SEATTLE, Washington - Superstar software hacker Hans Reiser was found guilty of first-degree murder on Monday for killing his wife Nina, who disappeared in October 2006 and whose body has never been found.
The most interesting part of this was Reiser's defense strategy, which was reported in the Washington Post in February and for which I have a certain soft spot in my heart. Reiser engaged in all sorts of red-flag behavior in the immediate aftermath of Nina's disappearance, including purchasing books on murder, removing the passenger seat from his car (which also had soaking-wet floorboards), not taking part in the search for Nina, and rolling around with $8,000 in cash and his passport for no good reason. This looks like suspicious behavior to most of us, but according to Reiser's counsel, Reiser is so smart, so disconnected from how his actions may be perceived by others, so wrapped up in his tortured genius, that he didn't think about how all of this perfectly explainable behavior made him look guilty:
"Being too intelligent can be a sort of curse," defense counsel William Du Bois said. "All this weird conduct can be explained by him, but he's the only one who can do it. People who are commonly known as computer geeks are so into the field... He's a very difficult person. It's very difficult to represent a genius."
[in Silicon Valley], Hans Reiser's actions appear fairly reasonable, at least to people who spend much more time with computer code than with other humans.
"It strikes me that a lot of coders have a somewhat detached view of the world, and it's reasonable to assume that Hans might not even have stopped to think about how things looked," said Rick Moen, a local area network consultant in Menlo Park.
Reiser's very smart father chimed right in on this theme:
"His undergraduate thesis is on how if you change the perspective, the reality is different," said Ramon Reiser, the defendant's mathematician father, folding a pair of pants in the courtroom hallway as he waited to testify.
"When you look at it, would Hans Reiser turn a hose on a car to wash it? Absolutely, his mother told him to get that car cleaned up," the elder Reiser said.
"I and my brother -- maybe it's genetic -- have driven our cars without the front seat. It's really convenient."
If I'm ever on trial in the future, I want to say right now - I've been using hair dryers like that since I was 10 years old, Your Honor.