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Reiser Murder Trial Set To Begin

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As a murder trial gets under way Monday in the disappearance of Nina Reiser, a 31-year-old mother of two missing since September, defense lawyers are trying to sow doubt about whether she is dead at all.

Reiser's body has never been found -- a fact that lawyers for her estranged husband, Hans Reiser, 43, are trying to highlight. The defense attorneys have suggested that Nina Reiser may be alive in her native Russia, where she lived until 1999, and that purported family ties to a Russian spy agency and organized crime may be connected to her disappearance.

The absence of a victim places an added burden on prosecutors, who must rely on circumstantial evidence to persuade jurors not just that her husband committed a homicide, but that a murder was even committed, defense experts say.

"Whenever there isn't a body, there's just lots of arguments that are wide open," said Robert Talbot, a criminal law professor at the University of San Francisco.

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