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.”