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The Courts Government News

Hans Reiser and the "Geek Defense" Strategy 738

lseltzer alerts us to a story in the Washington Post on the defense strategy in the Hans Reiser murder trial. "In the courtroom where Hans Reiser is on trial for murder, [the evidence] might appear to indicate guilty knowledge. But his attorneys cast it as evidence of an innocence peculiar to Hans, a computer programmer so immersed in the folds of his own intellect that he had no idea how complicit he was making himself appear. 'Being too intelligent can be a sort of curse,' defense counsel William Du Bois said. 'All this weird conduct can be explained by him, but he's the only one who can do it. People who are commonly known as computer geeks are so into the field.'"
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Hans Reiser and the "Geek Defense" Strategy

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  • by jmauro ( 32523 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:00PM (#22530442)
    Unless they found Nina's blood all over Reiser's car

    I think they did [cbs5.com], which is why he was charged over other possible suspects.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:09PM (#22530500)
    He designed and implemented on his own what normally takes many groups of people years to create. And his filesystem is (or at least was) competitive with the best in the field. There is little doubt he is (or was) a genius. Whether he committed murder is another question.
  • Re:Gem of a quote (Score:3, Informative)

    by RobBebop ( 947356 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:12PM (#22530516) Homepage Journal

    when in doubt, Wikipedia! [wikipedia.org]

    Linus Torvalds originally developed the Linux kernel as a hobby OS for the Intel 80386 CPU, incorporating elements from MINIX, although with entirely new code.[12] Initially Torvalds wanted to call the kernel he developed Freax (a combination of "free", "freak", and the letter X to indicate that it is a Unix-like system), but his friend Ari Lemmke, who administered the FTP server where the kernel was first hosted for downloading, named Torvalds' directory linux.

    Of course, nothing on Wikipedia should be taken as fact unless it can be backed up with supporting references, but that's how it goes.

  • Re:Gem of a quote (Score:2, Informative)

    by spiderbitendeath ( 577712 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:38PM (#22530750) Homepage
    "An operating system (OS) is the software that manages the sharing of the resources of a computer and provides programmers with an interface used to access those resources. " http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_system [wikipedia.org] Linux is an operating system.
  • Re:/. defense (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:41PM (#22530780)
    Anti-social means something different than isolated or reclusive; it means actively doing things in disregard for the rights of others. Its symptoms are more likely to include a history of arrests rather than living a parent's basement plotting a prank on a boss. General use vs. proper use is generally okay, but in cases like these (including schizophrenic vs. DID), the general usage simply reinforces stereotypes of particular mental illnesses which stigmatizes patients and does little to educate the public about such illnesses.
  • by Captain Nitpick ( 16515 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @08:53PM (#22530902)

    From what I can tell, the prosecution has absolutely not proven Hans' guilt beyond the shadow of a doubt. They have not met the standard of proof required for a criminal conviction.

    The standard of proof in a criminal case is 'beyond a reasonable doubt'. This is far less than 'beyond a shadow of a doubt'.

  • by jbengt ( 874751 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:21PM (#22531096)
    According to reports I've read, he bought those books after he was treated as a suspect by the cops, not before the crime.
  • by Richard_J_N ( 631241 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:26PM (#22531126)
    http://www.freax.org/ [freax.org] has a little more info
  • by R2.0 ( 532027 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @09:34PM (#22531180)
    "Sean Sturgeon is a known killer,"

    No, Sean Sturgeon *claims* to have killed a bunch of people. I don't believe he's been charged, much less prosecuted. He strikes me as a publicity whore, like that gut that confessed to the Jon Benet Ramsey killing.

    "Nina Reiser was a physician"

    That is either a huge non sequiter or I am missing something.

    "Who the hell commits a crime with pair of books on crime in their vehicle, and then leave it all there for someone to find."

