Alameda County Supervisor Gail Steele testified today that she regrets not returning phone calls from murder defendant Hans Reiser two days before his estranged wife Nina Reiser was last seen alive.
Taking the witness stand in Reiser's trial on charges he murdered Nina Reiser, 31, who disappeared on Sept. 3, 2006, Steele said she first met Hans Reiser, a 43-year-old computer engineer, sometime in 2005 when he was in front of the county administration building in Oakland to collect signatures for a petition aimed at changing the county's family court system.
Steele, who has been a supervisor for more than 15 years and represents the Hayward area, said she talked to Reiser in person, exchanged emails and spoke to him by phone numerous times in 2005 and 2006.
She said she shared some of Reiser's concerns about changing the family court system so that children of divorced parents are treated better and that parents are treated fairly.
However, Steele said she doesn't recall speaking to Reiser on Sept. 1, 2006, even though Reiser's cell phone records show that there was a 16-minute call and a six-minute call between his phone and someone in Steele's office that day.
Steele's records also indicate that Reiser left several phone messages with her that day.
“I felt bad I didn't talk to him and didn't return his calls,” Steele said.
Asked to elaborate by prosecutor Paul Hora, Steele said, “Because my first inkling (afterward) was that he would have been pretty open to me and I wondered why he was calling me frequently and this (Nina's disappearance) happened.”
Steele said she didn't have any more contact with Hans Reiser after Nina disappeared.
As far as the records indicating that Reiser spoke to her office that day, Steele said, “I can't explain this whole thing. It's very odd.”
She said, “There's no doubt that at my advanced age I can't remember many things.”
Hans and Nina Reiser married in 1999 but Nina Reiser filed for divorce in 2004 and they had been undergoing bitter divorce proceedings for more than two years at the time she disappeared. Nina Reiser's body has never been found despite extensive searches in the Oakland hills and elsewhere.
Nina Reiser was awarded both legal and physical custody of the couple's two children, but Hans Reiser was allowed to have them one weeknight a week and every other weekend.
Hans Reiser has insisted that he is innocent and his attorney, William DuBois, has said that he thinks Nina Reiser might still be alive and could be in hiding in Russia, where she was born and where she was trained as a physician.
Alternatively, DuBois has said that Nina might have been killed by Russian spies or mobsters.
Steele testified that Reiser “definitely was upset and concerned” about the family court system and she agreed to meet with him periodically because one of her most important issues is how children are treated in the courts.
She said Reiser “was pretty upset but not abnormal” about the family court because many parents express concern about the court.
Steele said that on April 28, 2006, Reiser made an unsolicited $2,000 contribution to her re-election campaign. She described it as a medium-sized contribution.
Asked by Hora if she knew that at the time Reiser made the contribution he was $15,000 behind in his child support payments, Steele said, “No, I had no idea.”
Steele said that in an Aug. 19, 2006, email Reiser suggested that she should “get endorsements” from Ron Dellums, who had recently been elected Mayor of Oakland, and other prominent black leaders to try to change the county's family law system.
Asked by DuBois if it was “an outrageous idea (by Reiser) to involve Dellums” in a campaign to change the system, Steele said, “No, but nothing would have happened because I can't get any elected officials involved” in her efforts to reform the family law system.
Steele said Reiser brought his children Rory and Nio to her office on one occasion.
She said, “He wanted to show me that they were pretty normal and they seemed normal to me.”
Steele said Reiser told her that he and Nina had disagreements about how their children should be raised and he was particularly concerned about medical treatments Nina wanted Rory to undergo.
— Bay City News