his kids the whole time, Fong said.
On Dec. 5, the judge received paperwork from Fong that said social services had no problems with Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, took the Reiser children to Russia for the holidays, Fong said. The vacation was to be from Dec. 23, 2006 to Jan. 14, 2007. But by Jan. 24, 2007, the date of the next child-custody hearing, Sharanova had not returned with the children to the U.S.
By Feb. 22, 2007, the court finally decided that the county will have jurisdiction over the Reiser children, Fong said. The only question that remains is where they will be placed, she said. As of that date, the children were still in Russia, Fong said.
On March 28, 2007, there's yet another hearing, and the children are still in Russia, Fong said. The judge ordered that the children be made dependents of the court. "The court takes jurisdiction of them and the court basically placed the children with the maternal grandmother, Irina Sharanova," Fong said. "The court approved placement" with Sharanova, Fong said. Nina Reiser never showed up in person or on the phone at any hearing, Fong said.
At this point, defense attorney William Du Bois told Judge Larry Goodman that he believed that the whole issue about the children was still unclear and repeated concerns his client had over whether U.S. courts had jurisdiction over the children in Russia.
2:18 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Erin Morasch, an auditor with Patelco Credit Union.
Morasch confirmed that Hans Reiser has had accounts with Patelco since 1991 and that the auditor didn't analyze any of the defendant's transactions before January 2006.
Du Bois asked Morasch if he knew how far Latvia was from St. Petersburg, Russia. Yesterday, Morasch testified that Nina Reiser, who is from St. Petersburg, received an $8,000 wire from a Latvia bank in the months before she disappeared.
"I don't believe it's very far. I think they're in the same neighborhood," Morasch said. That prompted Hans Reiser, sitting at the defense table, to smile while vigorously shaking his head.
Du Bois continued to grill Morasch about his geographical knowledge, including where Moscow was in relationship to St. Petersburg. Did Morasch know that Latvia is a separate country? Du Bois asked.
"How is this relevant?" asked Judge Larry Goodman.
"I'll stipulate to the world map," said prosecutor Paul Hora.
Du Bois then got to the point: does Morasch know why someone who lives in St. Petersburg -- or Russia, for that matter -- is dealing with a bank in Latvia? Morasch said no to both counts.
Hora had some more questions for Morasch. As he went through more documents, Du Bois said, "I'll stipulate to the whole document." Hora said he had a right to go through the document in detail, and that's what he was going to do. But he noted, "I accept the stipulation."
Back to Du Bois, who complained that the DA's redirect had gone "way beyond the scope" of earlier questioning. Du Bois asked Morasch if he agreed that if someone's credit card was declined, that it's a very embarrassing thing. Yes, Morasch said, agreeing he knows how that would feel. "Especially for someone in your field," Du Bois joked.
"You never decline late charges?" Du Bois asked.
"We always get our money," Morasch said with a smile before bidding jurors adieu.
2:15 p.m. Some housekeeping. Judge Larry Goodman welcomed jurors back from the lunch break and addressed a question everyone wants to know: how long is this trial going to last? The judge had some info for everyone: this Thursday, Jan. 31, will be a half day (morning session only) to allow the attorneys to go over exhibits in the case. Prosecutor Paul Hora estimates he'll be done with his case on Feb. 7, the judge said. The defense will begin its case in chief on Feb. 11 and might be done by Feb. 14, depending on whether Hans Reiser testifies or not, Goodman said. Closing arguments would then follow, and the jury would get the case and begin deliberating around Feb. 25, the judge said. (Of course, this could all change. Jurors were initially told that they'd get the case by mid-January.)
12:15 p.m. KTVU Channel 2 reporter John Sasaki and cameraman Tony Hodrick showed up late this afternoon at the Reiser trial. They're doing a special report that touches on the Reiser case and that of Eric Mora, who is charged with murdering his girlfriend, Cynthia Alonzo, in 2004. Alonzo's body hasn't been found, just like Nina Reiser's body hasn't been found, yet there is a stark difference with respect to the public's interest in the two cases. Hans Reiser's attorney, William Du Bois, is also defending Mora, who is still at the preliminary hearing stage. Judge Larry Goodman, the Reiser trial jurist, is the judge in the Mora case.
Sasaki asked Du Bois outside court how he thought the defense was doing. "Fabulous -- we haven't started it yet (at that point co-counsel Richard Tamor gave a small laugh in the foyer) but we're all very optimistic," Du Bois said.
Sasaki asked why the Reiser case has captivated people. "I don't know," the defense attorney said. "Sometimes the Bay Area has unusual preferences. But this has a lot of unusual people in it, and a lot of unusual events. You're talking about the juxtaposition of a Russian national and an American citizen, a boy genius, inventor of the incredible computer filing system. All that has a modern pizzazz to it. It has elements that are unique, plus there's no body. We ain't got no body. There's a little element of mystery and since the missing person has a whole life halfway around the world, it's not self-evident where that person is."
Sasaki asked Du Bois to compare and contrast the Reiser and Mora cases. Du Bois said he believed the DA filed charges against Mora only after a judge held Reiser over for trial. Du Bois said there's less public interest in the Mora proceedings because "it's a case with no sex appeal." The players are from a lower socioeconomic background, and Alonzo is African American, he said, adding, "It's a classic difference between a Greek comedy and a Greek tragedy." The Greek tragedy involves nobility, while a Greek comedy only affects the common people, Du Bois said.
Asked by Sasaki if he was upset that so little attention was paid to such cases, Du Bois responded that he's "come to accept it as a reality in my profession."
Sasaki then interviewed me, asking me similar questions. The KTVU piece is slated to air in the next week or two.
11:53 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois told Judge Larry Goodman that he had some good news: he had "nowhere near" the number of questions for Patelco auditor Erin Morasch.
Du Bois asked Morasch if he realized that Reiser's Visa card was maxed out in August 2006.
"You think it's just a mere coincidence that you saw little Visa activity when he had no credit?" Du Bois asked. "Don't you find that in a case when people have no credit on their credit card that they don't use it too much?"
"Yes," Morasch agreed.
"So this is consistent with that?" Du Bois asked, that not using a credit card is consistent with not having any credit balance on a credit card.
"Correct," the auditor responded.
Du Bois asked Morasch if he was familiar with how Reiser paid employees of his company Namesys. Morasch said he didn't know about that nor about how an ATM card was used by company employees. Du Bois asked if the auditor was aware that Reiser had "lost one of his primary accounts" in August 2006, and Morasch said he wasn't familiar with the details. Morasch confirmed that he only checked the history of Hans Reiser's Patelco accounts going back to January 2006.
10:10 a.m. Erin Morasch of Patelco Credit Union is back on the stand on direct. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Morasch, an internal audit and security manager, to confirm a few deposits made into Nina Reiser's account from June to August 2006. They included a wire from a Latvia bank for $8,000, a deposit of $2,100 from former paramour Sean Sturgeon -- who had been Hans Reiser's best friend until Sturgeon had an affair with Nina Reiser -- and two child support payments from Hans Reiser for $2,643 and $1,260. The $2,100 payment from Sturgeon appears to be a rent payment that Nina Reiser's landlord had previously discussed.
