Hans Reiser loses civil suit in his wife’s death

Back in 2006, there was the quite scandalous disappearance of Nina Reiser, a beautiful Russian woman in California who vanished while in the middle of a nasty divorce from her husband Hans, a wealthy computer programmer who invented the ReiserFS file system. Hans was eventually convicted of first-degree murder (he got 25 years to life in prison), although he insisted she a conniving witch who had walked out on their kids and out of pure spite was deliberately trying to frame him for murder. There was a lot of mud-slinging and he accused her of abusing their children, etc. The authorities believe he murdered her while the kids were in the house, and their son might have unknowingly witnessed the body disposal. This article has a photo of Nina with the children.

Hans seriously did not do any favors for himself at the criminal trial. He irritated everyone. He’s apparently some kind of genius where computers are concerned, but as far as people go, the guy’s is just plain dumb. As one article put it, he delivered the “geek defense” and proceeded to slowly incriminate himself over the course of 11 days of testimony.

After the murder conviction, in 2008, Hans made a deal with prosecutors where, in exchange for reducing his conviction to second-degree murder (15 years to life in prison), he lead the authorities to Nina’s body. He said he strangled her during an argument. (Her resolved notice is on this page.) Even then, Hans was claiming Nina had abused their son and only went so far as to suggest that what he did MIGHT have been wrong.

Nina’s mother in Russia took custody of Hans and Nina’s two children, Rory and Niorlene, who are now 12 and 11 respectively. On their behalf, she sued Hans for wrongful death. When the suit went to trial this summer, Hans claimed he murdered Nina because she was abusing their kids and might have killed them:

He claims his wife was abusing the kids, that she had Factitious disorder by proxy – often referred to as Munchausen syndrome by proxy – where a caregiver harms or even kills someone they are in charge of in order to gain sympathy and attention. During the 2008 trial, Reiser alluded to that as well, accusing his wife of having the disease when she wanted to get their son surgery for severe hearing loss.

[…]

In his papers, he accuses the courts, the prison system, county children’s services, his trial attorneys and others of conspiring against him, during his murder trial and now in the civil case.

“There are extensive legal grounds under multiple arguments for defending an innocent child when the state will not, at the cost of a non-innocent party’s life,” Hans Reiser wrote.

I don’t know why Hans took this to trial, seeing as how he’d already pleaded guilty to killing Nina. Perhaps he knew he would lose and just wanted to take the opportunity to drag Nina’s name through the mud again. Perhaps he is just so clueless and such a narcissist that he thought, even after all that’s happened, he could somehow pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. Well, it didn’t work: Hans has just been ordered to pay his kids $60 million.

This is even more than the plaintiffs had asked for: they requested $10 million in actual damages for each kid, an another $5 million in punitive damages — that is, $25 million altogether. The jury more than doubled it! From the article:

Reiser recited a litany of maladies he said his wife had, including a chemical imbalance caused by an increase in oxytocin and Munchausen by proxy syndrome, in which a parent makes up illnesses in children in order to gain sympathy from others. He also compared himself to Moses killing a slave master and hiding the body in the sand.

Authorities have said there was no evidence Nina Reiser had the disorder or had abused her children.

From the above quote, and the below one, it seems Hans hasn’t changed a bit since his murder trial four years ago.

Reiser did little to garner sympathy from jurors, especially the women on the panel who “quite frankly were like, ‘Screw you,’ ” as Reiser made clear his hatred for his wife.

Smith said that Rory and Niorline “were horribly damaged by this” and that the jury wanted to “make darn sure that the children were well taken care of, that they would have the psychological help that they needed for the rest of their life.”

This is probably going to be a purely symbolic verdict, because Hans claims, anyway, that he’s broke. Even if he does have some hidden assets — and he might — I doubt they add up to $60 million. Fortunately the kids are still in Russia and didn’t have to testify in the lawsuit or be present for the hearing. No amount of money, not even $60 million, will make up for what their father did to them and to their mother.

There was testimony about how the kids are doing now: about “as well as can be expected” I guess. They still live with their grandma in Russia and they’ve been in therapy. Hans, who acted as his own attorney (and remember, a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client), asked the witness, Ellen Doren, Nina’s best friend, about the children’s lives, how they were doing at school and stuff. The judge told him this was totally off topic and Hans got all teary-eyed and said he had no information about his children. Well, stuff it, Hans, that’s your own fault.

