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Rockefeller imposter gets maximum sentence for California murder

By Dana Feldman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A German-born con man who posed for years as a member of America's wealthy Rockefeller family was sentenced on Thursday to a prison term of 27 years to life for slaying the son of his Los Angeles-area landlady and burying his dismembered remains in a backyard.

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, acting as his own lawyer after he fired his attorneys in June, professed his innocence in court as a Los Angeles judge pronounced the maximum sentence faced by the defendant.

"Your honor, I can only say once again, I want to assert my innocence. I did not commit this crime," the soft-spoken, bespectacled defendant, dressed in blue prison garb, told the judge before he was escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Under the life sentence imposed, Gerhartsreiter would be eligible for parole in 27 years.

Sitting alone at the defense table, he also muttered under his breath an assertion that he has long maintained but which a jury rejected when he was found guilty of first-degree murder in April - that the victim, John Sohus, 27, was killed by his own wife.

Sohus' buried remains were discovered in 1994 in the backyard of the home he shared with his spouse, Linda, in the Los Angeles suburb of San Marino.

The couple were reported missing 28 years ago while Gerhartsreiter was renting a guest house on the property from John Sohus' mother and living under the guise of a British aristocrat named Christopher Chichester.

By the time John Sohus' remains were unearthed by a work crew preparing to build a swimming pool on the property for a new owner, Gerhartsreiter had resurfaced on the East Coast under other assumed names. Linda Sohus remains missing and is presumed dead.

Gerhartsreiter was not charged in her death, but prosecutors have accused him of trying to create the appearance that the couple were traveling abroad after they vanished by arranging for forged postcards to be sent from Paris to their friends and relatives in the United States.

Reading a victim-impact statement before Gerhartsreiter was sentenced, John Sohus' sister, Ellen, implored the judge, "You cannot bring back my brother, but you can make a statement about the value of his life."

She recalled her brother as being "indescribably happy" the last time she saw him and his wife alive. Gerhartsreiter appeared unmoved by her statement and his demeanor was serenely calm throughout the 45-minute hearing.

Gerhartsreiter's double life unraveled after he was arrested in 2008 for abducting his young daughter in Boston following a bitter divorce and was revealed to have passed himself off for 16 years as a member of the Rockefeller clan, gaining entry into high society.

He was convicted in 2009 of kidnapping and assault and battery and was serving a four-year prison sentence in Massachusetts when authorities in Los Angeles charged him with the Sohus slaying.

The case against Gerhartsreiter, who came to the United States from Germany as a student in the 1970s, has drawn so much attention that his story became the subject of a 2010 made-for-TV movie titled "Who is Clark Rockefeller?"

Judge George Lomeli also denied a handwritten motion by Gerhartsreiter seeking a new trial, saying there was no basis to grant one, and also refused to reduce his prison term by the amount of time he had already served.

(Reporting by Dana Feldman; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay and Paul Simao)

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