    Umm, criminals? They aren't the smartest bunch, you know. Evidence? they get caught.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @11:06PM (#22531806) Journal

    She had taken a job interview, was accepted for the job (after negotiating an extra few grand because she was now going to be a single mother - you don't bother negotiating if all you're doing is setting up a story line), etc. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/07/BAOFUTA27.DTL [sfgate.com]

    (02-06) 12:48 PST OAKLAND --

    Two days before she disappeared, Nina Reiser accepted a $50,000-a-year job with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to help Russian immigrants, the woman who hired her testified Wednesday.

    Prosecutors hope Patricia Erwin's testimony will help persuade the jury in the murder trial of Reiser's estranged husband, Hans Reiser, that the missing woman didn't vanish voluntarily - a theory the defense has advanced.

    Nina Reiser eagerly discussed the job, to help fellow Russian immigrants with their health concerns, during two interviews in August 2006 and accepted it Sept. 1, 2006, said Erwin, a project manager for the Public Health Department. Reiser was last seen two days after that, and never showed up for work at the San Francisco agency.

    "She was very outgoing, friendly," Erwin said in Alameda County Superior Court. "She was easy to connect with. She seemed down-to-earth, and she also seemed very committed to working with us."

    Echoing an opinion voiced by other witnesses at the trial, Erwin said the mother of two, then 31 years old, didn't seem to be the kind of person who would abandon her children. "My impression was they were a major part of her life," she said.

    Prosecutors say Hans Reiser killed his wife after she dropped off their children at his Oakland hills home Sept. 3, 2006. Her body hasn't been found. The 44-year-old defendant has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have suggested that Nina Reiser is alive and hiding in Russia.

    Also Wednesday, Richard Wilson of the TransUnion credit bureau testified that Hans Reiser was $90,000 in debt as of late last month. The figure includes $29,000 in unpaid child support, he said. Nina Reiser was about $30,000 in debt, Wilson said.

    Other witnesses have testified that Hans Reiser complained that his wife was a financial burden to him.

    In other testimony, Michael Caniglia, an employee of AT&T Mobility, said Hans Reiser's cell phone was dormant between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, 2006, when his voice mail was checked at 5:02 p.m.

    At 5:04 p.m. that day, an eight-second call was made on his cell phone to Nina Reiser's cell phone, the phone records showed.

    Caniglia said Hans Reiser's cell phone received several incoming phone calls in the days after his wife disappeared. But the phone was either out of range, turned off or had its battery removed, he said.

    Caniglia testified that the location of cell phones can be determined if they are on - even when no calls are being made - but not if they are turned off or the batteries are removed.

    Prosecutor Paul Hora has told jurors that Hans Reiser's cell phone's battery was detached when police detained him several weeks after his wife disappeared and that her cell phone's battery was detached when police found the phone in her abandoned car.

    Also, Nina wasn't a "mail-order bride".

    http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/02/hans-reiser-m-3.html [wired.com]

    he 44-year-old popular Linux programmer has pleaded not guilty, claiming his wife abandoned their children, now 6 and 8, and left Oakland for Russia, where the couple met in 1998 while Hans Reiser was overseas developing software.

    So let's recap:

    1. Hans owed Nina $$$ - $29k at that point. Nina was about $30k in debt - which balances pretty much with the $29k Hans owed her in child support.
    2. Nina had no need to leave the country - she had a job, custody of the kids, if
  • by Wordplay ( 54438 ) <geo@snarksoft.com> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @11:10PM (#22531836)
    There's nothing idiosyncratic about a heater core leak, which is what usually dumps water/coolant into your floorboards in a failure. Heaters usually work by routing the coolant through another miniature radiator (the heater core) on your side of the firewall. When you turn the heater on, it opens a valve that starts routing coolant through that loop. Fans blow heat from the core into the cabin. This is why turning the heater onto full can lower the temperature on an overheating car--you're actually putting another radiator into action.

    When that radiator fails, it will leak from under the dash onto the floorboards.