In spite of Hans’s plea bargain, I’m quite sure he’ll never be released. Parole boards are reluctant to release convicted murderers from prison in any case, and with the stuff Hans has been saying about Nina and the harm he is still inflicting on his children, and his obvious lack of remorse, he’s not ever going to convince anyone he’s rehabilitated.

Also: check out this editorial praising the Reiser children’s attorney, who acted pro bono in his case. The editorial very aptly describes Hans as “socially completely tone-deaf.”

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12 thoughts on “Hans Reiser loses civil suit in his wife’s death

  1. Saffy July 19, 2012 / 10:39 pm

    I remember that story very well. that guy is obviously a complete psychopath. Their whole circle of friends sounded like weirdos, from what I remember. I wonder why she even married him. Couldn’t she see what a creep he was? eww. Those poor kids.

    • Meaghan July 19, 2012 / 10:46 pm

      I don’t think she knew him all that well before she married him. Although, contrary to what has been reported, she was not a mail-order bride. They met like this: Hans had put in advertisements seeking a mail-order bride and he went to Russia to meet one candidate, but she didn’t speak English and Hans didn’t speak Russian so Nina came to the meeting to act as interpreter. And Hans discovered he liked Nina a lot more than the other woman. But I don’t know how long they knew each other and how many times they actually met before they got married.

      When a person intends to marry another person, naturally they’re going to try to put on their best face and be on their best behavior at all times. That’s how Josh Powell got Susan to marry him and probably how Hans got Nina. I know they did have a few things in common: they were both very intelligent (Nina was a doctor), Hans was rich from his computer programming and Nina came from a wealthy family, and they both wanted kids.

  2. Leaman July 19, 2012 / 11:28 pm

    It’s too bad Hans went off the deep end, because he was a great developer. Linux is still stuck with ext4/ext3 filesystems, because ReiserFS never took off due to negative associations with its creator.

    ReiserFS could have revolutionized the desktop computing landscape if it had gained some traction…it really is a killer filesystem!

    (OK, sorry for the bad and totally unoriginal pun!)

    • Meaghan July 19, 2012 / 11:34 pm

      That is unfortunate, but IMHO, mostly it’s too bad Hans went off the deep end because this resulted in another human being’s death.

  3. Robin Cox July 21, 2012 / 9:11 pm

    It’s interesting you compare him to Josh Powell… I just saw a documentary about the Nina/Has case (I wish I could remember if it was 48 Hours Mystery or something else) and Hans’ dad definitely had the Senior Powell feel. I remember him basically insinuating that although Nina was a medical doctor, she still “managed to accidentally get pregnant” and entice him to marry her. Ehh, even the best methods will fail, no matter what your education background.

    • Meaghan July 21, 2012 / 10:18 pm

      I remember Hans’s dad was going around online saying ridiculous things before and during the trial; among other things, he accused Nina’s friend Ellen Doren (who testified at the civil suit) of having killed Nina, and at the same time went around saying Nina’s family had Russian Mob connections (because, I think, her father was a doctor who treated patients at a resort where Russian Mob members sometimes went on vacation) and were able to hide her.

      • Robin Cox July 22, 2012 / 11:38 am

        Wow! You know this case backwards and forwards! Very interesting information that I was not aware of. I assume you mean “Hans’ dad” and not “Josh’s dad?” Also, your earlier comment about how Hans and Nina met was very interesting — I always wondered why a doctor would be involved in mail order brides, your information makes much more sense.

      • Meaghan July 22, 2012 / 2:11 pm

        Yeah, Hans’s dad. Will fix.

        I have heard that, as far as Russian women go, they aren’t mail-order brides in the traditional sense, but more like pen pals. That is, Russian women advertise themselves as potential wives, guys write to them over a period of months or years, they fall in love, THEN they get married. In other words, Russian women won’t marry some strange American man they don’t know — this is what I have heard. I admit I’m hardly an expert on the subject though.

  4. Joan Carol January 15, 2013 / 5:52 pm

    When I lived in Alameda California, I met a woman who knew Hans Reiser. She said that he was not what everybody thought he was… That he was a good, decent man……that apparently people didn’t know Nina and what she was like nor did they know the true facts. I’m just the messenger.

    • Meaghan January 16, 2013 / 8:30 am

      “Good, decent man” or otherwise, he strangled to death the mother of his children and then buried her body and lied about it for over a year saying she’d abandoned them all. He admits to it.

  5. Steve April 15, 2013 / 9:56 am

    It was horrible that she abused the kids like that, but she didn’t deserve to die

    • Meaghan April 15, 2013 / 10:42 am

      All the child abuse exists only in Hans Reiser’s imagination.

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