Insanity Center Stage In Massachusetts Rockefeller Case: Us or Him?

I thought awhile about posting something on the Clark Rockefeller trial here in Boston. (I posted previously about this case, and recently considered that perhaps I should omit further attention to it.) Part of me says that this is an overblown, media-driven case that is no different from dozens of other similar cases of “parental kidnapping” and criminal defense. But then, such could be said of almost any case or trial reported in the media: Few of them are dramatically different than the vast majority of similar criminal cases that run through the courts every day. What makes a case a “media case?” Pick one: a) Celebrity; b) Upper-Class murders and sex crimes or violent crimes (something too many people falsely think is antithetical); c) Sex; d) Con-artists and “The Con”; d) Graphic brutality; e) Sex; f) Sex; g) Sex, and so on.

Judging from the majority of posted comments to the Boston Globe’s website (which has been covering the story extensively, and has published over 100 reader posts on this subject on its website to date,) the Globe’s readership seems to feel that this case is, to quote Shakespeare, “Much Ado About Nothing.” Here is a sample of recently posted reader comments to the Globe:

“I don’t get why this case grabs headlines. Whateverhisnameis got a raw deal from divorce court and wanted more time with his daughter. He’s got plenty of company with the thousands of other men in Massachusetts who get the short end of every divorce in this state. But if he didn’t have a funky name that he changed, as many legal immigrants to this country do, this would be just another domestic case resulting from a bad probate court decision. Let Whateverhisnameis off with the crazy defense and focus on the real problem, men all over the Commonwealth suffering from one-sided legal decisions.” Posted by Andrew Palmer May 28, 09 08:56 AM • “No one cares about this story. Once the girl was returned safe, that was it. Enough of this loser.” Posted by CB May 28, 09 09:01 AM • “I think Single Dad has missed the point. As a father I can tell you this is not an issue of “fathering.” This is about an evil individual putting his needs above those of his child. This may also be about a profoundly dangerous individual continuing his pattern of anti-social behavior…” Posted by Lorne D. Gilsig May 28, 09 09:35 AM
“I’m still trying to understand why the media thinks this is a “major story.” Posted by Slim Pickens May 28, 09 09:39 AM • “It grabs headlines because he’s suspected of murdering a couple while living in California.” Posted by Brad May 28, 09 09:29 AM

“Brad’s” observation, above, comes half-way closest to the truth. The unsolved murders over twenty years ago of a married couple that Gerhartstreiter, a/k/a Rockefeller, or (as one Globe reader has dubbed him, “Whateverhisnameis”) rented an apartment from, and who are thought to have been murdered, is an unsolved case, a cold case that never really went anywhere in terms of suspects. Mix an unsolved mystery with the Upper-Crust exterior and elite life that someone with (allegedly) the name of “Rockefeller” has lived, add “The Con,” and you’ve got the perfect mix for a media case. How many murders do you think have involved spouses? If you answered “too many,” you’d be right. Sadly, they’re far too common. Yet it was the trial of Claus von Bulow, accused of murdering his wife Sunny von Bulow for millions in inheritance, that captivated the world and led to a major film, “Reversal of Fortune,” starring Glenn Close, Jeremy Irons, and Ron Silver. The story line? Wealthy Sunny von Bülow lies brain-dead, husband Claus guilty of attempted murder. A Harvard Law professor comes to his defense… That case provided the perfect mix of Upper-Crust elite, Murder, “The Con,” and Celebrity.

Standing alone on the charge of parental kidnapping, does this case merit the attention it is generating? Absolutely no – not on that charge alone. But be aware: This man has not been held in jail without bail for the past nine months because of that charge alone. If that were the one and only charge he faced, the public would have never heard his name, and he would very likely have been released with modest bail, soon after his arrest. This trial is not about simply the charge of parental kidnapping, of a daughter no one has disputed that he loves very much. It’s about getting to the bottom of much darker crimes. And in that sense, perhaps it merits our attention – if only to provide hope to the surviving victims of hundreds of other unsolved crimes across the country, that cold cases can be solved.

Is “Whateverhisnameis” a con man? Yes to that in my view. Is he a loser? Yes again. Is he a murderer? Quite possibly. But he’s raised an insanity defense to this kidnapping charge. Hence the salient question: Is he legally insane? I’ll discuss that defense, in my next post.