Turning anew to the Patelco accounts of Hans Reiser, Morasch testified that Reiser was a regular user of his Visa card until August 2006, when there were no transactions. There was a single "transaction" -- an overdraft -- in September 2006, he said. While Visa transactions dropped that month to nothing, his cash withdrawals spiked, Morasch said. "That pattern was not there prior to August 2006," Morasch said.
The longest average gap in Hans Reiser's Patelco account was about five to six days from January to July 2006, Morasch said. But from Aug. 28 to Sept. 11, 2006, "there wasn't much going on in the account at all. There was just an empty period of time," save for a couple of automatic deductions, Morasch said.
Hans Reiser had five Patelco cards with which he could withdraw money, Morasch said. Patelco limits its members to a $500 withdrawal each day, Morasch said. Hora asked if members could get more money if they had more cards, and Morasch said yes.
On Sept. 11, 2006, there was a $130 in-person withdrawal from Hans Reiser's account from Patelco's Oakland branch, Morasch said. That amount was the bulk of what was in the account, as only 61 cents remained. On Sept. 19, 2006 there was an in-person check deposit for $12,000 at the Oakland branch, Morasch said. That same day, there was a deposit of $7,447 into his account. On Sept. 20, 2006, $44 was moved from one account to another. That same day, there was a $5,000 withdrawal, Morasch said.
On Sept. 23, 2006, there was a series of transactions that "looked unusual in my eyes," Morasch said. It appeared that Hans Reiser "drives from branch to branch to branch to withdraw funds from his account." Reiser first went to a San Leandro Patelco at 12:16 p.m. and withdrew $1,000, Morasch said. He then apparently drove to a Hayward Patelco and withdrew another $1,000 at 12:54 p.m., the auditor said. Reiser then went to a Fremont Patelco at 1:47 p.m. and got another $1,000, Morasch said. Reiser has withdrawn large sums of money before, but "not in this time frame," Morasch said. "It's uncommon for members to drive from branch to branch to branch to withdraw cash," he said. "I mean, usually you don't want to inconvenience yourself. You just take it out when you need it. My experience as a fraud investigator is it looks like a fraud pattern."
Reiser apparently transferred some funds from one account to another and made four withdrawals of $500 each from an ATM at the Fremont Patelco on Sept. 23, Morasch said. All told, Reiser withdrew $10,000 from his Patelco accounts from Sept. 20 to 23, Morasch said.
Beginning at 4:51 p.m. on Sept. 24, 2006, Reiser made three withdrawals of about $500 each from a U.S. Bank ATM in Truckee. The third withdrawal created an overdraft, which led funds from his Visa account and others to be transferred over to reduce the negative to zero, Morasch said.
That single Visa transaction related to the overdraft was the only activity on the Visa account in September, Morasch said.
There was a series of in-person transactions from 1:52 p.m. to 2:07 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2006 at Patelco's Oakland branch on 22nd Street, Morasch said. There were six transfers. "Mostly it's movement of money from one subaccount to another," he said. "That's the majority of these transactions."
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 29 2008 at 06:39 PM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 30, 2008
4 p.m. Judge Larry Goodman ended the day with a definition of what a stipulation is. He said he wanted to make sure "everybody is happy," in a pointed remark to Hans Reiser, who had earlier voiced concerns.
"A stipulation is an agreement between the attorneys regarding the facts," Goodman told jurors. "If the attorneys have stipulated or agreed to a fact, you must regard that fact as proven."
3:50 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois asked DOJ Special Agent Michael Fanucchi a series of questions about the wiretapped recordings that captured voice-mail messages left for Hans Reiser on his cell-phone. Du Bois asked a number of rudimentary questions about what the jurors had heard. As the questioning continued, Judge Larry Goodman shook his head and later held his head in his hands. "Bill," the judge said, motioning to the defense attorney to approach the side of the courtroom. Prosecutor Paul Hora joined in the discussion. The judge pointed to things on a transcript. When the powwow was over, Du Bois joked that maybe he should put the judge on the stand. Goodman joked back that if Du Bois called him, he'd go.
Du Bois got to the point. He asked Fanucchi what happens when someone downloads voice mail. "I use 'downloading' because I'm trying to be modern," Du Bois said, drawing guffaws from jurors. The defense attorney asked if it could be shown that messages left for Reiser on Sept. 6, 2006 were in fact heard for the first time on Sept. 23, 2006, as we appeared to hear on some recordings.
"I can't testify that that was the first time it was heard," Fanucchi said. The special agent said the message could have been heard a while ago and then saved, but that couldn't be determined with any certainty, either.
"All you can say is that on the 23rd of September, the messages were pulled up, right?" Du Bois asked.
"Correct," Fanucchi replied.
Du Bois asked if it was possible that someone had listened to a message "over and over again between the time it was received and time you got this tap on the 23rd."
"I cannot say that, either," Fanucchi said. "The only ability I have on the wiretap is the call is recorded. I have the ability to minimize or to record. That's all the ability I have to do," he said. (Minimizing means to turn the recording off pursuant to the law if the recorded conversation is deemed irrelevant to the case).
3:04 p.m. Michael Fanucchi, a special agent with the state Department of Justice, is on the stand. He is currently assigned to the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement. Fanucci said investigators wiretapped Hans Reiser's cell-phone beginning on Sept. 15, 2006 and a landline on Sept. 20, 2006. The wiretaps ended on the day of Reiser's arrest on Oct. 10, 2006, Fanucchi said.
Prosecutor Paul Hora played for jurors recordings of several messages that Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, made to Hans Reiser's cell phone after her daughter disappeared. On one message, Sharanova said, "I don't know what happened to Nina. I cannot understand why...Could you please help me to find her, it's very important for me."
We also heard a message from Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, offering to take the Reiser children for a play date. We heard a message left by then-Oakland police Officer Ryan Gill of the missing persons unit, asking Hans Reiser for any information on the whereabouts of his wife. Jurors followed each call with transcripts passed out by a bailiff. At first blush, it appears as if some messages left in the first days after Nina Reiser disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006 were heard for the first time weeks later.
2:40 p.m. The attorneys have stipulated that on Oct. 10, 2006, an Oakland police officer went to a home on Simson Street in Oakland (belonging to Mark McGothigan, friend of Hans Reiser's mother, Beverly Palmer) to secure the residence. Police saw Reiser in the driveway and arrested him pursuant to an arrest warrant. When he was arrested, he was in possession of two sums of money, $5,790 and $2,018, according to the stipulation. In court today, Reiser had some concerns about whether stipulating to something meant that he automatically agreed with what a witness would have testified to. The judge gave a Law 101 overview of what stipulations were, noting that these witnesses couldn't be cross-examined. Du Bois knew this already; this was all aimed at his client. "Thank you for making my afternoon smoother," Du Bois said as the judge left for the mid-afternoon break without a word.
