Hans Reiser Murder Case Focuses On Missing Car Seat

The trial involving the Linux developer is scheduled to resume in Oakland, Calif., on Jan. 14.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

December 19, 2007

6 Min Read

The Hans Reiser murder trial on Tuesday focused on his missing estranged wife as well as what was missing from the Honda CRX he was driving.

Jurors heard testimony that the front passenger seat was missing and the car contained books on murder with a receipt showing they had been purchased soon after Nina Reiser's disappearance. Linux developer Reiser, 44, is accused of killing Nina Reiser, who remains missing and whose body has not been found.

Reiser's lawyer's questioning indicated that the defendant modified the Honda CRX and took the front seat out so he could sleep in it.

Judge Larry Goodman called for a recess to accommodate the upcoming holidays. The trial is scheduled to resume in Oakland, Calif., on Jan. 14. Prosecutors will likely spend several more weeks presenting their case before the defense makes its arguments.

The 6-week-old murder trial has periodically focused on the family's home life, with prosecutors and Reiser's defense attorney painting vastly different pictures of Nina Reiser.

According to court testimony, the couple met on a Web site advertising Russian brides. At the time she replied to the ad, Nina Reiser practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Russia.

The couple's first in-person meeting was at a cafe in Russia. Hans Reiser told a reporter he donned a cowboy hat for the meeting, which he described as "magical." He also said he and his wife conceived their first child that night and they married when she was five months pregnant.

Seven years later, the marriage had fallen apart. Nina Reiser filed for divorce.

Hans Reiser seemed increasingly frustrated and stressed over financial problems, according to witness testimony during the trial. Reiser developed ReiserFS, the default file system on SUSE Linux/openSUSE, Slackware, Xandros, Yoper, Linspir, and Kurumin Linux. He claimed his wife had stolen money from him, and he lobbied local government officials to change the family court system, while owing money for child support. He told a couple at a children's birthday party that his wife and children were a financial burden. The couple contacted police after learning the woman was missing.

The mother of two, barely over 5 feet tall, had requested an order of protection against Reiser, a black-belt judo student, saying that he had shoved her and threatened to make her hurt for the rest of her life, according to media reports.

Court testimony revealed that Nina Reiser just took a new job and planned to meet with her best friend for dinner on Sept. 3, 2006. The friends had spoken that morning, and Nina Reiser complained that she and her husband had been arguing about the children again.

Surveillance cameras taped the 31-year-old mother at a grocery store around 2 p.m. She dropped her children off at her husband's home and vanished. Nina Reiser never showed for dinner, and her friend began calling repeatedly at 6:30 p.m. When Nina Reiser failed to pick up her children from school the next day, the friend called police. The best friend testified that Nina Reiser was always punctual and reliable. Nina Reiser has not been seen since.

Police have some evidence of foul play but have not recovered a body. Police showed pictures of Nina Reiser's car full of groceries, parked about three miles from Hans Reiser's mother's home, where he had been staying. Inside, they found her purse, wallet, identification, sunglasses, and mobile phone with the battery detached on the front passenger floor board.

A jail inmate testified that while he was in jail, Hans Reiser rushed toward a television set to hear a news report about a body that was found in the Oakland hills. The inmate, who said he received no offers for special treatment, testified that Reiser waited through commercial breaks and other reports and seemed to lose interest when he learned the body was identified as a black man.

Hans Reiser and his attorney characterize the missing woman as promiscuous, greedy, and unstable. The defense attorney pointed out that she had asked her divorce lawyer whether she could move to Russia with the children.

Hans Reiser's lawyer has raised the possibility that she may have fled to Russia, but investigators recovered her American and Russian passports and the defense attorney hasn't produced any supporting evidence yet.

Prosecutors likely will spend several more weeks presenting their case before the defense makes its arguments.

When Nina Reiser disappeared, she was studying for a medical exam. She also had a new boyfriend who testified that he called a lot and accessed her e-mail account when she was missing.

During their marriage and separation, the Reisers argued over the care of their children.

Hans Reiser accused his wife of having Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition in which parents try to gain attention by pretending their children are ill. A child welfare worker testified that Reiser had called in a complaint about his wife exhibiting the syndrome. A doctor testified that Reiser tried to manipulate him and threatened a lawsuit when the doctor insisted Reiser's son needed surgery for a hearing problem.

Reiser argued that his son, who was 6 when the couple split up, should be allowed to play violent video games so he could overcome his fears, learn combat, and become a man, according to a feature in Wired magazine .

The courts gave the couple joint legal and physical custody at first, but Nina Reiser eventually won medical and legal custody. So Reiser still shared physical custody of the children but did not have medical or legal authority over issues such as education.

One of the boy's teachers told jurors the boy drew violent pictures and once said he didn't have to listen to her because she was a woman and women shouldn't have rights.

A police officer, who had stood watch when the couple dropped off and picked up the children, said the hostility Hans Reiser showed was palpable. He testified that Hans Reiser's glares and body language appeared so threatening that he told Nina Reiser to get a gun.

The Linux programmer's judo teacher told the jury that Reiser "excelled" at a choking move. Media reported that the instructor said on the witness stand that he had asked Reiser plainly whether he had killed his wife, but the instructor never stated the response and the judge did not allow that testimony into evidence during the trial.

Soon after Nina Reiser went missing, her best friend asked Hans Reiser if he knew where the missing woman was. On the witness stand, she claimed he told her he needed to talk to his lawyer.

A neighbor testified that he saw Reiser in heavy clothing, hosing something down in the driveway late on a warm night. He said it struck him as odd because Reiser never did any kind of work outside of the house. The next morning, the man said the driveway was covered in pine needles.

Reiser was pulled over a few days later for making an illegal U-turn, and the patrolman testified that he didn't notice anything unusual about the car. A few days later, however, when police confiscated the car, it was soaking wet. The front passenger seat was missing.

To date, the prosecution has brought forward 35 witnesses and 130 exhibits for the jury to see.

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