[conspire] Reiser case: prosecution rests

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Sat Feb 16 02:34:38 PST 2008

Mo 2008-02-11:  Alameda County DA's Inspector Bruce Brock was called
back, as prosecutor Paul Hora's second to last witness.  He spoke, as
a staffer assigned to the Reiser case, of retracing Hans's known travels
(Manteca, Stockton, San Lorenzo) and duplicating purchases Hans is known
to have made, including a siphon pump and shop towels from Kragen Auto
Parts, a $10 Verizon calling card from a 7-Eleven in Manteca.  He
testified about the dimensions of Hans's Honda CRX, driving distances
between various locations relevant to the case, and showed a copy of the
rant against the Alameda County Family Court that had been found on a
laptop screen at Mark McGothigan's house when he was arrested.

On cross-examination, Brock faced defence attorney William DuBois's 
questioning on police procedure, attempting to convince jurors that 
police information was less than reliable.  (Brock clarified that he
had helped police in a consulting capacity.)  DuBois called his
attention, for example, to a disabled DMV placard Brock had inventoried
among the items in Nina's Honda Odyssey minivan.  Was Nina disabled?
Brock didn't think so.  Had Brock used his skills as a "crack
investigator" to find out whose it was?  "I did not", said Brock.

DuBois asked if a reasonable purpose for owning a siphon pump were to 
get water out of the gas tank, when you're having problems starting it.  
Brock agreed.  And then, DuBois attacked prosecution's notion that 
Hans removed the CRX's passenger seat in order to transport Nina's body,
by pointing out (through implication) that that would be a bizarre thing
to do:

DuBois:  "When you have a hatchback like, the very back part of the
         car... that part of the car lifts up? Isn't that right?"
Brock:   "Yes."
DuBois:  "And there's room for things in that?"
Brock:   "That's right."
DuBois:  "That's like a trunk of a car?"
Brock:   "It could be."

(About the size of the hatchback cargo area:)
DuBois:  "That's 23 cubic feet?"
Brock:   "That's right."
DuBois:  "Is that seven feet by seven feet by seven feet?"
(Brock doesn't reply.  DuBois's point, evidently, is that it was the
obvious place to put a body, and Nina was or is quite short.)

Nina Reiser's mother Irina Sharanova has been flown back to serve
as prosecutor Paul Hora's last witness.  She testified in Russian, with
the help of a translator, identifying herself, saying she lives in 
St. Petersburg with the Reiser children, and saying she's been
a gynecologist for 30 years, while her husband Herman Lavrentiev,
who co-signed Nina's Chase Bank credit card, has been a dentist for ~20

Tearily, she confirmed that she had one child, Nina, named for Irina's
mother and born 1974 in Pskov to Irina and ex-husband Vladimir.  They
were divorced when Nina was five.  Irina married Herman Lavrentiev five
years later.

She testified that Nina attended high school for two years in
Providence, RI, then became a general-practice medical doctor and then
Ob-Gyn back in St. Petersburg.  Then, in March 1998, she met Hans in a
St. Petersburg cafe while translating for a woman named Natasha whom
Hans was bride-shopping.  Hans and Nina dated, with Nina following Hans
to the US in Nov. 1998, announcing their engagement after the new year,
and marrying in the Oakland hills on Sa 1999-05-15.  Sharanova could not
attend, and "They didn't really invite us."  (Nina was three months
pregnant at the time, with son Rory, born Tu 1999-09-28 in Oakland.
Daughter Niorlene's birth followed on Sa 2001-05-26.)

Hora:       "What did Nina think about her kids?" 
Sharanova:  [emotionally]  "She loves them and she loved them.  From day
            one, they were beautiful children, very smart children."

Sharanova visited once in 2004 and twice in 2005, each time for about a
month.  Nina filed for divorce in Sept. 2006, and visited Russia with
the children in July 2006.  Sharanova said she was in telephone contact
afterwards, a couple of times a week, saying Nina told her everything,
including her determination to become certified to practice medicine in
California, and land a job.  Sharanova said it was her husband who'd
wired $8,000 from a Latvian bank in 2006.

We 2008-02-13:  After a break for Lincoln's Birthday, Irina Sharanova 
is back.  She confirmed that she'd not attended the 1999 wedding,
commenting that Nina had made arrangements to visit St. Petersburg two
weeks later.

Sharanova described Hans, four years later (during a 2000-2004 stay the 
couple had in St. Petersburg), making disparaging comments about in
front of her about Nina not being a good wife (including a remark that
he didn't want a "smart wife"), though she admitted that the linguistic
barrier limited their communication, and that Hans had groused about the
children learning Russian, not wanting them to be drawn into the affairs
of a country he deemed backward, and about the nature of the children's

Hora asked Sharanova about Nina and boyfriend Anthony Zografos's plans,
in 2006:  She said Zografos had been looking for a house to live in
with her, but that Nina complained about his being jealous, and feared
dependency on him.  (Sharanova had advised her daughter to become
financially independent first, before any further moves.)  Asked whether
Nina had feared harm from Zografos in one of his jealous phases,
Sharanova said no.