2:15 p.m. Grace De La Vega, an employee of U-Haul, is on the stand. She works out of a corporate office in San Francisco as a traffic control manager. On Sept. 17, 2006, De La Vega said someone physically went to Frank's One Stop in Manteca and sought information on renting a U-Haul truck that day to drive from Manteca to Oakland. The proposed length of use was two days, and the allotted mileage was 112, said De La Vega, citing records kept by U-Haul. Police say a printout of the quotation was found in Hans Reiser's Honda CRX when it was seized on Sept. 19, 2006.
2:12 p.m. Judge Larry Goodman greeted the jurors and asked how lunch went at Le Cheval in Oakland. "Once a week!" a juror called out exuberantly. Everybody laughed. The judge said the good news is, once the panel starts deliberating, the jurors get to go out to lunch every day.
11:45 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois was nearing the end of his cross but told Judge Larry Goodman that he wanted a sidebar discussion about a document that prosecutor Paul Hora had given him. The three went into chambers for a third time. Fong waited on the stand, her eyes downcast. The jurors chatted among themselves, joking and craning their necks at something on the wall above them. Hans Reiser flipped through paperwork. The bailiffs bailiffed.
When the three emerged, the judge told jurors, "How does everybody feel about a long lunch?" The attorneys needed more time to "hash all this out," Goodman said. The jurors were led out, but they have a special treat in store -- they're having lunch at Le Cheval, a popular Vietnamese restaurant in Oakland.
The attorneys continued their discussions with Goodman. Du Bois was speaking a mile-a-minute, prompting Goodman to smile and say, "Just take a breath." The judge released Fong for the day; she'll be back tomorrow morning. We'll hear from another witness this afternoon.
10:15 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Alameda County CPS worker Seng Fong. Du Bois asked if the Oakland police had played a role in the agency filing a petition leading to detention and jurisdictional hearings with regard to the Reiser children.
Fong confirmed that the police "were concerned about the children's safety" and referred the case to CPS but denied that the social services agency had filed the petition because Oakland police had told it to.
"Have the children been injured by either parent, to your knowledge?" Du Bois asked.
"You mean physically? At the time of the petition, no," Fong said.
"They gave you a reason why you should file a petition, right?" Du Bois asked.
"They expressed their concern in terms of why we should be involved, and then we make a determination that we should be involved or not," Fong said.
Du Bois asked whether CPS was given false information on two counts: that Nina Reiser had sole physical custody of the children and that the minors weren't given any provisions for support. Fong said that information was later amended. "In this case it was misinformation from the Police Department" provided to CPS in the first 48 hours, Fong said.
At one point, Du Bois asked what police officers had said in closed-door hearings relating to the Reiser children. Prosecutor Paul Hora objected on the grounds of hearsay. Judge Larry Goodman challenged Du Bois, who said he wasn't eliciting any police statements for the truth of the matter but rather to prove bias on the part of Fong and the Oakland police.
Goodman's brows furrowed, and he asked Du Bois to explain further.
Du Bois said he wanted to show that police had used "Children's Protective Services as a vehicle to drive my client into a condition where they can describe his conduct as unusual and consistent with consciousness of guilt, when as a matter of fact his mental state was created in large part by the Oakland Police Department."
The judge said he would allow Du Bois' questions in this regard, "subject to a motion to strike."
As Du Bois continued with his questioning of Fong, Goodman called the attorneys into his chambers at one point.
Du Bois asked Fong if then-Oakland police Officer Ryan Gill of the missing persons unit (and currently a San Leandro police officer) had told the judge that the police "had evidence that they could not reveal that indicated that the kids should not be returned to the father." Fong said it was up to the judge to consider testimony from all parties before rendering a decision.
Fong confirmed to Du Bois that the children were placed with Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, on Sept. 21, 2006. She also confirmed that the agency had no problems with Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, taking the children to Russia for vacation from Dec. 23, 2006 to Jan. 14, 2007.
Du Bois then told Fong that he realized that he was "speaking harshly of your agency" and that he was directing his concerns at her personally. "Please forgive me, I apologize," Du Bois said as two jurors in the front row laughed.
"Did it occur to your agency that they were about to move the children from the jurisdiction of the very court that was about to decide whether the maternal or paternal grandmother could get custody?" Du Bois asked.
"I'm sure that they're aware of the fact that they're going to Russia, and that's a different country," Fong said. "I'm sure that was taken into consideration."
Du Bois asked whether it was an understatement that his client was "ballistic" at any thought of his children being allowed to go to Russia.
"I recall that his attorney expressed an objection," Fong replied.
Wasn't it true that the attorney "objected vigorously?" Du Bois pressed.
"I think they expressed concerns, yes, that they would not return," Fong said.
"And as a matter of fact, did Irina have a round-trip ticket at the time you made this request to travel? Or just a one-way ticket?" Du Bois asked.
"A round-trip ticket," Fong said.
"Are you sure of that?" the defense attorney asked.
"I was provided the information on the phone," she said.
"I see," Du Bois said. "Did you ever see the round-trip ticket?"
"I didn't, no," she said. "I didn't actually see it."
"Did the court ever ask that it be produced?" Du Bois asked.
"No," Fong said.
"So actually, at the time this order was granted, no one knew that Irina even had a round-trip ticket, isn't that correct, other than what was said?" Du Bois asked.
Prosecutor Paul Hora interjected, "That's speculation, 'no one knew.' "
Goodman sustained the objection.
"Do you think it was in the best interest of the children to be taken to Russia for the rest of their lives?" Du Bois continued.
Hora said "rest of their lives" was speculation too, and the judge agreed.
"What was it that made you think that Irina would ever bring the children back to the United States?" Du Bois asked.
"Well, she had an order to return the kids back," Fong said.
Du Bois asked Fong about an international treaty mandating how witnesses are made available to testify, and Goodman said, "Bill, c'mon. She doesn't know anything about the treaty."
Fong confirmed to Du Bois that at one point -- possibly before December 2006 -- that Doren asked to take the Reiser kids to Mexico for a vacation. Du Bois asked if CPS had granted that request, and Fong said she believed Doren had cancelled the trip. But CPS would have granted it? Du Bois asked. Fong said it would have depended on the reason for the trip.
Du Bois asked if Fong was aware that the Reiser's son had been interviewed by CALICO (Child Abuse Listening, Interviewing and Coordination Center) and had testified at a preliminary hearing for his father. Fong said she knew of the CALICO interview but said she didn't follow up on the criminal proceedings. "I was concerned about the children's safety and other aspects," she said.
Goodman summoned the attorneys to his chambers for a second time during the cross. When the three emerged, the judge said the parties had stipulated that on Dec. 5, 2006, a judge received paperwork from Fong that said social services had no problems with Sharanova taking the Reiser children to Russia for the holidays. The attorneys had also stipulated that the Reiser's son first testified at the preliminary hearing on Dec. 11, 2006. But in court today, Reiser tried to get his attorney's attention and appeared to want to say something.
