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Clark Rockefeller sentenced to 4 to 5 years in prison for kidnapping [Updated]

June 12, 2009 | 10:16 am

[Updated at 12:01 p.m.: Clark Rockefeller was sentenced today to four to five years in a Massachusetts prison for custodial kidnapping and assault on a social worker.]

With a Boston-area jury today finding the man known as Clark Rockefeller guilty of kidnapping, Los Angeles law enforcement officials can now take their time investigating his role in the disappearance 25 years ago of a San Marino couple.

A Suffolk County, Mass., jury convicted Rockefeller -- whose real name is Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter -- of  kidnapping his daughter last year during a supervised visit. Jurors rejected his insanity defense, convicting him of custodial kidnapping and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He is scheduled to be sentenced later today.

If he had gone free, L.A. prosecutors would have been forced to take immediate action in their investigation into the deaths of Jonathan and Linda Sohus. Had Rockefeller been acquitted in the New England case, he would have faced deportation and likely would not have fought the move, forcing L.A. prosecutors to act before he left the country, sources said.

A Los Angeles County grand jury has interviewed witnesses in the Sohus case. But the grand jury, according to sources, was done to question the people not bring a charge. Gerhartsreiter’s arrest last year for kidnapping prompted the L.A. County Sheriff's Department to reopen the San Marino investigation.

Gerhartsreiter had rented a guest house from the Sohuses in the early 1980s, using the name Christopher Chichester. The couple disappeared in 1985, and Gerhartsreiter left the area soon afterward. Police investigated the disappearance, but the case did not go far.

Nine years later, though, as a new homeowner constructed a swimming pool, workers uncovered what is believed to be Jonathan Sohus' skeleton from the backyard. But the trail again went cold until last summer, when Gerhartsreiter -- now using the name Rockefeller -- was accused of kidnapping his daughter during a supervised visit. Authorities eventually determined that Chichester and Rockefeller were the same person. They traced his roots to a small town in Germany, where he was born.

L.A. County Sheriff's detectives declared him a "person of interest" in the disappearance and suspected killings of the Sohuses. Yet officials have revealed little solid evidence against Gerhartsreiter. He was ticketed driving Jonathan Sohus' truck in the late 1980s, but Gerhartsreiter's attorney says his client simply bought the vehicle.

It's unclear whether detectives made a DNA match from the bones found in the San Marino backyard. Legal experts said that unless prosecutors have much stronger evidence, building a case against Gerhartsreiter could be an uphill battle.

"For a long time, they didn't know whether a crime had been committed, and they didn't have any bodies," said Paul Bergman, a UCLA law professor who specializes in criminal law and evidence. "Without physical evidence, that is going to make it more difficult to secure a conviction."

Gerhartsreiter's attorneys insist he played no role in the couple's disappearance and that he would speak with authorities only if he were granted immunity from prosecution.

-- Richard Winton