Reiser wrongful death trial begins today


Reiser, 48, is serving a term of 15 years to life in state prison for killing his wife, 31-year-old Nina Reiser, at his home in the Oakland hills on Sept. 3, 2006.

During jury selection today, Reiser, a former computer engineer who is acting as his own attorney, asked potential jurors if it would be moral to kill someone if that person were abusing children.

Reiser, dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and guarded by three prison guards, two bailiffs and two court attendants, asked one juror, "What if the only way to stop harm was killing the person? Would it be moral to kill that person in order to protect the innocent?"

But Alameda County Superior Court Judge Dennis Hayashi, who is presiding over the case, later warned Reiser that during the trial he won't be allowed to try to justify killing his wife.

"The issues that were dealt with in your criminal trial are not to be re-argued here," Hayashi told Reiser.

Reiser was convicted in 2008 of killing Nina Reiser, who disappeared after dropping off the couple's two children at the house at 6979 Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills that Hans Reiser shared with his mother.

Nina Reiser, who was born in Russia and was trained as a physician there, married Hans, a native of Oakland, in 1999 but filed for divorce in 2004 and was granted legal custody of their children.

At the time of her disappearance, the divorce hadn't yet been finalized and Hans Reiser was allowed to have the children on alternate weekends.

Hans Reiser was convicted of first-degree murder on April 28, 2008, at the end of a six-month trial. Four months later, in an unusual deal, prosecutor Paul Hora and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman agreed to allow Reiser to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder in exchange for leading authorities to his wife's body.

In his trial, Reiser denied murdering his wife, but in a tape-recorded statement to authorities on Aug. 21, 2008, Reiser said he killed Nina by hitting her in the face and strangling her while their children played computer games in another room.

Reiser said he had become "enraged" at Nina and believed she was inventing illnesses in the children as a way of getting back at him.

The wrongful death suit, which was filed on Aug. 28, 2008, states that the couple's children, Rory, now 12, and Niorline, now 11, "have suffered a tremendous loss, including the loss of love, support and companionship, comfort, affection and society of Nina."

The suit seeks unspecified general and special damages as well as punitive and exemplary damages.

The children have been living with Nina's mother, Irina Sharanova, in St. Petersburg, Russia, since December 2006.

Their attorney, Arturo Gonzalez, said today that they won't be returning to the Bay Area for the wrongful death case.

Reiser displayed his feisty personality in court today, just as he did in his criminal trial, when he spent 11 days on the witness stand emphatically denying that he had killed Nina.

In a hearing at the end of the day outside the presence of jurors, Reiser complained about "the inherent inequity" of the case and alleged that Judge Hayashi hadn't allowed him to subpoena any witnesses.

However, Hayashi said that wasn't true and said that Reiser hadn't sought to subpoena any witnesses until the last week, when it was too late.

"This trial has been pending for a year and its starting date has already been pushed back a couple of times," Hayashi said, telling Reiser he wouldn't grant any more delays.

Reiser shot back, "You just don't want me to have any witnesses because you don't want me to have a fair trial."

Reiser said today that he is indigent.

Gonzalez said outside court that that might be true but it's also possible that Reiser might have hidden assets elsewhere.

He said Reiser might also be able to make money while he's in prison by coming up with "valuable ideas" based on his years in the computer industry.

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