"Mr. Reiser, we had a discussion this morning," the judge warned as jurors looked on. "I'm not going to tell you again."
10:06 a.m. Jurors haven't been called in yet, and defense attorneys William Du Bois and Richard Tamor are seated next to Hans Reiser at the defense table. Looks like they're still the attorneys of record, but Reiser still is unhappy about Du Bois' stipulation yesterday that the issue of the Reiser children's custody was still on appeal. Judge Larry Goodman noted that he had a transcript of yesterday's proceedings from court reporter Annie Mendiola. All parties had stipulated that the issue of the children's custody was still on appeal.
Reiser asked to speak directly to Goodman. But the judge had some things to say to the defendant first. Repeating what he told Reiser yesterday, Goodman told Reiser that any belief he had that he would have a 60 to 90 day hiatus if he switched attorneys was not accurate. Goodman reminded Reiser that he had told him before the trial started that if Reiser didn't want Du Bois on board, another attorney wouldn't want to jump in immediately and would likely request a continuance of up to 90 days to prepare. If Reiser switches attorneys now, the trial goes on without any halt in the proceedings, Goodman said.
The judge also told Reiser that over the past week, the court bailiff has had to tap him on the shoulder and tell him not to talk while court is in session. Goodman said he couldn't count the number of times he's seen Du Bois get frustrated by the interruptions and ask for questions or testimony to be repeated because he can't hear. The judge said he's seen Du Bois many times "waving at you to keep quiet."
In his flat, monotone voice, Reiser said he disagreed with the judge's characterization of things.
"You can put on the record whatever you want. You can disagree all you want," the judge replied. "I'm going to put you on notice. I'm going to start admonishing you in front of the jury, and it's not going to do you any favors. I'm tired of you disrupting the courtroom and believing you're in charge of the courtroom. You are not." The judge warned Reiser that he better comport himself the way he's supposed to and again told him, "You are on notice."
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 30 2008 at 11:33 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Jan. 31, 2008
12:15 p.m. The jury was sent home for the weekend. The attorneys, however, will be back in court this afternoon to discuss exhibits and possibly discuss additional stipulations, which if agreed to, wouldn't require actual testimony by witnesses, said defense attorneys William Du Bois and Richard Tamor. The trial resumes at 10 a.m. Monday, Feb. 4. Prosecutor Paul Hora has estimated that he might wrap up his case by Thursday, Feb. 7, clearing the way for the defense to start its case on Monday, Feb. 11.
11:50 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois cross-examined Oakland police Officer Jesse Grant. Du Bois asked if the reason police wanted to take pictures of his client while unclothed were to look for any injuries or evidence of him being involved in some kind of assault. Grant agreed.
Grant said of the red marks on Reiser's chest and back, "There were some small marks, but they weren't significant to me."
"He has acne, doesn't he?" Du Bois asked.
"He does, yes," said Grant, adding however that the marks could be consistent with either a small scratch or acne.
"Either or," Du Bois said.
Correct, Grant said, noting however that he wasn't a doctor.
Du Bois asked if it's true that most people don't enjoy having to strip down and be photographed while surrounded by police. Grant said, "He didn't seem to happy about it, understandably."
Was Reiser cooperative? Du Bois asked.
"He expressed displeasure," Grant said, but agreed to be photographed.
Du Bois told Grant it seemed as if the officer had a hard time saying Reiser was cooperative.
Well, one thing stood out in his head in that regard, Grant said. As the officer bent down to take pictures, that's when Reiser said, "You're about to experience chaos" and "for the lack of a better term, farted," Grant said. Jurors tittered. Reiser grinned. "It stayed vividly in my head, unfortunately," the officer said.
Du Bois turned to the issue of his client's detached cell phone battery. Du Bois remarked that he has a Motorola RAZR cell phone and that he carries a spare battery with him wherever he goes. How about you? Du Bois asked Grant.
Grant grinned and said, "Mr. Du Bois, you're much more prepared than I am."
Du Bois asked if Reiser's cell phone was more than "just a 'ring, ring, hello' kind of phone, one that could go on the Internet and "go around the world." Grant agreed. Du Bois asked if Grant was familiar with a Palm Treo, Reiser's cell phone, and Grant pulled one out of his jacket. The officer got it in February and said "I have no idea" when asked how long a battery on a newer model Treo lasts, nor how long a battery on an older Treo would last. Grant did say, however, that his Treo lasts 10 to 12 hours, a full workday, unless he texts a lot or is on the phone.
Du Bois repeatedly tried to get Grant to describe Reiser as being the "prime suspect" in the case, but Grant simply described the computer programmer as someone important whom the police wished to interview after Nina Reiser disappeared. Grant said he was also assigned to interview her boyfriend, Anthony Zografos.
11:13 a.m. Oakland police Officer Jesse Grant is on the stand. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked how long Grant has been with the department, and Grant said, "10 years, yesterday."
Hora asked the youthful-looking Grant, "You didn't start out when you were a teenager?"
Jurors and Grant laughed. The officer said, "I get asked that a lot, but no. Thank you, I guess."
Grant has been working in the Criminal Investigation Division as an assault investigator for about a year. In September 2006, when Nina Reiser disappeared, Grant was assigned to the Special Victims Unit, which includes the missing persons unit.
Grant said he obtained two computers used by Nina Reiser, one taken from her home on 49th Street in Oakland's Temescal neighborhood and the other from the home of her boyfriend, Anthony Zografos. Grant asked the FBI to forensically examine both computers.
Grant said a 7-Eleven receipt dated Sept. 17, 2006 was found in the Honda CRX used by Hans Reiser.
Grant said he met with Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova at the home of Ellen Doren, the missing woman's best friend, on Sept. 22, 2006. Grant said he asked Sharanova to call Hans Reiser. The first call was made at 11:54 a.m. The second was made shortly after noon, Grant said. In between, someone call the Doren residence. Sharanova answered, but "there was nothing on the other end."
At about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2006, Grant assisted in the detention of Hans Reiser on the 600 block of 22nd Street.
Officer Shan Johnson explained to Reiser that police had a search warrant and wanted to take pictures of his entire body. Officers took Reiser to Oakland police headquarters and took numerous pictures, including those with him clothed and unclothed. Jurors saw photos of his face from the left, right, front and back and close-up shots of his chest, back, arms, shoulders and hands. Reiser had two red marks on his chest and back, but they could have been anything from a "small cut to a pimple," Grant said. Grant confirmed that police took pictures of Reiser's lower body, but those photos weren't shown to the jury.
Police found $8,960 in cash in Reiser's fanny pack on Sept. 28, 2006, 25 days after Nina Reiser disappeared, Grant said.
Grant confirmed that Hans Reiser's Palm Treo cell phone, passport, paperwork and a battery that appeared to go with the phone -- but separate from the phone -- were in the fanny pack. Grant said he put the battery in the phone and that it "fit perfectly." Grant acknowledged that he failed to take a picture of the detached battery. The officer said he was aware before he took pictures of Hans Reiser's cell phone that other investigators had found Nina Reiser's cell phone in a similar condition, with its battery detached -- but still present -- in her car.
