[See Late PM Addendum at the end]

Today (TUES> 1-22-08), as expected, the jury heard more about the blood. The case will continue tomorrow, then recess ‘till 1-28. Hans’ car contained a sleeping bag cover with traces of blood positively ID’s as Nina’s. I summarize today’s evidence – as of 2:00 PM – below.

Blood Notes

You may be wondering why the DA would introduce evidence of Han’s skill at the martial arts and at the same time be preparing to introduce all that blood evidence. After all, isn’t a well placed karate blow a form of bloodless killing?

Maybe for Bruce Lee or in the movies.

But I suspect that a single “nerd blow”, however expertly placed, would probably not end up instantly killing a young, healthy woman like Nina (assuming, arguendo, that the defendant in this murder case is the guilty party and that he initiated the ultimately fatal assault with a potentially deadly karate blow). This was the same woman, the jury will recall, that was warned by a police officer who had seen Hans “up close and personal” to carry a gun.

So I would expect resistance. If Hans’ attacked his wife as soon as the children were preoccupied elsewhere in the house, a struggle would have ensued and blood would have been spilled.

Even the most expert assailant will tend to bleed, too, when the victim fights back, or when falling against something, or even during an aggressive strike – barked knuckles tend to bleed.

Commingled or closely proximate blood traces strongly imply a struggle. The sudden indefinite and unexplained absence of the loser in such a struggle implies demise.

But that aspect of blood is not my topic. Prosecutable killings tend to sort into two broad categories – killings in hot blood and in cold blood. Again, broadly speaking, mercy of often considered appropriate in hot blooded killings but rarely in the cold blooded ones.

Now we must grant that all murders are, by definition, “with malice”, whether that malice is explicitly proven or just implied from the circumstances. Manslaughter is, in effect, a murder-eligible killing that has been legally mitigated to a lesser form. Historically, manslaughter was reserved for killings (that otherwise would have been murders) “on sudden quarrel” or “in the heat of passion”, in other words – done impulsively, in hot blood.

But the lines between hot and cold, murder and manslaughter are not all that clear. Even a cold blooded killing can be sometimes mitigated, and a hot blooded, impulsive one can seem as heartless as a torture-execution. A killer – who may have acted on impulse and in the heat of the moment – who otherwise shows a methodical coldness after the fact has turned a potential manslaughter into a murder. The calculating, heartless behavior of a killer who meticulously disposes of the body and the evidence inevitably poisons the well; his coldness relates back in the minds of the jurors and colors the whole event.

Finally, there is the simple forensic truth: You can’t mitigate that which you flatly deny.

One of my very first murder cases, years ago, involved a despondent, alcoholic newspaperman, locked in a dreadful marriage. He became depressed and attempted suicide. A few days later he was alone with his wife in the living room. He picked up a toy snake (a later forensic reconstruction – he had amnesia) and strangled his wife to death with it. He apparently called 911 (no one else was home and it was probably his voice). When the police arrived, he was on his knees in the living room, confessing to his priest.

After a good deal of work, some psychological evidence, and a bit of luck I tried the case to a manslaughter verdict. Now, there always is a degree of deliberation in any fatal strangling: The process takes several minutes, and during the first part of it the victim is struggling. It is not pretty to contemplate. Experienced prosecutors are trained to demonstrate this, often using a mannequin and a stop watch. So mitigation in a strangling case is always a challenge.

I have often thought: Had my client attempted to dispose of the body, then behaved evasively afterward and attempted to “get off” at trial, any attempt at mitigation would have been doomed at the outset. And – given his age – he would have died in prison, instead of earning parole while he still had a few good years left.

All this, of course, is based on the still hypothetical notion that this defendant will be found guilty. And at, of course defends on the Blood notes left behind and his ability to convincingly explain…


OPD criminalist, Shannon Cavness positively identified blood traces on a sleeping bag cover recovered from the CRX as that of Nina Reiser.

As described earlier, the interior of the CRX was flooded with water. Also recovered were the tools used to remove the passenger seat, absorbent towels, the two police procedurals Hans purchased, and the traffic ticket he’d received in Redwood City.

And there was more evidence, equally interesting:

· The CRX contained a white powdery substance, similar to that removed from the doorway of the Exeter house, and

· A 9-17 U-Haul receipt for a trailer – Manteca to Oakland, and

· A receipt for an overnight stay in Fremont, 9-10 ‘till 9-11and

· A 9-14 newspaper clipping – “Police search home of missing spouse.”

I’ll wrap up the rest of the afternoon’s testimony later. Here is the pending question?



A fungible industrial substance like cement powder or plaster or lye may or may not be definitively identifiable as belonging to a particular batch or vendor.

But the question inevitably arises: If it is the same kind of substance in both places, then is there a logical common explanation for both?

The “Gaping’ whole problem I’ve been referring to could be resolved for many jurors by the answer to that question.

What, for example, would be the reaction if the white powder turned out to be lye? Lye, or sodium hydroxide, is highly caustic. Followers of CSI, Medieval historians and forensic pathologists all know that lye is classically useful in disposing of dead bodies because it promotes rapid decomposition.



In the late afternoon, these additional points emerged.

· Nina’s disreputable boyfriend, Mr. Sturgeon, gave a DNA sample and there was no forensic trace of his presence at the Exeter house or in the CRX.

· The blood on the sleeping bag cover that matched Nina’s DNA was hard to see at first. As OPD criminalist, Shannon Cavness, observed: “It was really hard to see without high-intensity lighting.”

· That blood trace was six inches long, more a smear than a drop or speck, it would seem. Reportedly the jury gave this evidence their intense attention.

But the blood on the post near the entryway in the Exeter house was obvious. “It’s very bright red” said Cavness said. DNA confirmed that blood came from both Hans and Nina. When challenged whether the recovered DNA came from blood, the criminalist responded: “I doubt that someone licked this pillar.”

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