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Hans Reiser guilty of first-degree murder

Following a long, drama-filled trial, a jury in Oakland, Calif., finds the Linux programmer guilty of murdering his estranged wife, whose body has never been found.

Michelle Meyers
Michelle Meyers wrote and edited CNET News stories from 2005 to 2020 and is now a contributor to CNET.
Michelle Meyers
2 min read

A jury in Alameda County, Calif., on Monday afternoon found Linux programmer Hans Reiser guilty of first-degree murder in the 2006 killing of his estranged wife, Nina Reiser, according to news accounts.

The jury made its decision after three days of deliberation following a drama-filled six-month trial. The jury had the option of considering a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Hans Reiser via Stanford University

Hans Reiser, 44, is known to the technology world as the founder of the ReiserFS file system software, which is available for Linux. Nina Reiser, then 31, was last seen alive on September 3, 2006, in Oakland, Calif., as she was dropping off the couple's two children for the Labor Day weekend. At the time, the couple had been involved in a bitter divorce.

Despite exhaustive searches by authorities, Nina's body has never been found. And there was very little forensic evidence presented during the trial--only a tiny amount of Nina Reiser's blood found on a pillar in Hans Reiser's home and another speck on a sleeping bag cover in his car.

That left the jury relying heavily on circumstantial evidence. Much of that evidence surrounded Hans Reiser's strange behavior following Nina Reiser's disappearance, such has his hosing down of the car's interior, which he said seemed a logical way to clean it; his removal of his car's passenger seat, which he said allowed more room for him to sleep in his car; and his attempts to elude police.

Arguing the so-called "geek defense," Hans Reiser's attorney William Du Bois said those behaviors may have been odd, but weren't evidence of murder. In his closing statements, he likened his client to an odd "duckbill platypus," and later stipulated to the fact that Hans Reiser "isn't normal," according to news accounts.

Wired blogger David Kravets, who covered the trial from gavel to gavel, said the turning point in the trial came when Hans Reiser, defying his lawyers' advice, took the stand in his own defense.

"By the time he was done, Reiser had succeeded only in dispelling the cloud of ambiguity surrounding his actions in the case, replacing it with a storm of very specific explanations that each strained credulity," Kravets wrote. "Jurors had to choose between Reiser's strained version of events and the plain conclusion that he was lying."

Apparently, they chose the latter. Hans Reiser faces a sentence of 25 years to life in prison. He's expected to return to court Tuesday morning to have a sentencing date set, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

This post was updated with the correct spelling of David Kravets' name.