Reiser's fanny pack and its contents were returned to him after police obtained a DNA sample from him. Officers agreed to drive him to the home he shared with his mother, Beverly Palmer, on Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills, Grant said.
11 a.m. Oakland police gang unit Officer Gerardo Melero, an 11-year department veteran, is on the stand. Melero testified that at about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2006 he and Officer Cliff Bunn detained Hans Reiser as he walking on the 600 block of 22nd Street in downtown Oakland.
Bunn stopped Reiser, who was dressed in a white, long-sleeved shirt and black pants, Melero testified. Reiser wasn't armed with a weapon, the officer said. Reiser wore a black fanny pack around his waist which contained a large amount of money, a cell phone with a spare battery, a passport and paperwork including Melero said.
Reiser was then transferred to the custody of Officers Jesse Grant, Shan Johnson and Michael Weisenberg of the Special Victims Unit, Melero said. Reiser was taken by car to Oakland police headquarters on 7th Street.
Defense attorney William Du Bois had Melero confirm that no weapons were found in Reiser's fanny pack. Du Bois asked if the officer feared the fanny pack contained a bomb. Melero said he couldn't discount that possibility. What kind of bomb? Du Bois asked. Melero said he had no idea.
10:25 a.m. CPS worker Seng Fong is back on the stand. Defense attorney William Du Bois said he had no further cross.
Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Fong if CPS' petitions with regard to the Reiser children were based solely on information provided by the Oakland police. Did she consult with other sources besides OPD? Hora asked.
"I've consulted many other sources, yes," Fong replied.
"Excellent," Hora said. "Just identify some of those other sources for us that you relied upon."
Du Bois objected a number of times during this line of questioning, saying it wasn't clear which petition Hora was referring to. The defense attorney later offered to stipulate that there were other sources, but Judge Larry Goodman said Fong was entitled to elaborate.
Fong said she consulted family members, friends, the Reiser children's teachers, the family-court file and doctors.
Fong confirmed to Hora that Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova, failed to return to the United States from Russia with the two Reiser children on Jan. 14, 2007, as had been ordered by a family court judge.
"Did she just hide and not contact you?" Hora asked.
"Of course, it was a surprise to us," Fong said. "We were expecting her to come back."
"Objection, move to strike -- non-responsive," Du Bois interjected.
"Sustained," Goodman said.
Fong gave a small laugh before answering, "We did maintain contact by phone." Fong said she regularly spoke to Sharanova and the Reiser children by phone, especially before court hearings, "just to update the court on how they're doing."
"Did she ever offer to you a reason why she didn't return?" Hora asked.
"Yes," Fong said.
Du Bois objected on the grounds of hearsay, but the judge said the question only called for a yes or no answer.
"What was the reason?" Hora then asked.
Du Bois objected, saying that was hearsay, and Goodman agreed. "It is hearsay," the judge said.
Hora responded that he wasn't necessarily going for the truth of the matter and said he'd try to lay a foundation. As he tried, Du Bois offered to withdrarw his hearsay objection so long as the DA introduced communications involving lawyers and psychiatrists and courts in Russia.
The judge stepped in, telling Hora a possible avenue of questioning. The jurist then repeated those questions directly to Fong. He turned in his seat and asked her, "She gave you a reason fo why the kids didn't return, is that right?"
"Yes," Fong said.
"And based upon what she told you, did your agency make certain decisions and/or recommendations?" Goodman asked.
"Yes," Fong said again. "Based on those reasons we asked her to provide documentation to the agency that we could provide to the court."
Hora resumed the questioning, asking Fong to confirm if that indeed occurred, and Fong said yes. The judge agreed to allow Sharanova to continue to have custody of the Reiser children.
Du Bois had more questions for Fong, specifically whether the agency had offered alternative recommendations to the judge. Fong said the agency simply recommended that Sharanova retain custody, regardless of whether she was living in Russia or the U.S.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on January 31 2008 at 10:34 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Feb. 4, 2008
10:05 a.m. There will be no trial until Wed., Feb. 6, as prosecutor Paul Hora's wife had a baby boy, Joseph, over the weekend.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on February 04 2008 at 06:23 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Feb. 6, 2008
2:45 p.m. Michael Caniglia of AT&T Mobility is on the stand. When Nina Reiser disappeared in September 2006, the company was known as Cingular Wireless. Caniglia reviewed phone records belonging to Hans Reiser's cell phone. At about 4:35 p.m on Sept. 1, 2006, a call was made to an Alameda County number that Supervisor Gail Steele has previously testified belonged to her office. Another call was made to the same number shortly thereafter, Caniglia said. That call lasted six minutes. No incoming or outgoing calls were made on that phone between that second call and one made to Hans Reiser's voice mail on Sept. 5, 2006 at 5:02 p.m., Caniglia said. The next call made from Hans Reiser's cell phone occurred two minutes later, at 5:04 p.m., and lasted eight seconds, Caniglia said. Although the witness didn't recognize the number called, the caller rang Nina Reiser's cell phone. She disappeared on Sept. 3.
Caniglia confirmed to prosecutor Paul Hora that someone's location can be identified generally if the person's cell phone is on, even when no calls are being made. But if the cell phone battery is detached or the phone is off, that person can't be tracked or "pinged," Caniglia said.
On Sept. 4, 2006 at about 2:46 p.m., Hans Reiser's cell phone received an incoming call that lasted 32 seconds. But there is no identifiable phone number or cell-site info for that call, meaning it's possible the cell phone was out of range (someone could have been in a canyon or in a spot with poor signal strength) or turned off, or its battery was detached -- whatever the case, the location of the cell phone couldn't be identified, Caniglia said.
There was a similar incoming call at about noon on Sept. 5, 2006, Caniglia said. The call lasted nine seconds, but again there was no identifiable phone number of cell-site info, suggesting that the phone was out of range or turned off, Caniglia said. He described several other phone calls in which Hans Reiser's cell phone appeared to be out of range or turned off.
2:35 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois seemed perplexed by some aspects of Nina Reiser's credit report as he crossed TransUnion credit bureau employee Richard Wilson. That prompted Judge Larry Goodman to step in to provide some explanations.
Du Bois wrapped up his cross by asking Wilson if it was fair to summarize his testimony thusly: "After Hans went to jail and Nina went missing, neither used their credit cards?" Wilson shrugged and didn't say anything at first but then said, "I guess."
After Wilson left the courtroom, Du Bois asked the judge, "How do you understand this?" Jurors laughed. "It's your daughter, isn't it?" the defense attorney said, referring to Goodman's teenage daughter, who has shown up in court several times earlier in the trial.
"Nooooo, I have the right to remain silent," the judge said. More laughter.
