Computer engineer Hans Reiser told authorities he killed his estranged wife Nina on Sept. 3, 2006, by hitting her in the face and strangling her with a judo hold while their children played computer games one floor below, prosecutor Paul Hora and defense lawyer William DuBois said today.
Hora and DuBois revealed the details of how Reiser, 44, killed Nina for the first time after he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in his case and was sentenced to 15 years to life.
Jurors convicted Reiser of first-degree murder on April 28 at the end of a six-month trial, but Hora and Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman agreed to allow him to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder in return for his cooperation last month in showing authorities where he buried Nina's body.
Nina Reiser, who was 31 at the time, was last seen alive the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2006, when she dropped 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 married Hans in 1999, but she separated from him in 2004 and had legal custody of their children, although he had visitation rights.
Hora and DuBois said that in a statement Reiser gave to authorities on Aug. 21 as part of the agreement that led to his second-degree murder plea today, Reiser said he got into a heated argument during a two-hour discussion the afternoon of Sept. 3, 2006.
The discussion took place on the middle level of Reiser's three-level house while the couple's children, Rory and Nio, played in the basement, the lawyers said.
DuBois said Nina "set [Hans] off" by saying she would take the children to the doctor anytime she wanted to and he couldn't do anything about because she had custody.
Hans Reiser has repeatedly alleged that Nina was inventing illnesses in the children, particularly in Rory, as a way of getting back at him, DuBois said.
The defense lawyer said Reiser "snapped and took her life by strangulation."
Hora said Reiser then put Nina's body in a duffel bag and took it up to a bathroom on the upper level.
Hora said that night, while the children slept, Hans put Nina's body inside his 1988 Honda Civic CRX and drove to an isolated area nearby, where he spent all night digging a grave.
The prosecutor said Hans didn't finish digging the grave the first night, so he went back the next night, finished digging the grave and buried Nina's body.
Hora said the Honda Civic CRX was a key focus in Reiser's trial, as its right front passenger seat was missing when police found it in the Oakland hills a short distance from his house, on Sept. 19, 2006, 16 days after Nina disappeared.
Recalling that a neighbor testified that he saw Reiser thoroughly hosing off his car after Nina disappeared, Hora said Reiser did so because Nina's body was inside the car for two days.
In his statement on Aug. 21, Reiser said, "I got all of the blood out of the seat and I couldn't see any blood on the seat. Then I decided just to be paranoid and throw away the seat."
Reiser said Nina's comments to him on Sept. 3, 2006, "caused me to become enraged and, um, I killed her. And I shouldn't have. I'm very sorry that I did it."
Reiser, who took judo lessons for many years and had a black belt,said he placed his hands on both sides of Nina's neck.
He said, "And in the most unsophisticated chokehold that any judo instructor would completely despise you for ever using, I choked her."
Reiser said, "And this is the kind of choke that people who have no martial skills at all would employ and yet it was completely painless for her. It's the least painful way to die."
Reiser said his children were playing games downstairs and "never knew what happened."
Reiser said he cut his right hand when he punched Nina and still has a visible scar.
At the end of his statement, Reiser told Hora and his inspector, Bruce Brock, "You know, Nina was wonderful in so many ways. I'm so sorry."
He said, "I will regret for as long as I live what I did and I don't know how I could. ... I'm very sorry."
— Bay City News