A Murder Trial That Took 40 Years

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The first time Robert Durst was prosecuted for murder, he stated that he had butchered the body of his neighbor, placed it in garbage bags and dumped it in the Gulf of Mexico.

But he was acquitted and released: A Texas jury in 2003 accepted his explanation that Morris Black had died during a fight over a weapon.


Durst will now be tried for the murder of his friend Susan Berman almost 20 years ago. As the trial begins on Wednesday, prosecutors will have a more difficult task ahead of them because, unlike the previous trial, this time there is no physical evidence.

Prosecutors have a wealth of circumstantial evidence and hope to convince the jury that Durst, a 76-year-old real estate field magnate, has been mocking justice for years.

“There is no concrete evidence implicating Durst in the murder, except for a note the police received and the sometimes inconsistent statements” of the accused, said Neama Rahmani, a former prosecutor and one of the founders of West Coast Trial Lawyers (West Coast Trial Lawyers), who has closely followed the case but is not involved in it. “Prosecutors have a tough job.”

Prosecutors say Durst killed Berman in 2000 and Black in 2001 to cover up his role in the disappearance of his wife Kathleen “Kathie” Durst in 1982. For 40 years, he has been suspected in connection with that disappearance, much discussed. by the press. The woman has been presumed dead by authorities despite the fact that her body has not been found.

Prosecutors may present evidence related to the three cases in this trial. They will try to prove that Durst shot dead Berman, a writer, the daughter of a mobster, who was her spokesperson for years, in her Beverly Hills apartment, to prevent him from talking to the police about the disappearance of his wife after he the authorities reopened the investigation.

Prosecutors say in their filing that Durst “devised and implemented a diabolical plan to cover up the murder of his wife, which ended up costing the lives of two other people.”

“Basically, prosecutors will re-judge his wife’s death to try to establish a motive,” said veteran defense attorney Lara Yeretsian, who also has no role in the case. “It is as if they were judging two murders in a single trial.”

Durst denies any role in the disappearance of his wife and claims that he did not kill Berman nor does he know who did it.

Prosecutor John Lewin, in charge of the case, will present information that has been publicly known for years because of the journalistic coverage that the case received, which was also the subject of the 2010 movie “All Good Things”. , starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst, and a 2015 HBO serial documentary, which included engaging comments from Durst not knowing they were filming it before the last episode. Those comments motivated his arrest.

“What the hell did I do? I killed them all, from now on, ”Durst is heard murmuring in the documentary.

Durst’s defense attorneys contend that his client was slandered from a misleading edition of his comments, but prosecutors say they are a confession. The jurors are expected to see an unedited version of the recording broadcast in the documentary “The Jinx”.

Prosecutors say Durst “confessed to killing several people” before the last episode aired, “in which he was going to see very compelling evidence for the first time.” He released his words without knowing that there was a microphone around.

No fingerprints, DNA samples, or a murder weapon were found at the Berman crime scene. The strongest physical evidence is probably a piece of paper with the word “BODY” that Durst sent to the authorities, apparently to find the body.

Durst’s attorneys admitted that he was the one who wrote the note, something Durst denied for years.

The defense intends to emphasize the lack of evidence.

“Our defense is: First, that he did not, and second that they cannot demonstrate anything beyond reasonable doubt,” said defense attorney David Chesnoff. “There is very circumstantial evidence and we will offer solid explanations.”

Rahmani said juries sometimes have trouble digesting circumstantial evidence.

“They find it difficult to find a person guilty beyond reasonable doubt if there is no physical evidence.”

Prosecutors will also mention that one individual claims that Durst told him that he had killed Berman and others claim that Berman had told them that Durst had confessed to him that he had killed his wife.


Andrew Dalton is at https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton