Convicted killer Hans Reiser led police Monday to what he said was the body of his wife in the Oakland hills just two days before he was to be sentenced for first-degree murder, authorities said.
Reiser, who had proclaimed his innocence from the day his estranged wife, Nina, was last seen in September 2006, agreed to reveal the location of her body in exchange for a deal in which he would be sentenced for second-degree murder rather than the first-degree murder conviction a jury returned against him in April, according to officials with knowledge of the case.
Reiser also acknowledged that he and his wife had fought and that he had strangled her, a source familiar with the investigation said.
The maximum sentence Reiser could receive for second-degree murder is 15 years to life. Reiser had faced a term of 25 years to life under his first-degree murder conviction.
The remains that Reiser revealed Monday were found about 4 p.m. buried on the side of a steep hill off a deer trail between Redwood Regional Park and the Huckleberry Botanic Regional Preserve, less than 200 yards behind a house on Skyline Boulevard, said Reiser's attorney, William Du Bois, who accompanied his client to the site.
The body was less than half a mile from the home on Exeter Drive where Reiser lived with his mother, and where Nina Reiser, 31, was last seen alive Sept. 3, 2006.
"It's shocking, to say the least," said Michael Arboleda, a Skyline Boulevard resident who watched the police investigation.
Reiser was handcuffed to Du Bois and they accompanied Oakland police, prosecutor Paul Hora and Alameda County district attorney's Inspector Bruce Brock as the body was exhumed, Du Bois said.
Officer Roland Holmgren, Oakland police spokesman, said the body has not been positively identified. Police and prosecutors declined to further comment, saying a news conference is scheduled for today.
Reiser, 44, was convicted by an Alameda County jury April 28 after a six-month trial in which the combative software programmer testified over 11 days that he was innocent of killing his wife, who had not been seen since dropping off the couple's young son and daughter at his home. On the day Reiser was convicted, Hora said, "We have a body. We just don't know where it is."
Reiser was scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday, but the discovery of the body is likely to delay the hearing.
Du Bois declined to address the question of whether Reiser would receive a reduced sentence, saying, "We don't know. Talk to the D.A."
But the defense attorney added, "We're just trying to improve our position at this point."
Prosecutors agreed to the deal in which Reiser would receive a lighter sentence for revealing the location of his wife's body, said officials with knowledge of the case, speaking on condition they not be identified.
Du Bois confirmed that he and others had been urging Reiser to reveal the location of Nina Reiser's body.
"We've talked a very long time about the subject - not only myself, but many other people," Du Bois said.
The issue was "whether Hans would summon up the intestinal fortitude to do this - he did," Du Bois said.
Reiser knew exactly where the body was, his lawyer said.
"There was no difficulty once he got on the job," Du Bois said. "It wasn't something he had to search around for."
It was highly unlikely anyone else would have found the body, Du Bois said.
"They never would have found it, ever," he said. "It was so obscure, but I admit it was also clever because it was not that far off the road."
Michael Cardoza, a defense attorney and former Alameda County prosecutor who has been following the case, said he would be shocked if prosecutors agreed to the deal. "From a D.A.'s perspective, they would never do that."
However, he added, they might "if the family leaned on them so hard that they wanted to know where the body was," Cardoza said.
The Reisers were separated and going through an acrimonious divorce when Nina Reiser disappeared. During the trial, Du Bois hammered at the fact that Nina Reiser's body had never been found and suggested that she might be alive and hiding in her native Russia in an attempt to frame her estranged husband.
Prosecutors, however, believed that Hans Reiser killed his wife after she dropped off their children and that he disposed of her body using his mother's Honda CRX. Police later found the car with its front passenger seat missing and the floorboard saturated with water, as if someone had tried to clean it.
It takes about a minute to drive from Hans Reiser's home to where the body was found Monday. Prosecutors said Reiser had abandoned his wife's Honda Odyssey minivan on a street near Highway 13 and hid the CRX from police in a similar fashion on another street near the highway.
An inmate at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin testified during the murder trial that Reiser raced to a television set when a news report came on in February 2007 about a body being found in the Oakland hills. Reiser was visibly relieved when the reporter said the body was that of a black man, the inmate testified.
Albert Chiu, 61, a retired federal government worker whose home is close to where the body was found Monday, said a police helicopter began flying overhead about 3 p.m. Officers soon swarmed the area, joined by police technicians and forensic scientists.
Chiu said he didn't recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious near his home around the time Nina Reiser disappeared. He said he believed private search parties had searched the trail shortly after she went missing.
"I think they walked up and down," he said.
Vince Dunn, 61, a member of the jury that convicted Reiser, said he was elated that Nina Reiser's body apparently had been found.
The discovery shows that "our decision was based on fact and circumstance," the retired schoolteacher said. "We made the right decision."
Throughout the trial, the seven-man, five-woman jury - like everyone - wanted to know where Nina Reiser's body was, Dunn said. "It was the same question that the children had," he said.
Dunn said it would be wrong for Reiser to get a lighter sentence for revealing where he had buried his wife's body.
"It just doesn't seem right to me that that can happen in America," Dunn said. "I thought the jury had the last say."
Ellen Doren, Nina Reiser's best friend, said she wanted to know how Reiser, his father and his attorneys would explain their long-standing theory that the mother of two had disappeared on her own. Doren decried what she called "the show they put on and the circus they put on over the past year. I think they put so much dirt on Nina, now they're going to have to get themselves out of the dirt."
Doren said she was convinced that Reiser wouldn't have agreed to divulge the location of the body if there were not a deal. "Hans would not do this without any kind of deal. There is no other way."