When Nina, still concluding divorce proceedings, moved back the the US
in 2006, Sharanova had urged her daughter to give American life up, but
said Nina had replied:  "I have children. I have a house, and I want to
live in the United States."

Sharanova described Nina's money troubles (exacerbated by unpaid
support money owed by Hans), her plans to possibly file for bankruptcy,
and the welcome news of Nina's new job on Sa 2006-09-02.  Nina's last
telephone call had been Su 2006-09-03, the day of her disappearance, 
describing the new job and her happiness about it, as well as a possible
$1,000 loan from stepfather Herman Lavrentiev, out of his and
Sharanova's estimated monthly income of $1,500 to several thousand
dollars, to help her make rent.  She said she'd called about loan
arrangements the next day (Mo 2006-09-04), but reached voicemail.  Her
message was played, for the jury, as was a second follow-up message.  

Sharanova said she flew to the US on Su 2006-09-17:  "I knew that
something terrible had happened."  She concluded that Hans had murdered
her daughter, and spent some months attempting to get custody of the
children:  "I didn't want the children to be with a killer."

She said CBS News had paid her $20,000 for access to shoot footage in
Russia related to Nina, for future use in the program "48 Hours".  CBS
News also entered a similar agreement with Nina's best friend Ellen
Doren and her husband.  ABC's "20/20" also interviewed Sharanova, but
did not pay.

Hora:      "Have you or anyone you know attempted to influence (the
           Reisers' son) or influence his testimony?"
Sharanova: "No.  We don't want to traumatize the child."
Hora:      "Was he traumatized?"
Sharanova: "Yes."
Hora:      "What do you base that opinion on?  How do you know that?"
Sharanova: "The boy talked a great deal, and I cannot repeat what he
           said without tears.  He cannot listen to songs where the 
           word 'momma' is mentioned.  He talks about how he did not 
           manage to say to momma how much he loved her.  And he was 
           always talking about, always interested about who's working 
           for momma and how one could find momma, that's all he could 
           talk about.  And in addition to that, the relationship with 
           his sister has been very... there's a disconnect between the 
           relationship... between him and his sister.  The first months 
           we were together he would very often hit his sister.  [But 
           we told him that] he shouldn't do that because his sister is
           a little girl.  The boy would say that 'Poppa...'"
DuBois:    [Objection.  Hearsay, maybe even triple hearsay.]
Goodman:   [Subject to a possible motion to strike, he'll allow it for now.]
Sharanova: "[Rory had said that] 'Father told him to do that so that
           she would not grow up to be a liar like his mother.'"

[Hans Reiser at the defence table shows an astonished expression, upon
hearing the above.]

Sharanova said Rory has been seen by psychologists in both countries,
and has been told that "Momma has disappeared.  Poppa is with the police
because he doesn't want to answer questions that have to do with her

[DuBois repeatedly objects, and is overruled after sidebar discussion.]

Sharanova mentioned that Rory had been having trouble sleeping, and said
she'd sent to the prosecutor Rory's drawing and several notes, and
acknowledged that Russian social workers had praised Rory when he
produced a stick-figure drawing that "possibly" shows Hans carrying a
bag containing Nina down a flight of stairs.

Hora:      "Was anybody, to your knowledge, talking to him about his
           mother or his father?"
Sharanova: "No."
Hora:      [Did Rory draw his picture on his own?  What were the 
Sharanova: "He was very often asking questions -- who was looking for
           her, how they were looking for her -- and he had his own 
           suppositions about the case, and it as very difficult for 
           us to answer those questions."

She said she'd questioned Rory about that particular drawing and sent it
to Hora, but not bothering to send many others, because she felt that
particular one was important.

Sharanova had sent an e-mail from Russia to Hora:

   "Dear Paul, I tried asking Rory what he remembers and he told me 
   he does not remember a lot.  I asked him what about that you told 
   me [sic] that Hans was not there when it was time for Rory to sleep 
   and Rory said he was there, and Beverly was there and her friend 
   Mark also.  I asked him about a fight that Nina and Hans had before 
   she left.  He said that they often had fights.  I asked about the scarf. 
   He said he does not remember.  I asked about the room in the house 
   he talked about before where Nina might be.  He said yes, there was 
   such a room, with a door going outside of it.  Again, he said he saw 
   mom leave the house that day.  That's all today.  Best regards, Irina."

In testimony, she said the scarf incident involved a time Rory claimed 
Nina "couldn't scream because Hans covered her mouth with a scarf", but 
couldn't remember when questioned further.  The "room where Nina might
be" referred to a room Rory claimed existed in Hans's house that nobody 
ever entered, and Sharanova said Rory had said Hans could have hidden
Nina's body there.

Asked if Rory had seen press coverage, she said he'd seen an issue of
_People_ magazine that covered the case.

