Hans Reiser likely to get reduced sentence

The Linux programmer who was convicted in April of murdering his wife brings authorities to his victim's remains--and as a result could get off easier.

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

OAKLAND, Calif.--The body that Linux programmer Hans Reiser led police to Monday has been positively identified as his estranged wife Nina Reiser, whom he is convicted of killing, police revealed at a press conference here Tuesday afternoon.

That development not only brings some closure to family and friends of Nina Reiser, but also brings Hans Reiser one step closer to a reduced sentence as part of a deal in the works with the prosecution that would still need a judge's approval, according to Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Paul Hora.

Reiser--known to the technology world as the founder of the ReiserFS file system software--was found guilty in April of first-degree murder in the 2006 killing of his wife, with whom he was undergoing a bitter divorce. The jury convicted him largely on circumstantial evidence and despite the fact that Nina Reiser's body hadn't been found before trial.

Hans Reiser via Stanford University

Throughout the drama-filled six-month trial, Reiser maintained his innocence. Arguing the so-called geek defense, his attorney said that while Reiser may be strange, arrogant, even abnormal, his odd behavior following Nina's disappearance wasn't evidence of murder. On trial, Reiser smeared the mother of his two children, alleging, among other things, that she was likely hiding out in her native Russia with money she stole from his now defunct company, Namesys.

Department of Justice Missing persons
Nina Reiser California Department of Justice

Reiser was scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday. But in the meantime, his attorneys had contacted the prosecution with interest in brokering a deal. Under such an agreement, Hora said, Reiser would bring authorities to Nina's body, waive his right to an appeal, and adhere to other conditions not made public, in exchange for a plea to second-degree murder. First-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life, compared with 15 years to life for second-degree murder.

Reiser, handcuffed to his attorney, did in fact bring authorities to a grave site Monday containing his wife's remains in a heavily brushed, secluded area about 40 yards off a road in Oakland's Redwood Regional Park. The grave site was located about a half mile from where Nina was last seen in 2006 at Reiser's mother's house, where he was living.

google map
Nina Reiser's remains were found in Oakland's Redwood Regional Park, about a half a mile from where she was last seen. Click image for full map. Google

Without Reiser directing authorities, "we never would have found" her, said Oakland police homicide commander Ersie Joyner III. The cause of death has not yet been determined, Joyner added. However The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday, citing a source familiar with the investigation, that Reiser said he had strangled Nina. Of course, Reiser said a lot of things that weren't true.

Hora emphasized that the deal "wouldn't have happened without the support and desire of Nina's family."

"Now the family gets to pick the burial site, not the defendant, and that's important," Hora said.

The prosecutor disagreed that the deal sends a message to defendants that lying under oath could get them lesser sentences. In this case, he said, "it was the right thing to do."

Given this week's developments, attorneys on both sides of the case plan to ask the judge for sentencing to be continued from Wednesday to a later, undetermined date, Hora said.