    Lots of cars have this setup. I've had it happen in a Mazda-designed Ford and an older Chevy, and remember my dad's VW Rabbit had the issue too. It's a common configuration, and could be a perfectly good explanation for removing the seat so you can fully dry the carpet and work on it.
  • Re:peers? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday February 23, 2008 @11:16PM (#22531882)
    The entire point of being on a jury is to weigh available evidence and come to a *decision*. Sure, the defense attorney would love to get indecisive people, but the prosecutor will be looking for those who can think and come to a reasonable decision based on the available evidence. The judge is looking for people who can work within the rules of the system, but that surely doesn't preclude decision-makers either.

    I've been on a jury before, and contrary to popular opinion, it was not composed of people who had nothing but time on their hands. Nearly everyone there seemed to be a businessperson or professional of some sort. Even so, no one complained about the time it took, as we all knew a young man's future was to be greatly impacted by our decision. As such, we took our job extremely seriously (and it wasn't anything so dramatic as a murder trial). While I'd never hope to spend another day surrounded by arguing lawyers, I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to recuse myself if called up again.
  • Re:risky defense (Score:5, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Saturday February 23, 2008 @11:49PM (#22532068) Homepage Journal
    I believe the reason the judge let the case go ahead was because Hans was demanding a speedy trial (as is his right) so the judge wanted to give the prosecution time to get their case together.. even after getting Hans to waive his right to a speedy trial and delaying it so Hans' lawyer could go on holidays, the prosecution still couldn't come up with any more evidence.

    What really sucks is that at the conclusion of the prosecution, Hans' lawyer asked for the case to be dismissed on the evidence. Because this is a standard thing for the defense to do, the judge didn't even consider it. He has publicly said that the case has no evidence, but he won't throw the case out on two separate occasions.
  • by DavidTC ( 10147 ) <slas45dxsvadiv...vadiv@@@neverbox...com> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @12:09AM (#22532154) Homepage

    I believe Hans actually purchased those books after the police started questioning him about his ex-wife's disappearance. In other words, if he's innocent, he was either a) trying to figure out what happened to her, or b) trying to figure out why the police thought he did it. (If he's guilty, he's trying to figure out if he missed anything.)

    Looking up how a murder investigation works, once you become a suspect in it, is exactly the sort of behavior you'd expect from a geek. It would be my first impulse, too, except I wouldn't be stupid enough to purchase books and leave them laying around. He purchased them 'surreptitiously', whatever that means, I'd actually go past that and not purchase them at all, just reading them in the library and bookstore.

    As for removing parts of a car: My car has all its seats, although I have ripped out the center console and rigged up an electrical switching system in the glove compartment running to the rear of the car. Geeks do weird things with cars, maybe he's just absurdly gas-conscious. (Someone above asked why he didn't rip out the backseat too...he has two kids, he needs a backseat.) I once considered using the fold-down backseats in my car to make a bed extending into the truck. I have at least two 'secret' compartments in my car that are simply parts of the interior not attached firmly that I can pull off and get into easily. I sometimes remove the inside of the gearshift so people can't steal my car, at least not until they figure out why the hell they can't shift into drive and find something to push the thing down.

    Geeks do weird things to other stuff too, I used a TV for six years that wouldn't turn off, I had to flip a power strip. I've ripped out tape-deck guts from a boom box because they didn't work and it was lighter without them. Once I was in someone's house when they made a casual remark about wishing their fridge door opened the other way, and I pointed out that the door actually could come off and be reattached to the other side with a little bit of work, although they'd have to patch holes where sheet metal had been punched. It had never occurred to them to even look, whereas I already knew that factories weren't going to make two sets of parts so it was likely that everything was the same and it was just put together different. I then realized to most people, a fridge, and everything else you buy, are a single entity that just exists...you don't try to change it unless it's obviously designed for changing. You can change the faceplate of your cellphone, but you don't peel the CPU stickers off your laptop, or put tape over the idiotic bright blue lights, and you certainly don't open it up and remove them.