2:15 p.m. TransUnion credit bureau employee Richard Wilson is back on the stand on direct. Wilson is now going over Nina Reiser's credit report, which like that of Hans Reiser was performed on Jan. 31, 2008.
A number of her debts were written off, Wilson said. A debt owed to J. Crew was written off in May 2007, a $12,800 debt to Bank of America was written off in April 2007, and a Verizon Wireless debt of $705 was written off that same month, Wilson testified. In all, Nina Reiser was about $30,000 in debt, he said.
Several other accounts of hers were closed, including at least one bank that decided on its own to do so, Wilson said. As he testified, defense attorney William Du Bois' cell phone chirped. Judge Larry Goodman smiled at Du Bois.
Hans and Nina Reiser shared a number of joint accounts, Wilson said. There has been no new activity on Nina Reiser's accounts after September 2006, he said.
Prosecutor Paul Hora gave Wilson a hypothetical: what if Hora decided to assume a new identity completely, with a different social-security number, a different date of birth and a "totally different name?" Would all that show up on Hora's original credit report? Hora asked.
"No," Wilson said.
"You wouldn't be able to do that if someone went out there and assumed a new identity?" Hora asked.
"If it was a complete new identity," no, Wilson said.
What if Hora used the same social-security number? the prosecutor asked.
Wilson said if someone used any combination of previously-used information, credit bureaus would usually be able to track that.
Hora asked if credit bureaus note if someone is deceased, and Wilson said not independently. Other parties like the Social Security Administration might notify a credit bureau of a death, in which case that would be noted in a credit report.
2:10 p.m. We're back in session after lunch. The jury ate out again. One juror joked about having to contemplate about having dessert, prompting Judge Larry Goodman to note that brownies and chocolate-chip cookies were being passed out (by a television newsmagazine reporter). Defense attorney William Du Bois said he believed the treats should be passed out to jurors now, as Du Bois believed there were enough to go around.
11:39 a.m. Richard Wilson, a 16-year employee of the TransUnion credit bureau, is on the stand. Wilson handles the western U.S. as a major account executive. Wilson said TransUnion, Experian (formerly TRW) and Equifax are the three major credit bureaus. The DA's office served a subpoena on TransUnion, which performed credit reports on Hans and Nina Reiser, Wilson said.
Hans Reiser had an "outstanding balance" of $90,000, consisting of $29,000 in "open" accounts and $60,600 in "closed" accounts, Wilson said, citing Hans Reiser's credit report, which was performed on Jan. 31, 2008.
11:13 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Patricia Erwin, project manager with the SF Department of Public Health. Du Bois asked if Erwin believed Nina Reiser was a "great communicator" who was "truly skilled in interpersonal interaction," and Erwin agreed.
"She seemed honest, right?" Du Bois asked.
"She definitely seemed honest, yes," Erwin said.
"You had the impression she was an honest person?" Du Bois asked.
"Yes," Erwin said.
"She exuded honesty?" Du Bois pressed as a juror in the front row appeared to have a bemused smile.
"Yes," Erwin said.
Du Bois then asked Erwin about what she knew about Nina Reiser being an OB/GYN in her native Russia. Do OB/GYNs still deliver babies? Du Bois asked.
At that point, prosecutor Paul Hora, whose wife just had a baby, answered that question while seated at his table: "Yes." At the same time, Judge Larry Goodman said, "Ask Paul, he'll know."
Du Bois asked Erwin if Nina Reiser's boyfriend, Anthony Zografos, had called her to ask that she keep Reiser's position open. Erwin said she didn't recall if he did or not. But Erwin said she remembered Zografos calling her on Sept. 11, 2006, eight days after Nina Reiser disappeared. Zografos said something like, "I'm calling you, I'm a friend of Nina, I wanted to let you know that she's disappeared. We're really worried about her. It's coming out in the media, I wanted you to know about it." Erwin said, "He was explaining, in a sense, what happened the week before when she didn't show up at the Sept. 7 appointment and saying she may not come to the Sept. 15 meetings."
10:09 a.m. Patricia Erwin, project manager with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, is on the stand on direct. Erwin and others interviewed Nina Reiser for a job on Aug. 10, 2006, less than a month before she disappeared. Reiser saw an ad for the position on Craigslist.
Erwin confirmed much of the testimony given Dec. 13 by Mary Jo Williams, associate executive director of Bay Area Community Resources. The group collaborated with the San Francisco Department of Public Healt to find a candidate who would fill a vacant position to help Russian-speaking immigrants as part of a project called "Let's Be Healthy."
The full-time job of project director included health benefits, sick leave, paid holidays and vacation days, Erwin said. She said the interviewers learned that Nina Reiser was born in Russia and was an OB/GYN in her native country. Reiser spoke English very well, Erwin said.
Asked by prosecutor Paul Hora to describe Nina Reiser, Erwin said, "She was very outgoing, friendly. She was easy to connect with. She seemed down-to-earth, and she also seemed very committed to working with us." Nina Reiser responded eagerly to questions, she said. "I had the sense that she was very interested in working for us," Erwin said.
Staffers met Nina Reiser during a second interview on Aug. 29 at the Chinatown Health Center in San Francisco, Erwin said.
Nina Reiser said she was studying for her licensing exams in the United States and could commit to the public-health job for about a year or two, Erwin said.
The mother of two expressed a desire to tailor her job in such a a way that she'd be able to take care of her children, Erwin said. Her would-be employers agreed to her request, Erwin said. "The position is definitely flexible," she said.
Nina Reiser said her children would be starting school in September 2006, Erwin said. "My impression was they were a major part of her life," Erwin said.
Erwin said Reiser saw the job as a "real opportunity to advance in her career. She saw how this fit into her big-picture vision."
Erwin offered Reiser the job after staffers said they believed she'd be a good fit. Reiser was also younger than most of the staff, who were middle-aged and higher, and Erwin felt Reiser would be able to make more connections.
Erwin initially offered Nina Reiser a starting salary of $48,000 or $49,000 a year but ultimately agreed with a $50,000 salary after Reiser described herself as a single mother and said she needed more money.
Nina Reiser was always punctual, Erwin said, responding to a question by Hora as to whether Reiser was "punctual or flaky." She was scheduled to go through some paperwork and be fingerprinted on Sept. 7, have another meeting on Sept. 15 and start her first day at work on Sept. 21, 2006. But she didn't show up on any of those days, Erwin said. There was no communication from her at all, she said. Nina Reiser was last seen on Sept. 3.
10:05 a.m. We're back in court today. The trial was delayed for two days after prosecutor Paul Hora's wife had a baby over the weekend. Before jurors were brought in this morning, defense attorney Richard Tamor greeted the DA, saying, "Hi Paul, how are you doing? Getting enough sleep?" Hora replied that he was "sleeping great."
