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Friday, July 11, 2008

Nina Reiser's Body located and Identified

Reiser takes plea deal for lesser sentence
Remains in Oakland hills ID'd as those of Nina Reiser

By Chris Metinko and Harry Harris

Oakland Tribune Article Launched: 07/08/2008 09:07:38 PM

OAKLAND — The skeletal remains found Monday in the Oakland hills were positively identified Tuesday as those of Nina Reiser, and her estranged husband and convicted killer could be looking at a lesser sentence after leading authorities to the body.

Authorities located the body of the missing woman late Monday afternoon after Hans Reiser agreed to a deal with the Alameda County's district attorney's office to disclose the location of the body in exchange for a second-degree murder conviction.

In April, the 44-year-old software engineer was found guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a 25-years-to-life prison sentence. For second-degree murder, those convicted face a 15-years-to-life term. During a news conference Tuesday at Oakland police headquarters, prosecutor Paul Hora confirmed his office and Reiser and his defense team had struck such a deal.

He added that under the agreement, Reiser also will waive his appeal rights. Hora said that after Reiser was convicted, his defense team expressed a desire to make a deal for their client. He said talks about disclosing the location of Nina Reiser's body had been taking place for several weeks. Speculation of a possible deal had been swirling since Reiser's conviction April 28.

At that time, Reiser's defense attorney, William Du Bois, wouldn't discuss the possibility of a deal, saying only that Reiser was coming to terms with being convicted. Hora said the decision to strike a deal was made in conjunction with Nina's family's wishes.

"This wouldn't have happened without the support and desire of Nina's family," Hora said.

At the news conference, police confirmed that the remains had been positively identified through dental records as those of Nina Reiser, 31, who was last seen alive in September 2006.

Hora said it was important to Nina's family that her remains be located, so they could choose her final resting place, not her killer. Since the body has been located, he said that the family, who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, won't have to go through a lengthy appeal process or hear rumors about sightings of Nina Reiser.

Hora said the family did not wish to speak to the media.

When asked if the second-degree murder agreement — after already getting a first-degree murder conviction — was unusual, Hora said, "In my experience there haven't been similar deals because in my experience there haven't been similar cases."

Hora said the agreement struck between his office and Reiser is not final until it is approved by Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman when Reiser is sentenced.

But Hora said he was "confident" the court will agree to the lesser sentence if Reiser maintains his end of the deal, including formally agreeing to waive any appeals. Reiser's sentencing is scheduled for today, but the hearing is expected to be continued.

Oakland police Lt. Ersie Joyner refused to reveal much about the body and his department's investigation into the scene, other than to say it appears Reiser committed the killing without assistance.

Hora said the body was found in a bag — which may correspond with a drawing presented in court during the trial from Reiser's oldest son, Rory, which showed his father carrying a large bag down steps the night his mother disappeared.

The defense attempted to dismiss the drawings as being coerced images the boy was told to draw. According to sources familiar with the investigation, Hans Reiser admitted that he strangled Nina Reiser during an argument while his children played in his mother's Exeter Drive home, where Reiser was living.

Nina was last seen alive after dropping off the couple's two children there.

Handcuffed to his attorney, Reiser led authorities Monday to Nina's remains, buried in a 4-foot-deep hole a half-mile from Reiser's mother's home in the 6900 block of Exeter Drive.

Reiser told authorities that he hopes a cherry tree can be planted to mark the grave site, which was down a steep hillside in the 8200 block of Skyline Boulevard off a hiking trail in Redwood Regional Park.

Sources said the slaying occurred Sept. 3, 2006, the last day Nina Reiser was seen alive. The couple was going through a bitter divorce and custody battle at the time of her disappearance. It still isn't clear when Reiser moved the body after the killing, but sources said Reiser said he wrapped the body in sheets of plastic and later placed it in a duffel bag and carried it to the unmarked grave.

A sheriff's department spokesman said Monday that the area had been searched "superficially" in the initial search for Nina Reiser because it was off the beaten track and was covered with poison oak.

The body was removed early Tuesday morning by deputies with the Alameda County coroner's office. Throughout his six-month trial, the computer programmer proclaimed his innocence. On Tuesday, Nina Reiser's best friend, Ellen Doren, said in an e-mail to an area wire service that she hopes Hans Reiser "burns in hell for what he's done to the most amazing person one could meet in their lives."

Doren added, "What's left is to thank Nina's mother Irina (Sharanova) for the amazing person she raised. And hopefully Nina's children will become the same people Nina once was."

One juror said he hopes the judge denies the lesser charge. "This is terrible," said Vince Dunn, 61. "It's like blackmail. As a juror, I feel it was first-degree murder. He's a coldblooded killer."

Dunn said the deal made it seem like Du Bois was manipulating the system. "I think that's wrong," Dunn said. "It makes you question the system."

Reiser, in a handwritten note filed with the court last week, attempted to dismiss Du Bois and co-counsel Richard Tamor and hire his divorce attorney, John Fuery.

Reiser claimed Du Bois had a "deep bias" against him. However, in another filing this week, Reiser requested DuBois and Tamor remain his attorneys.

Tamor did not return a call for comment Tuesday. Du Bois said Monday that officials had been working with Reiser on the agreement for at least two weeks.

"His motivation for (taking authorities to the grave) was to put some resolution to the whole thing and improve his posture with the case and bring closure to the family," Du Bois said.

"He realized that to ever be paroled, he would have to acknowledge responsibility and show remorse," Du Bois said.

Hans Reiser met and married Nina Sharanova, a Russian-born and -trained obstetrician and gynecologist, while working in Russia in 1999. They moved to the United States and she was studying to become an U.S.-licensed OB/GYN when she went missing.

Hans Reiser was well known in the computer programming world for creating a filing system software for Linux-based systems.

Reiser's trial drew national attention, partly because Nina Reiser's body had not been found, and because during the trial, the prosecution presented a great deal of circumstantial evidence against Reiser.

The defense pointed to a lack of direct evidence that linked their client with a killing that had never produced a body.

Reiser attempted to help himself by taking the witness stand for 11 days during the trial. He gave long, rambling answers to sometimes simple questions and had several outbursts in court, many ending in strong reprimands from the judge.

All the while, Du Bois maintained his client's innocence, arguing that Nina Reiser was a deceptive, manipulative woman who searched for dates on Craigslist, was into alternative sexual practices and contrived unfounded disabilities and illnesses for her son.

Du Bois claimed that Nina Reiser was living in her native Russia, where her children have been living with Nina's mother, Sharanova, for more than 18 months.

Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

For trial updates and memorial information click Here.

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