    Now, I haven't done anything that I would consider suspicious, but there are certain things about what I do and have that I would have a hard time explaining to to the courts if it turned out one of them were suspicious. Us geeks and nerds are much more likely to actually understand how things work, and are willing to change them if that would suit us better, things that normal human beings would not consider changing. Or perhaps a better term to refer to us is 'hackers'.

    Incidentally, killing someone in your car, or killing them somewhere and transporting them in such a way that they bleed on your car's front seat, is incredibly stupid and and incredibly easy to avoid. Hans actually sounds like a smart guy, so I'm having trouble connecting 'Oh, I'll carry this bloody corpse in my car's front seat' with him.

    OTOH, the fact there were blood spatters doesn't look good for them, as does the fact he can't produce the seat. (Whereas I can, even now, produce the center console of my car complete with broken tape deck.)

  • by unitron ( 5733 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @02:15AM (#22532840) Homepage Journal

    There's nothing idiosyncratic about a heater core leak...

    As a matter of fact, I learned the hard way that late 60s Fords were especially prone to having this problem.

    When that radiator fails, it will leak from under the dash onto the floorboards.

    Except that if the leak is near the top of the heater core it won't necessarily leak until the engine is hot enough for the thermostat to open, at which point it will exit the leak as steam and deposit a thin film of anti-freeze all over the inside of the windshield.

    Of course if you want a Ford with a wet floorboard, get one of the ones that ran the brake line to the rear wheels through the passenger compartment under the back seat carpet and wait for it to spring a leak.

  • by Nazlfrag ( 1035012 ) on Sunday February 24, 2008 @06:43AM (#22533792) Journal
    Translation: When in doubt, favor the accused.
  • by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Sunday February 24, 2008 @12:12PM (#22535392) Journal

    the majority claim they're more intelligent than the average person - which simply can't be true.
    Of course they can. Intelligence is not a scientific term, it's not something that can be measured, and you can evaluate it in a very narrow context. It's perfectly valid for an individual to judge his own intelligence in a different way from some other individual, with all of them correctly judging their intelligence to be greater than an arbitrary 'average' intelligence decided by a third party.

    **snort** Thank you for proving my point. I rest my case.

  • by Taevin ( 850923 ) * on Sunday February 24, 2008 @12:22PM (#22535466)

    Isn't the jury supposed to decide if the accused is guilty of the deed they are accused of ? Instead of "sending her a message" because she hurt their feelings ?
    It may sound bad, but that's the jury system working as intended. If all we wanted was a strict logical interpretation of the law, we'd have criminal cases decided by a panel of judges who know the law inside and out, with the final verdict decided by a majority vote. However, in contrast to what judges and prosecuting lawyers will tell you, juries are supposed to factor their feelings into their decision. You might be thinking that that introduces unfairness into the application of the law, but that viewpoint assumes that the law is fair to begin with. Juries allow the people to be the final veto on any law, which is very important in the case of draconian laws which are inherently unjust. It should come as no surprise that people do not like to be lied to, and I personally have no sympathy for anyone that does not show proper respect for a group of their peers. When that group of peers is also deciding your level of guilt and your punishment, it's plain stupidity to disrespect them.

    Having your fate decided by a bunch of random idiots is indeed a gamble. It is entirely possible that you will get a room full of bigots who will decide your fate simply by the way you look, your race, or some other completely subjective personal opinion. You can take some solace in the fact that it takes only one principled person who does not believe you've been shown to be guilty to hang the jury and cause a mistrial or acquittal. A jury trial could pay off quite well however if you're accused of something that the vast majority of citizens believe is not a crime. Note also that if you truly believe that all of your peers are "idiots" and/or can't handle treating them with the respect due a peer, you also have the option to waive your right to a jury trial in which case the judge alone will be the finder of law and finder of fact.

Who goeth a-borrowing goeth a-sorrowing. -- Thomas Tusser