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Wife killer, programmer Hans Reiser must pay kids $60M

Civil jury in California orders the convicted murderer, once known in tech circles for his Linux software, to pay his two children $60 million for killing their mother.

Hans Reiser mug shot
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Hans Reiser, a noted Linux programmer convicted in 2008 of murdering his estranged wife, was ordered in a civil lawsuit today to pay his two children a total of $60 million for killing their mother.

Attorneys for Rory and Niorline Reiser, now 12 and 11, respectively, had asked jurors in the wrongful death case to order Hans Reiser to pay $10 million in compensatory damages to each child and an additional $5 million in punitive damages.

However, following the week-long trial, in which Reiser reportedly represented himself in the same rambling and oddball fashion he defended himself in his murder trial, the jury instead ordered him to pay $25 million to each child, plus $10 million in punitive damages, according to court records. The children live with the mother of their late mother, Nina Reiser, in her native Russia and didn't attend the trial.

Reiser, once known in tech circles as the founder of the ReiserFS file system software, had reported argued this week that he killed Nina to keep her from harming their two children. He argued that his wife had a disorder in which parents make up illnesses for their children to gain sympathy from others. He even compared himself "to Moses killing a slave master and hiding the body in the sand," said San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Lee, who wrote a book about Reiser's wild murder trial.

But authorities said there was no evidence Nina had such a disorder or had abused her kids in any way, and the civil jury clearly didn't buy such assertions. Reiser claims he has no money. But the jury padded the damages in case he has hidden funds or plans to cash in on intellectual assets.

California Department of Justice
The late Nina Reiser

"Even if there isn't [hidden assets], I do think he's a very intelligent man. I think that there will be an audience for this software or some other future software or whatever product he comes up with, " juror Julie Sowles told the Chronicle after the verdict was read. "If it's going to make money, somebody will buy it, regardless of who's created it. So, we just wanted to make sure those kids had whatever they needed to thrive."

Reiser was found guilty 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. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in a deal he worked out with prosecutors in exchange for leading police to his victim's body in a secluded area of a regional park.