As jurors filed into the courtroom, a few gave Hora an extra smile or two. Hora responded in kind. The prosecutor thanked Judge Larry Goodman for the court's understanding. The judge joked to jurors that Hora had asked if anyone was going to bring him presents. Hora laughed, waving his hands in denial.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on February 06 2008 at 06:07 AM
Hans Reiser Trial: Feb. 7, 2008
3:44 p.m. Jurors were sent home at 3:45 p.m., about 15 minutes early, to allow the attorneys to go through a number of stipulations. Trial will be back in session at 10 a.m. Monday. Court is dark Tuesday because of a court holiday in honor of Lincoln's Birthday.
Judge Larry Goodman left the bench as prosecutor Paul Hora and defense attorney William Du Bois began haggling over what would be stipulated to. Du Bois raised his voice at the DA at one point, saying, "I'm not going to stipulate to something that you don't need." Moments later Du Bois said to Hora, "You got all the goddamn receipts from there." The attorneys discussed receipts, business records and exceptions to the hearsay rule before disappearing into Goodman's chambers.
Everyone came out at 4:10 p.m. and we went back on the record, with no jurors present. Goodman addressed a defense motion in limine to exclude an e-mail reportedly sent by Nina to Hans Reiser. The DA wanted the e-mail introduced to show Nina Reiser's state of mind to prove that she wouldn't abandon her children.
Nina Reiser discussed mediation between the two in the e-mail, which she apparently wrote on June 19, 2005. The judge said the jury will hear a redacted portion of the e-mail. Goodman then read sentences from Nina Reiser's e-mail that the jury will not be allowed to hear because the prejudical effect outweighs the probative value: "I will not continue mediation if you keep threatening me. When you give me a hard stare and (inaudible) that you are very good at combat, your request that I drop domestic-violence charges against you, it very much sounds like another threat. I warn you that if you are going to communicate with me in this manner, I will have to end mediation and report it to the police. However, threats are not part of the mediation process."
The admissible parts of the e-mail that will be read to the jury are as follows, the judge said: "Hans, I agree to start mediation, hoping that we can move forward and maybe (reach a mutual agreement). We agree to keep mediation confidential. You don't need to prove to me that you are a strong man. I never questioned that. I respect you as a man and a person but disagree with you about some of the important-for-us issues such as parenting. Disagreement does not equal disrespect. Best regards, Nina."
Hora then said he was offering a stipulation about the receipts in this case that have been marked as exhibits thus far. The attorneys have agreed that if called to testify, witnesses would establish them as business records admissible in California under the evidence code. Du Bois agreed to that stipulation but said it wouldn't apply to single business cards.
Du Bois made a reference to the expected testimony of Nina Reiser's mother, Irina Sharanova. Hora said something to the judge, and Du Bois didn't hear it because his client was speaking to him. Du Bois asked for what Hora said to be repeated, and the judge, smiling, said he wouldn't allow that to be done, as is usually the case, because the jury isn't here now. "Too bad," the judge said with a smile. As Reiser was led out, he began complaining about Sharanova, saying, "She shouldn't be allowed to testify." Deputies hustled him out.
3:40 p.m. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked Alameda County DA's Inspector Frank Moschetti, a member of a search and rescue team, if Hans Reiser participated in the September 2006 search for his wife.
"No, sir," Moschetti said.
Hans Reiser was arrested in October 2006. Authorities conducted two more searches for his wife, in December 2006 and August 2007.
3:24 p.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is cross-examining Alameda County DA's Inspector Frank Moschetti, who helped search for Nina Reiser. Du Bois asked Moschetti how searches are conducted.
"The search itself is a fluid animal," Moschetti said. "You gotta start somewhere with some kind of tactic, so we stated with the Hasty Search, the Type I search."
Du Bois asked if Oakland police operated on the belief that Nina Reiser could have been dumped in the Oakland hills.
"That's a reasonable premise, yes," Moschetti said. He confirmed that bodies have been found in the Oakland hills.
Du Bois asked if a reason some people aren't found is because police operate on the wrong premise. "If she wasn't killed at all, and just left the area, you wouldn't find her?" Du Bois asked, and Moschetti agreed.
"Or if she was killed and nowhere near Skyline Boulevard, taken somewhere altogether different than the Skyline area, you wouldn't find her in the Skyline area?" Du Bois asked.
"Well, no, of course not," the inspector replied.
"You didn't find any clues, right?" Du Bois said.
Moschetti said the hiking trails that were searched are very popular, and that any footprints, trampled down debris or broken branches probably would not have been helpful, especially a year later, as was the case with the third search in August 2007.
"Is that a yes or a no?" Du Bois asked.
"I forgot what the question was," the inspector said.
"I think the question was, 'You didn't find any clues?' " Du Bois said.
"That's correct, yes," Moschetti said.
3:18 p.m. A court holiday alert: there will be no trial on Tuesday, Feb. 12 because of Lincoln's Birthday. Court will also be dark on Monday, Feb. 18 because of Washington's Birthday.
2:10 p.m. Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Frank Moschetti is on the stand. Moschetti has been an inspector for 12 years and before that spent 23.5 years with the Oakland Police Department in a variety of roles, including stints in narcotics and as a helicopter pilot. Inspectors are the investigative arm of the DA's office, Moschetti explained. Most inspectors are assigned to two prosecutors in the office, but Moschetti is not assigned to Hora.
Moschetti is a reserve deputy with the Contra Costa sheriff's office and is part of that county's search and rescue team, known in the vernacular as SAR. As Hora asked Moschetti about his background, defense attorney William Du Bois' chair repeatedly squeaked as he moved it around. It's never squeaked like this before. It was so loud Hora stopped asking questions to look. So did Judge Larry Goodman. So did court reporter Annie Mendiola. Du Bois joked to Hora that the DA was moving closer and closer to him and so Du Bois was getting nervous.
Moschetti participated in three searches for Nina Reiser after she disappeared in September 2006.
"Did you find her?" Hora asked.
"No," Moschetti said.
The first search took place on Sept. 23, 2006, a Saturday. Hora put a topographical picture of the Oakland hills on an easel as Moschetti described the area and the agencies involved. The area is bounded by the Caldecott Tunnel or Highway 24 to the north, Skyline Boulevard to the west, the town of Moraga on the east and Castro Valley and Lake Chabot to the south. The agencies searching included SAR teams from Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Santa Clara counties, an Explorer program based in San Mateo County, Oakland Police Department and the California Rescue Dog Association. The Salvation Army was there providing food.
About 175 people assisted in the search effort on Sept. 23 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., using Pinehurst Road as a "handrail," Moschetti said.
"What were you looking for?" Hora asked.
"Clues," Moschetti said.
"Can you be more specific?" the prosecutor asked.
Searchers were given descriptions of Nina Reiser and what she was wearing, the inspector said, noting that SAR teams "do not search for people. We search for clues that lead us to people."
On Sept. 23, search teams adopted the "abducted child protocol," in which children who are kidnapped, molested or otherwise attacked by strangers are then dumped within the first hour of their abduction, Moschetti said. Searchers looked 200 to 300 feet off roads as part of what is called a Type I Hasty Search, a quick and efficient visual search of the terrain.
Hora asked the inspector to describe the extent of the search area.
