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Hans Reiser: Once a Linux Visionary, Now Accused of Murder

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Interviews

Hans Reiser is waiting for me, standing on the other side of an imitation-wood table. The room is small, the concrete walls bare. A guard locks the steel door from the outside. There is no sound. Reiser is wearing the red jumpsuit of a prisoner in solitary confinement, though he has been allowed to meet with me in this chilly visiting room. There was a time when he was known as a cantankerous but visionary open source programmer. His work was funded by the government; he was widely credited (and sometimes reviled) for rethinking the structure of the Linux operating system. Now he is known as prisoner BFP563.

I stick out my hand. It's an awkward moment — his wrists are chained to his waist. It's mid-December now, and he's been in this jail 40 miles east of San Francisco for two months, ever since the Alameda County District Attorney's office accused him of murdering Nina Reiser, his estranged wife. The police found drops of her blood in Reiser's house and car, and, when they picked him up on an Oakland street to swab his mouth for DNA, he was carrying his passport and $8,960 in cash in a fanny pack. At the police station, they photographed his body for signs of scratches or bruises. None were found. By this time, though, he had been under surveillance for three weeks. The police had followed him on foot, tailed his car, and even tracked him by airplane. On October 10, he was arrested, locked up, and, days later, charged with murder. (His trial is set to begin in July.) His only visitors have been his lawyers and his parents. I'm the first new face he's seen from the outside world.

I'm here because his defense lawyer thinks I will understand Reiser.

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