Tim Faulker at ValleyWag summed up the Hans Reiser trial best, saying, “There’s nothing funny about a murder trial. Unless there is.”
It has been a while since we did any sex trial coverage at Blue Blood, so I guess we’re due. So here is the set-up. Hans Reiser is a well-known but unpopular Linux programmer. Well, he is probably a Linux programmer, but there are bitchy San Francisco tech scene rumors that he actually hired cheap Eastern Bloc coders to do all his work for him. At any rate, there are some Linux file systems which bear his name, whether or not he earned it. And, let’s face it, the SF tech world has a rich history of dudes who take credit for other people’s work. I don’t think most of those people are murderers, so that is not, in and of itself, damning in a murder trial. Given that Hans Reiser went off to college after 8th grade, I’m thinking he probably at least supervised his Russian coding teams. I’d say that he was not on trial for whether he deserved his personal kudos, but he actually kind of was. His attorneys William DuBois and Richard Tamor repeatedly alleged that Han Reiser was only on trial because people hated his personality so much. Heck, his lawyers pointed out that they couldn’t stand the guy. I’m not sure whether I’d choose to be represented by counsel who disliked me so intensely, but Hans Reiser admits he is a little iffy in his choices on who to associate with.
Apparently, whether or not one wishes to mail order, Russia has bride catalogs where marriage-minded gentlemen can flip through and select the woman of their dreams. Hans Reiser started dating one Nina Sharanova who promptly became pregnant. Hans Reiser’s father, Ramon Reiser, told him that he should not marry the woman, partly because Hans says Nina conceived on their first night together and she was an OB/GYN by training and he felt a gynecological doctor could have practiced proper birth control, if she wanted to. Once Hans and Nina tied the knot, Ramon Reiser suspected his son’s Russian bride of using her new CFO position in the company to embezzle funds.
A gentleman named Sean Sturgeon was the Maid of Honor at the Reiser/Sharanova wedding and dressed in drag for the occasion. Sean Sturgeon was a childhood friend of Hans Reiser’s and loaned him the proceeds of a mortgage on his condo when Reiser’s company Namesys could not make payroll, possibly due to Nina’s embezzling. Sean Sturgeon and Nina Reiser do ecstasy together and Nina is irritated when Hans Reiser refuses to do it with her. According to endless court documents, Sean Sturgeon and Nina Reiser began a sexual affair which included lots of BDSM sex.
Hans Reiser accused Sean Sturgeon of everything under the sun. He said he didn’t need to pay his childhood friend back the bridge loan he had received. He said the man had MPD. Although he knew about the affair for three years before going into divorce proceedings, he said he was really concerned about the drugs and sadomasochism involved in his wife’s relationship with Sean Sturgeon. Why can’t San Francisco people ever just admit to plain old-fashioned jealousy? They always have to complicate the issue. You have to love legal papers which include the phrase, “lewd tattooed drug addicted BDSM pimp/whore” to describe someone’s oldest friend. Hans Reiser’s court filings made much of Sean Sturgeon having carved the word rage into his arm. Sean Sturgeon dismisses the incident, pointing out that Hans saw him cut himself at the time and it happened in the mid-90′s when lots of people were doing that sort of body modification where they lived.
The court documents in the custody battle also included the entertaining query, “Should the government be keeping me from showing my son how to direct brave goblin suicide bombers against their elven oppressors?” Apparently Nina had been freaking out at Hans for some time about playing Battlefield Vietnam and Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic with their young son Rory. Hans Reiser had well-reasoned thoughts on which games he allowed his son to play. For example, he felt that a game like Grand Theft Auto was unsuitable because there were no penalties for killing innocents. More creepily, he seemed to feel that it was important for a boy to develop his killer instincts and that these video games would assist with this and prevent the child from otherwise being made soft by his upscale suburban surroundings.
After Hans Reiser and Nina Reiser split up, she had a relationship with Sean Sturgeon for a while and told him that wolves mate for life and he was her wolf. A bitter custody dispute over the Reiser children Rory and Nio left Nina with primary custody and, after wholly-unsubstantiated and somewhat doctor-disproved accusations of sexual child abuse, Sean Sturgeon was not allowed to visit her when her kids were around. Eventually Nina and Sean mostly broke up, although Sean continued to give her occasional financial support and drove around with a decal of two wolves pathetically on the back of his car. For her part, Nina started a relationship with Anthony Zografos, a potentially richer dude who appeared more suited to raising a family.
Now this is the point where it would have just been a San Francisco divorce, had things stopped here. We could all have shaken our heads in dismay at the way the court system responds to reports of things we consider normal and commonplace, such as body mods or kinky sex or violent video games. Only things did not stop there. On Labor Day of 2006, Nina Reiser disappeared. Although no body was found and phone records show that Hans Reiser tried to call his ex days after her disappearance, the husband is always the first one police look at. He was arrested and held without bail for the past two years. That is a long time to be behind bars when the authorities can’t even produce the corpse. Law enforcement’s strongest pieces of evidence were very small amounts of sloppily-processed DNA evidence found in places where it really could have gotten there a number of ways and the fact that Hans Reiser had purchased two murder-related books in the week following his wife’s disappearance. The books were David Simon’s Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets and Jonathan Goodman’s (no relation to Judge Larry Goodman) Masterpieces of Murder. I’ve never read either book, but, heck, I’ve watched every single episode of the Homicide: Life on the Streets TV show, as well as David Simon’s The Wire and Generation Kill. Seems like flimsy evidence. Especially when one considers that Rory and Nio’s grandmother spirited them off to Russia and there were questions of whether she would let them come back to the States to testify. Hans Reiser asserted that Nina Reiser, possibly abetted by a lover, stole from his company and then went home to Russia and had her mother bring her kids to her to neatly solve their custody dispute. Just to add to the confusion, in the middle of the proceedings, Sean Sturgeon confessed to being a serial killer. He placed his victim count at eight and a half because he was not sure whether the ninth victim had died or not. He swore, however, that he loved Nina and only murdered people who abused him as a child and was willing to take a polygraph or “truth serum” to prove his honesty.
The State of California felt there was enough to hold Hans Reiser on, but also felt that it was going to be a difficult trial and a long one with great expense to the taxpayers. So Hans Reiser was offered a plea bargain. The deal was that he would confess to killing Nina, tell them how he did it and show where he hid the body, so her loved ones could get closure. In return he would get three years with credit for time served while awaiting trial. He turned down the plea and a jury found him guilty and he was sentenced to 25 years to life. His attorney’s went around saying essentially that they were not allowed to introduce proper evidence that Nina Reiser was a dirty slut and that their client was just railroaded because he was such a thoroughly unlikable dickhead.
A lot of people in the open source community felt that Hans Reiser got a really raw deal. Sean Sturgeon swears he murdered eight or nine people and the police do not even arrest him, because there are no bodies. Hans Reiser swears he did not murder one person and is convicted, even though there is no body. Seems wrong.
Only this week, Hans Reiser made a new deal with Judge Larry Goodman to change his sentence to 15 years to life. Then he lead investigators to where he had deeply buried his wife’s body and gave a detailed account of how he punched her and then cut off the blood flow to her brain until she was dead. The only embarrassment he shows in his sworn testimony is that he felt he used a somewhat amateurish chokehold to kill her and that his old martial arts instructors might be disappointed in his murder technique. Doh!
“This is the typical behavior of a socialist, atheistic Open Source developer. When one has a lack of respect for intellectual property and God, then murder is sure to follow.”