Multi-millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst convicted of murder
Sept. 17 (Reuters) – A California jury on Friday found multi-millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of murdering his best friend Susan Berman in 2000, the first homicide conviction against a man suspected of killing three people in three states in the past 39 years.
Durst, 78 and frail, will likely die in prison, as the jury also found him guilty of the special circumstances of waiting and killing a witness, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, who oversaw the trial, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for October 18.
The trial took place six years after Durst’s apparent confession aired in the HBO television documentary series “The Jinx,” in which Durst was surprised by a hot microphone in the bathroom thinking, “What did I do? … Killed all of them, of course. “
The jury of nine women and three men had deliberated for seven and a half hours over three days. Durst, who has been in jail for the duration of the trial, was not present for the verdict being read because he was in solitary confinement after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Windham decided to have the verdict read in Durst’s absence. Speaking later to lawyers for both sides, he called the case “the most extraordinary trial I have ever seen or even heard of”.
Los Angeles County prosecutors called Durst a “narcissistic psychopath” who killed Berman in an attempt to cover up the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in New York City in 1982.
Durst was only on trial for Berman’s murder in California, but prosecutors argued he murdered three people: his missing wife, Berman and a neighbor in Texas who discovered his identity at a time when Durst was in hiding from the law.
Although he has long been a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, a 29-year-old medical student, Durst has never been charged. Prosecutors said he killed her, then decided to kill Berman 18 years later because she told others she helped Durst cover up the crime. Berman, 55, was shot in the back of the neck at his Beverly Hills home.
Shortly after the verdict, the McCormack family released a statement urging prosecutors in Westchester County, New York, to prosecute Durst.
“The Los Angeles justice system has finally served the Berman family. Now is the time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family,” the statement said.
Representatives from the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Defense lawyers described Durst, a cancer survivor who uses a wheelchair, as a “sick old man.” But he resisted 15 days as a witness, nine of which were under cross-examination.
In 58 days spread over a year and a half, including a one-year suspension after the trial began due to the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors presented mountains of circumstantial evidence pointing to Durst, who testified to having discovered the body Berman murdered when he went to visit her but did not call the police.
The prosecution also looked into the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, who was Durst’s neighbor in Galveston, Texas. A Galveston jury acquitted Durst of the murder, although Durst admitted he cut up Black’s body and dumped it in Galveston Bay.
Durst said Black fired a gun at him and was accidentally shot when the two fought over the gun in Durst’s apartment.
Black’s death marked the second time Durst had a corpse at his feet, according to his own testimony.
In the deaths of Black and Berman, Durst said he first tried calling the 911 emergency number, but then decided not to, fearing that no one would believe that he was not guilty.
Durst testified from a wheelchair, usually in a prison uniform, but also wearing a loose-fitting suit jacket that would have been well suited to his younger and more rugged days.
Besides the audio of “The Jinx”, two other pieces of evidence appeared to damage Durst’s defense. One was the recorded testimony in 2017 of Nick Chavin, a mutual friend who said Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman.
“I had to do it. It was her or me. I had no choice,” Chavin told Durst, telling him one evening after dinner at a New York restaurant.
Durst also admitted that he wrote a handwritten letter to the Beverly Hills Police Department with the word “corpse” and Berman’s address, directing them to his undiscovered body. Durst had denied writing the note for 20 years.
Durst is the grandson of Joseph Durst and the son of Seymour Durst, who made The Durst Organization one of New York’s premier real estate companies.
A long time ago, Robert Durst left the company, now run by his ex-brother Douglas Durst, who testified at the trial and said about his brother: âHe would like to murder me.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall
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