HAYWARD -- Opening statements began in Hans Reiser's $15.2 million lawsuit Wednesday as lawyers revisited the 2008 criminal trial that convicted him of murdering Reiser's wife, Nina.
Along with presenting testimony from one of the homicide investigators, lawyers for Reiser's children, Rory and Niorline, walked the jury through the 2006 Labor Day weekend when Nina Reiser was strangled to death at her husband's home while their children were in another room. The wrongful-death lawsuit was brought against Reiser by his children for emotional damages they claim were caused by their mother's death.
A close friend of Nina also testified on behalf of the children about how their mother's death affected their lives.
"They were completely two different kids," Ellen Doren said on the stand, comparing Rory and Niorline now to before their mother's death. Doren was the first to report Nina Reiser missing after she failed to show up for dinner on Sept. 3, 2006. The children also lived with Doren during the police investigation and she remains in close contact with them.
The children, who now live in Russia with their maternal grandmother, have gone to counseling for "emotional stress" and have had a hard time making friends, Doren said. Rory, 12, and Niorline, 11, before the murder reminded Doren of their mother because they were sociable, and "they wanted to be around other kids."
Lawyers also presented photos of Nina Reiser caring for
By presenting Nina Reiser as a loving mother active in her kids' lives, the children's lawyer sought to rebuff insinuations by Hans Reiser that her murder was justified. Reiser introduced in his opening statements that his wife suffered from a hormonal imbalance that negatively affected her relationship with her children and made her jealous of them.
"At the time I killed Nina, I didn't understand she was jealous of her children. It seemed like unfathomable psychopathy," Reiser said.
He has been warned previously by Judge Dennis Hayashi about pursuing a line of defense justifying his actions. Hayashi urged Reiser to focus his questions during cross-examination back on the current trial. Reiser mostly questioned Doren on the status of the children, their education and their current hobbies.
"I should probably apologize to everyone because this is the only information I've had about my kids," said Reiser, who was tearing up when Doren said his daughter still likes to sing.
The trial will continue Thursday with more testimony from friends of Nina and the children.
The court is hoping for a speedy trial since Reiser has not called any witnesses to testify on his behalf.