Hora:      "Since Sept. 3, 2006, when you talked to Nina on the phone,
           have you ever received another phone call from her?"
Sharanova: "No."
Hora:      "Since you saw her in July 2006, have you seen her since
Sharanova: [Shakes her head:  no]
Hora:      "Since Sept. 3, 2006, have you received any letters, any
           e-mail, has she made any contact with you at all?" 
Sharanova: [Shakes her head:  no]
Hora:      "Based on your spending your entire life knowing Nina, was
           she the kind of daughter that [sic] would do that to you? 
           Just disappear and not contact or call you?"
Sharanova: "No.  That would have been impossible."
Hora:      "Would she have been the kind of mother that would have left
           her kids up for grabs and abandoned them?"
DuBois:    [Objects that this outrageously misrepresents the facts, 
           since the children have in fact been _in_ the witness's 
Goodman:   [Allows the question, saying again that custody is up to
           Family Court.]
Sharanova: [agrees with the DA's question]

Th 2008-02-14:  On cross-examination, DuBois asked Saranova if her
e-mail's phrase "Again, he said he saw mom leave the house that day"
referred to Rory's having seen his mother leave, safely, on the day of
her disappearance:  "Yes."

(RM comment:  Note that point carefully.  It remains potentially very
damaging to prosecution's case.)

DuBois:    "'Again', he said, he saw his mom leave the house that day?
           Correct?  The reason you use the word 'again' is because Rory
           has said before that he saw his mom leave the house on the 
           last day he saw her?"
Sharanova: "Everything that is said in this email is said many times."
DuBois:    "So he said many times, while in Russia, while you talked to
           him about it, while on the last day he saw his mom, he saw 
           her leave the house? Is that right?"
Sharanova: "I cannot separate just that line from the e-mail."

(Observers report that Sharanova's manner had changed markedly when
DuBois took over questioning from Hora, becoming somewhat unresponsive
and evasive, and seeming agitated and fidgety.)

DuBois asked if she'd been honest to Alameda County Family Court when
she applied to take the children to Russian just for a three-week
vacation.  "Yes."  However, she admitted that she had never filed
paperwork to bring the children back, only to take them to Russia.
(DuBois also walked Sharanova through the process she'd gone through to
get the children Russian passports, perhaps to remind jurors that she'd
defied court orders on that point, too.)

DuBois also questioned her about Nina's medical credentials, Nina's 
advertising for a suitor with various marriage agencies, including one
called "European Connections", whose ad, shown to jurors earlier,
Sharanova claimed had been published without Nina's permission, and that
she'd married a foreigner on account of "only love -- unfortunately".

DuBois asked if one-time boyfriend Sean Sturgeon, who had attended the
Reisers' wedding in drag as Hans's "maid of honour" in 1999, and whose
adulterous affair with Nina then helped break up the Reiser's marriage
amidst a flurry of business lawsuits, had eventually proposed marriage
to Nina.  She said yes, addinng:  "But Sean Sturgeon was not the reason
for their divorce."

Asked if Anthony Zografos had, in _his_ turn, proposed marriage,
Sharanova at first evaded the question, and then eventually responded

DuBois tried to ask Sharanova why Nina had broken up with Sean Sturgeon,
but Judge Goodman sustained Hora's objection of hearsay.

He then asked if Nina had said Zografos might return to his own wife,
because of his children.  Sharanova confirmed.  He then attempted to ask
Zografos's wife had written Nina a letter accusing her of being a
homewrecker, but Hora successfully quashed the question on grounds of

He asked if Nina had felt he could manage Zografos's jealousy:  "Yes."
Had Nina said she'd be able to manage Hans?  Yes, except during the last
two years, when Hans became "aggressive and possessive".

Did Zografos follow Nina around?  Sharanova said no, but commented:  "He
would meet her sometimes unexpectedly."

DuBois:   "And did she say that he would know things that he shouldn't
           know or that he wouldn't know without following her?"
Sharanova: "Yes."
DuBois:    [After pausing]  "Did Nina tell you that she would go online
           and search personal ads on Craigslist?"
Sharanova: "No."

DuBois then asked a series of questions aimed at hinting that Sharanova, 
her husband, and Russian social workers had coached Rory's testimony,
concluding with:  Why did Rory testify that Sharanova told him not to
say that she had talked with him about the case?  "I cannot explain it.
I don't have an answer for that."  She denied that she and Rory had
browsed the Web for news of the case just before his court testimony,
and acknowledged that she'd been selective about what drawings of Rory's
to send to Hora.

With that, after three days of preliminary statements, then three-plus
months of testimony by 50+ witnesses presenting almost wholly
circumstantial evidence, prosecution rested its case.

Judge Goodman said he would rule on Tuesday, the next trial day, about
defence's pending mistrial motion, and also accepted a new defence
motion called an 1118.1 motion (after a California Penal Code section
giving judges authority to order directed verdicts for acquittal if
evidence doesn't support guilt), almost always filed in murder cases.

Defence attorney DuBois will then begin his case.

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