Hans Reiser gets 15 years to life for murdering wife

Linux programmer pleads guilty to second-degree murder and thus gets a reduced sentence as part of a deal made in exchange for bringing police to his victim's body.

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
Here's an old photo of Hans Reiser from his Stanford days. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter said at his sentencing Friday, however, Reiser's hair was grown out and he looked more like Art Garfunkel. via Stanford University

In what appears the final chapter of the Hans Reiser crime saga, the Linux programmer convicted of killing his wife was sentenced Friday afternoon to 15 years to life in prison under a deal he worked out with prosecutors in exchange for leading police to his victim's body.

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.

First-degree murder carries a sentence of 25 years to life, compared with 15 years to life for second-degree murder. But in anticipation of his sentencing, Reiser, 44, brokered a deal with prosecutors that went generally like so: If he brought police to his wife's body and he gave up his appellate rights, he could plead guilty to second-degree murder and get 15 years.

And that's what happened in an Oakland, Calif., courthouse Friday, after Reiser pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, according to media reports. He'll be eligible for parole in about 13 years, having already served two years since his October 2006 arrest.

Department of Justice Missing persons
Nina Reiser California Department of Justice

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.

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

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.

It's unclear whether the cause of death was ever determined through an autopsy. But Wired reported that after the sentencing, prosecutor Paul Hora revealed some of the details from Reiser's confession. Reiser first punched Nina in the mouth, then strangled her to death, Hora said. Hora added that Reiser "stored the body in the bathroom, then moved it to his car, where it stayed for two days while he searched for a place to bury her," according to Wired.

Wired's David Kravets added that before he was formally sentenced, Reiser vowed to make up to society for what he had done and said he was putting Namesys and ReiserFS into a trust fund for his children. Reiser added that he hoped to earn money for his kids while in prison, assuming he's "able to get access to a computer and the Internet," according to Kravets.