INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) – A Los Angeles jury convicted Robert Durst on Friday of murdering his best friend 20 years ago, a case that took on new life after the New York real estate heir participated in a documentary that linked him to the murder that was linked to his wife’s disappearance in 1982.
Durst, 78, was not in court for the verdict of the jury, which deliberated about seven hours over three days. He was in solitary confinement in a prison because he was exposed to someone with coronavirus.
Durst, who faces a life sentence without parole when convicted on October 18, has been convicted of the first degree murder of Susan Berman. She was shot at close range to the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000, as she was ready to tell police how she helped cover up the murder of his wife.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas gangster, was Durst’s longtime confidante who told friends she provided him with a fake alibi after his wife went missing.
Prosecutors painted a portrait of a wealthy narcissist who didn’t think the laws applied to him and ruthlessly dumped people who got in his way. They intertwined evidence of Berman’s murder with the alleged death of Kathie Durst and the 2001 murder of a tenant in a Texas flophouse where Robert Durst hid while fleeing New York authorities.
âBob Durst has been around for many years and he has committed many horrible crimes. We really feel very happy that he has been held accountable, âsaid Deputy District Attorney John Lewin.
Lewin met with jurors after the verdict and said they believed prosecutors proved Durst killed his wife and murdered Berman and his Texas neighbor in an attempt to evade justice.
He said jurors did not find Durst credible as a witness.
âHe’s a narcissistic psychopath. He killed his wife and then he had to keep killing to cover him up, âLewin said.
Lewin said he hoped Durst understood what it’s like to be held accountable, even though it took 40 years. “Considering what he did, he had a lot more life than he was entitled to,” the prosecutor said.
Durst was arrested in 2015 while hiding in a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”, in which he was confronted with incriminating evidence and made what prosecutors said was an admission.
Durst could be heard muttering to himself over a live microphone in a bathroom, âThis is it. You are taken.
Durst’s decision to testify in his own defense – hoping for a repeat of his acquittal in the Texas murder – backfired as he was forced to admit to lying under oath, made a damning confession and credibility was destroyed when questioned by the prosecutor.
Defense attorney David Chesnoff said on Friday they believed there was “substantial reasonable doubt” and were disappointed with the verdict. He said Durst would pursue all remedies.
The conviction marks a victory for authorities who have sought to put Durst behind bars for murder in three states. Durst has never been charged with the disappearance of his wife, who has never been found, and he was acquitted of the murder in Galveston, Texas, where he admitted to dismembering the victim’s body and having it thrown into the sea.
The story of Durst, the estranged offspring of a New York real estate developer, has fueled the New York tabloids since his wife’s disappearance. It provided so many twists and turns that Hollywood couldn’t resist making a feature film about his life that ultimately led to the documentary and new evidence of Berman’s murder uncovered.
Durst has fled the law on several occasions, disguised as a mute woman in Texas and staying under a pseudonym in a New Orleans hotel with a latex mask from her shoulders to her head for an alleged getaway. He jumped on bail in Texas and was arrested after he stole a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania when he had $ 37,000 in cash – along with two handguns – in his rental car.
He later joked that he was “the worst fugitive the world has ever met”.
Durst escaped scrutiny by investigators when his wife went missing. But her problems resurfaced in late 2000 when authorities in New York reopened the case.
His lawyer told him to be ready to be charged in this case, and he fled a life of luxury in Galveston, Texas, where he rented a cheap apartment as “Dorothy Ciner,” a woman who ‘he pretended he couldn’t speak. He eventually ditched the disguise after mishaps including walking into a men’s restroom and setting his wig on fire in a bar while lighting a cigarette.
Just before Christmas, he said he traveled to Los Angeles to visit Berman for a “vacation” with the intention of visiting some of the sights.
Durst, who had long denied ever being in LA at the time of Berman’s death, told the trial he found her dead on the floor of a bedroom when she arrived.
Berman, a writer who had been friends with Durst since they were students at the University of California, Los Angeles, was in serious financial trouble at the time. Durst had given her $ 50,000, and prosecutors suggested that she try to get more money from him by telling him that she was going to talk to the cops.
Nine months after his death, Durst killed his neighbor in Galveston Morris Black, in what he said was an accident or in 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 that the 71-year-old was killed in a gun fight. Durst then cut up Black’s body and threw it into the sea. He was convicted of destroying evidence for throwing out the body parts.
After the trial and the appalling evidence of dismemberment, Durst discovered he was an outcast, he said. Despite an estimated fortune of $ 100 million, he was turned away by several condominium associations and said the Los Angeles County Museum of Art would not take his money unless he made an anonymous donation.
Durst believed that a 2010 feature film based on his life, “All the Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as him and Kirsten Dunst as Kathie, had been largely accurate and had painted a sympathetic portrait, although he implicated it in three murders. He only objected that he was pictured killing his dog – something he would never do.
He contacted the filmmaker and agreed to sit down for lengthy interviews for a documentary. He encourages his friends to do the same and gives filmmakers access to the 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.”
Documentary filmmakers uncovered crucial evidence that linked it to an anonymous note sent to police directing them to Berman’s lifeless body.
Durst, who was so confident he couldn’t be logged into the note, told the filmmakers that “only the killer could have written” the note.
The filmmakers confronted him with a letter he sent to Berman a year earlier. The handwriting was the same and Beverly Hills was misspelled as “Beverley” on both. He couldn’t tell the two apart.
The hangover moment provided the climax of the film as Durst stepped out of the camera and muttered into a live microphone in the bathroom, “Killed them all, of course.”
During 14 days of such punitive testimony, Judge Mark Windham called it “devastating,” Durst denied killing his wife and Berman, although he said he would lie if he did.
He tried to explain the note and what prosecutors said was a confession for a while unsupervised.
For the first time, Durst admitted on the witness stand that he sent the note and that he was in Los Angeles at the time of Berman’s death.
Durst said he sent the note because he wanted Berman to be found, but didn’t want anyone to know he had been there because it would look suspicious.
He admitted that even he found it hard to imagine that he could have written the note without killing Berman.
âIt’s very hard to believe, to accept, that I wrote the letter and didn’t kill Susan Berman,â Durst said.
A prosecutor said this was one of the truest things Durst had said amid a ton of lies.
Brian Melley, The Associated Press