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High-profile cases converge on L.A. courthouse's 9th floor

March 11, 2013 | 12:49 pm

Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter

The 9th floor of Los Angeles’ downtown criminal courthouse always sees a lot of activity, but right now four high-profile cases are going on there at the same time, which is almost unprecedented.

Jurors in Judge Kathleen Kennedy’s Department 109 courtroom began their 12th day of deliberations Monday in the corruption trial of six Bell council members accused of illegally boosting their salaries to more than $100,000 a year.

In nearby Department 105, prosecutors and defense lawyers are just beginning to pick a jury for two accused gang members charged with fatally shooting 5-year-old Aaron Shannon Jr. in South Los Angeles, where he was playing in a backyard dressed in his Spider-Man costume on Halloween.

Leonard Hall Jr. and Marcus Denson, accused members of the Kitchen Crips gang, each face a murder charge and two counts of willful attempted murder of the boy's uncle and grandfather. More than 100 jurors are expected to be vetted in the coming week.

But that is not the most high-profile murder case that began Monday.

In Department 107, prosecutors are hoping the jurors selected will bring closure to a three-decade-old murder mystery they say is the work of a man born in a German village who took on many names before becoming the self-proclaimed Boston socialite "Clark Rockefeller."

Jury selection got underway Monday in the case of Christian Gerthartsreiter for the 1985 slaying of John Sohus. The attorneys Monday began reviewing potential jurors for the four- to five-week trial but did not expect to begin actual selection until Friday.

Sohus went missing in 1985 along with his wife, Linda. At the time of the disappearance, a man authorities say is Gerhartsreiter lived in the San Marino guest house owned by Sohus' mother under the alias Christopher Chichester.

Chichester claimed to be a British aristocrat with a love of film, worked on a local cable TV show and hung out at USC's film school. He disappeared shortly after Sohus and his wife vanished in 1985, and Sohus' mother would tell friends they had gone a secret mission. Postcards arrived from Paris supposedly from Linda Sohus.

But nine years later, as a new owner of the Sohus property on Lorain Road dug a swimming pool dug in the backyard, a bag of bones was uncovered. San Marino police and coroner's identified them as those of John Sohus. Gerhartsreiter, 52, remains a suspect in Linda Sohus' disappearance but has never been charged with the crime.

In Department 103, jurors are deliberating whether two inmates could face the death penalty for torturing a fellow inmate for up to half an hour, then killing him while they were locked together in an unsupervised room at the Men's Central Jail.

Prosecutors believe that gang members targeted Chadwick Shane Cochran, a 35-year-old with mental problems, who was placed in jail for a nonviolent offense, because they saw him being escorted by deputies and wrongly concluded he was a jailhouse informant. Christian Perez and Heriberto Eddie Rodriguez were charged with Cochran's torture and murder.


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-- Richard Winton

Photo: Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, right, appears in court for a preliminary hearing in Alhambra.

Credit: Walt Mancini / Pool