Reiser murder trial jurors off until January 14

Jurors in the trial of Oakland computer engineer Hans Reiser began a 26-day vacation day today after prosecutor Paul Hora spent another day methodically presenting evidence aimed at proving that Reiser murdered his wife Nina, who disappeared more than 15 months ago.

“That's it for the year,” Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman told jurors when testimony concluded today, as Reiser's trial won't resume until Jan. 14.

“We've had 130 exhibits, 35 witnesses and 20 days of trial so far, so we're getting there,” Goodman said.

Hans Reiser, who will celebrate his 44th birthday on Wednesday in the Alameda County Jail where he's being held without bail, is accused of murdering Nina Reiser, who was 31 when she disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006.

She was last seen alive when she dropped off the couple's two children at at 6868 Exeter Drive in the Oakland hills where Reiser lived with his mother.

Nina Reiser's body has never been found despite extensive searches in the Oakland hills and elsewhere, but Hans Reiser was charged in October 2006 with murdering Nina after Oakland police said they found biological and trace evidence tying him to her death.

Nina and Hans Reiser married in 1999 but she filed for divorce and separated from him in 2004. The couple was in the midst of acrimonious divorce proceedings and a struggle over custody of their two children when she disappeared.

Hans Reiser has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.

His attorney, William DuBois, has said that he thinks Nina may still be alive and in hiding in Russia, where she was born and trained as a physician.

The couple's children currently are living with Nina's mother in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Hora has presented numerous witnesses who have testified that Nina never would have abandoned her children as well as other witnesses who said they don't think she would have left the Bay Area because she was scheduled to start a new job just a few weeks after she disappeared and she also planned to take an exam that would allow her to practice medicine in the U.S.

Christopher Weimer, the director of the Kaplan Education test preparation center in Berkeley, testified today that Nina Reiser first registered for preparation courses for the U.S. medical license exam on Sept. 23, 2002.

Weimer said Nina paid a total of $11,877 for test preparation courses and materials between 2002 and 2006 and she had studied videos at the test preparation center as recently as Aug. 31, 2006, three days before she disappeared.

However, under questioning by DuBois, Weimer said Nina had never advanced beyond studying for the first part of the three-part medical exam and never checked out materials for parts two and three.

Oakland police officer Bruce Christensen testified that groceries in the back of Nina Reiser's 2001 Honda Odyssey van smelled bad when it was found in the 1500 block of Fernwood Drive, a short distance from Hans' house, on Sept. 9, 2006, six days after she was last seen alive.

Christensen testified that when he looked into the back of Nina's van, “I noticed the smell of groceries going bad.”

Christensen said he gathered some of Nina's personal items, such as her comb, sunglasses and compact, to get a scent to help search and rescue dogs in their search for Nina.

Hora finished the day by putting his inspector, Bruce Brock, on the witness stand to testify about Hans Reiser's 1988 Honda Civic CRX, which went missing at the same time that Nina disappeared.

When Oakland police found the CRX on Sept. 18, 2006, 13 days after Nina was last seen alive, its front passenger seat was missing.

In his opening statement last month, Hora told jurors that the missing seat was “one incredibly unusual thing.”

DuBois has attempted to explain the missing seat by saying that Reiser removed it so he could sleep in his car, as he didn't have a place to stay after Nina disappeared, as he thought the chances of having his children placed in the custody of his mother would be better if he no longer lived at her house.

But Brock testified that there was a large metal bracket in the front passenger seat area, implying that it would have been uncomfortable for someone to sleep in the area where the seat had been removed.

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