Real Estate Heir Robert Durst found guilty of killing best friend
Prosecutors said he killed her just before she planned to speak with authorities about the disappearance of his wife.
September 23, 2021
AP and Wire Services
A Los Angeles County jury on Sept. 17th found real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of killing his close friend following a drawn-out trial in which prosecutors painted him as a narcissist who killed and lied to cover his tracks.
Jurors – nine women and three men -- deliberated for just over seven hours over three days before announcing a verdict, which also included a guilty verdict on a charge of lying in wait and killing a witness. A sentencing hearing scheduled for Oct. 18.
Durst, 78, who was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read because he was exposed to COVID-19, initially had pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge in the point-blank shooting of Susan Berman, his confidante and close friend for decades. Prosecutors allege he killed Berman in December 2000 in an effort to silence her before she planned to tell authorities how she provided a false alibi when his wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, vanished in 1982.
Durst, who was in a wheelchair during the proceedings, testified that he found Berman dead on a bedroom floor when he went to visit her. He denied being in Los Angeles at the time of her death.
Kathie Durst has never been found and has been declared legally dead. Robert Durst has never been charged in her disappearance.
Jurors began deliberations Tuesday for three hours before recessing for the day. The trial began in March 2020 but was paused for 14 months because of the coronavirus pandemic. It resumed in May.
Friday's conviction marked a victory for authorities, who sought to connect Durst to three homicides in three states over several decades.
During his trial, prosecutors presented evidence they say proves Durst killed his wife in their South Salem, N.Y., home in an effort to provide a motive for the Berman slaying. They also introduced evidence from a previous trial in which Durst was acquitted of fatally shooting a neighbor in Galveston, Texas.
Durst had gone into hiding in Texas to avoid possible criminal charges in New York when the investigation into the disappearance of his wife was reopened. He was living in a boarding house under an alias when he killed Morris Black during a struggle for a gun.
He was acquitted of murder but was convicted of destroying evidence for chopping up Black's body and tossing it out to sea. Los Angeles prosecutors said Black was killed after discovering Durst's true identity.
Defense attorneys sought to paint Durst as a "sick, old," defenseless man who was being bullied by prosecutors on the witness stand. During his testimony, Durst admitted lying under oath and made several damming admissions. He claimed he didn't kill his wife or Berman but said he would lie if he had.
"I just hope when this is over, you let Mr. Durst be in a hospital of his choosing to live out whatever time he has left," defense lawyer David Chesnoff said.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin countered that Durst was only old and feeble because he had been able to live a full life — unlike his victims.
"He's up here, he’s old and he’s sick. He got to live to be old," he said. "Kathie never made it to 30. Susan Berman, his close friend, horribly executed. Morris Black murdered and then dismembered. ... He’s lucky to have gotten to live to be 78 to have the health issues he does. Because his victims and their families don’t have that same peace of mind.”
The controversy surrounding Durst was reignited after appearing in the 2015 HBO documentary "The Jinx." He said he regretted participating in the film. On the final episode, he was famously caught on a hot mic saying: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
Durst claimed there was a misunderstanding and that he either spoke too soft for the mic or failed to utter what he was thinking.