"Huge," Moschetti said. "Those trails and roads branch into additional trails going into East Bay MUD watershed property. It's just a ton of area. I don't konw the exact acreage or anything."
"It goes for miles?" Hora asked.
"I would think so, yes, absolutely," Moschetti said.
Searches were hampered at times by thick brush that reduced visibility and steep drainages and ravines, Moschetti said.
Asked to describe the likelihood of finding Nina Reiser, Moschetti said, "That is the proverbial needle in a haystack, and Nina Reiser was the needle. Not good at all."
"The reason is?" Hora asked.
Just the vast amount of space you cover," the inspector said. "The amount of personnel we could put into it, not being able to really define the parameters and narrow down a search area. It's like the rest of the world. You're basically saying, 'Search the East Bay.' All we could do was narrow it down to a best guesstimate of a location to start looking and see what we came up with."
The second search took place on Dec. 2, 2006 and involved 50 people, Moschetti said. SAR teams again used Pinehurst Road as a handrail and tried to search areas that hadn't been searched before, he said. "Nothing relevant to the case" was found, Moschetti said, although other items were located. "Oh, there's all kinds of stuff out there," he said.
The third search happened on Aug. 19, 2007. Searchers looked on the Skyline and Huckleberry trails, among others, in the Oakland hills. Cadaver dogs, who are trained to find dead people, were assigned to each search team, Moschetti said. During this search, a cadaver dog alerted on an area 20 feet from the Eastridge trail near Skyline gate. Moschetti asked for a second cadaver dog to come to the scene but didn't say anything about the first dog's reaction. The second dog showed mild interest. A third dog showed "strong interest," the inspector said, adding he saw nothing, just ground and leaves. Search crews dug up the area, about a foot and a half deep, and found nothing, he said.
"The lesson learned from that is, dogs don't always work?" Hora said.
"Exactly, yeah," the inspector said.
Of all three searches, Hora asked if it had been ruled out that Nina Reiser was in the Oakland hills.
"Absolutely not," Moschetti said, saying there was a 10 to 20 percent chance that the search teams would have found her, even in the areas that they searched.
What part of the Oakland hills hasn't been searched? Hora asked.
"Most of it," Moschetti replied.
Noon. Defense attorney William Du Bois asked Verizon Wireless records custodian Jody Citizen to confirm that an authorized user for Nina Reiser's cell phone account was Sean Sturgeon. Sturgeon's address on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland was listed on Nina Reiser's account. Sturgeon had been Hans Reiser's best friend -- and had dressed in drag as the "maid of honor" at the Reisers' 1999 wedding -- and later had an extramarital affair with Nina Reiser, attorneys on both sides have stated in court.
"We don't know where the phone went after it left Berkeley?" Du Bois asked. "We don't know if it was turned off or not turned off sometime after it left Berkeley? We don't even know if it left Berkeley?"
Citizen agreed with Du Bois on all counts.
10:50 a.m. Jody Citizen, custodian of records for Verizon Wireless, is on the stand. Citizen flew up from Irvine (Orange County) to testify about Nina Reiser's cell phone records. Prosecutor Paul Hora asked if Citizen had indeed testified in the same Oakland courthouse last week on a different case, and Citizen said yes. Hora apologized for not having known that, otherwise Citizen would probably not have had to fly up twice. "Not a problem," he said.
Nina Reiser called Hans Reiser twice on Sept. 3, 2006, the day she disappeared, according to her phone records. The first call was placed at 1:40 p.m. and lasted 62 seconds. The second call was placed at 2:04 p.m. and lasted 22 seconds, Citizen said. The cell site of the 2:04 p.m. call was near 9th Street and Heinz Avenue in Berkeley. Nina Reiser was shopping with her two children at the Berkeley Bowl at the time, less than two miles away from the cell site. That was the very last call made by that cell phone, Citizen said. After that date, numerous incoming calls to the phone went to voice mail, he said.
Citizen confirmed that if a cell phone is turned off or has its battery removed, one's location can't be tracked. And even if no calls are being made on a cell phone, "the network pings every 15 minutes" and can track the phone's location, Citizen said.
The next activity on Nina Reiser's cell phone was an incoming call that went straight to voice mail. Citizen read the number, which belongs to Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren.
10:23 a.m. Defense attorney William Du Bois is crossing AT&T Mobility employee Michael Caniglia. Caniglia confirmed that a cell phone's location can be tracked if one is making or receiving a call but not when the phone is off.
Du Bois asked if it was possible that a six-second phone call that Caniglia had discussed on direct was just a call to voice mail before the user hung up. Caniglia said he couldn't confirm that. Du Bois prefaced with his question by asking Caniglia if he was familiar with an old six-second commercial with some kind of figure saying something about cottage cheese. The defense attorney acknowledged that Caniglia was probably too young to remember that, and Du Bois was right. Caniglia shook his head. So did Judge Larry Goodman. Du Bois later quipped that at least they had television back then. "Black and white," quipped the judge.
There are quite a few new faces in the gallery today. One's been here before -- Judge Philip Sarkisian, whose courtroom is next door, stepped in for a bit. So many people walked in together at one point to watch the trial that Du Bois, Goodman, Hans Reiser and jurors turned to look. The newbies may not know that the door to the courtroom makes a loud noise and that Steve, one of the bailiffs, has reminded regulars to gently close the door when entering and exiting.
Du Bois' cross of Caniglia grew tedious as the defense attorney dove into the minutiae of his client's cell phone records. The questioning grew technical at times, but Du Bois said Caniglia was an electrical engineer and would likely understand. But as the questioning went on, it was clear Goodman was getting exasperated. He looked over at the jury box and gave them a look of commiseration. The judge later sighed. Du Bois seemed to be wrapping up but then asked for "just a moment to consult with my client" and read a note Hans Reiser wrote on piece of paper from a yellow legal pad.
Du Bois then asked a question apparently pitched by his client: "Do you know the angle of the signal from the Bay Station? Or can you find it from any records you have?"
Hans Reiser seemed to be eagerly anticipating an answer, but the judge shook his head in frustration.
"Not quite sure what that is referring to," Caniglia said.
"Not sure why that is relevant," the judge said. "I sustain my own objection. Any other questions?"
Du Bois was busy conferring with his client and didn't seem to hear the judge.
"Bill, any other questions?" the judge repeated.
"Yes," Du Bois responded. He asked a question pertaining to drawing a line from the exact center of a cell site. Caniglia didn't have a specific answer.
10:16 a.m. Michael Caniglia, an employee of AT&T Mobility, is back on the stand on direct, discussing Hans Reiser's cell phone records. On Sept. 5, 2006 at 9:21 p.m., the phone received an incoming call. The phone number was read aloud in court, but who it belonged to wasn't discussed. On Sept. 4, 2006 at 2:47 p.m., the phone user sent a text message, Caniglia said. "We don't know what the text said, no," Caniglia said in response to a question by Hora.
Posted by Henry K. Lee on February 07 2008 at 07:40 AM