Robert Durst, the estranged heir of one of New York’s wealthiest real estate empires, was convicted of murder Friday in the execution-style slaying of his best friend more than two decades ago.
Jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court reached a verdict on their third half-day of deliberations following a four-month trial, finding it was Durst who fatally shot Susan Berman in her Los Angeles home just days before Christmas in 2000. The motive presented by prosecutors was that Durst had to silence Berman because she knew he had killed his wife Kathie in the couple’s South Salem cottage in 1982.
Durst was the subject of the six-part HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which aired in early 2015. He was arrested in a New Orleans hotel the night before the final episode, in which he was heard on a hot mic in the bathroom that he had “killed them all.” Prosecutors said that was a confession.
As Deputy District Attorney John Lewin wrapped up five days of closing arguments in his rebuttal Tuesday morning, he called the evidence against the 78-year-old Durst “overwhelming.”
“I don’t care that he’s old, that he’s sitting in a wheelchair, that he’s sick … It is time that he is held accountable,” Lewin told the jury, adding moments later: “Do not let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he’s done.”
No charges have ever been brought in Kathie Durst’s disappearance and her body has never been discovered. But the Westchester, New York, District Attorney’s Office has again reopened the case.
Durst’s legal team, led by Texas lawyer Dick DeGuerin and Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff, argued that there was insufficient evidence that Durst killed either woman and that the prosecution had demonized a “sick, old man” to make up for the lack of proof.
“I wouldn’t blame you after hearing what you’ve heard if you hate Bob Durst and believe he’s a liar,” DeGuerin said in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Making Bob Durst a liar does not make him a killer.”
DeGuerin had led the team that helped Durst beat a murder rap in Galveston in 2003, even though he acknowledged dismembering the victim’s body.
Nine months after Berman’s death, Durst killed his Galveston neighbor Morris Black, in what he said was either an accident or self-defense. Durst said he found Black, who he had become friends with, in his apartment holding Durst’s .22-caliber pistol.
Durst was acquitted after testifying the 71-year-old was killed in a struggle for the gun. Durst then chopped up Black’s body and tossed it out to sea. He was convicted of destroying evidence for discarding the body parts.
Los Angeles prosecutors used multiple deaths tied to Durst to weave a portrait of a man who killed first to avoid a costly divorce and then to remove witnesses that had information he didn’t want revealed.
The trial started in early 2020 and lasted only days before Los Angeles courts were shut by the coronavirus pandemic. It resumed this May, with the judge rejecting multiple defense requests for mistrials based on the delays and Durst’s worsening health.
He has bladder and esophageal cancer, and sat throughout the first months of the trial in a wheelchair and wearing a catheter.
The latest mistrial motion was based on a doctor’s contention that Durst was too ill to testify and did not have the cognitive ability to even decide whether he should testify. That was rejected last month just before the prosecution rested its case.
Durst then spent 14 days on the witness stand, giving accounts of his wife’s disappearance and the killings of Black and Berman and acknowledged that if he had killed them he would lie about it.
Durst’s decision to testify in his own defense backfired as he was forced to admit lying under oath, made damning admissions and had his credibility destroyed when questioned by the prosecutor.
A 2010 feature film based on Durst’s life made him an increasingly public figure.
“All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as him and Kirsten Dunst as Kathie, was largely accurate and painted a sympathetic portrait, despite implicating him in three killings, Durst thought. He only objected that he was depicted him killing his dog – something he would never do.
He reached out to the filmmaker and agreed to sit for lengthy interviews for a documentary. He encouraged his friends to do the same and gave the filmmakers access to boxes of his records.
He came to deeply regret his decision after “The Jinx” aired on HBO in 2015, calling it a “very, very, very big mistake.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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