New York real estate scion Robert Durst pleaded guilty Wednesday in New Orleans to a gun charge, clearing the way for his extradition to Los Angeles to face a charge of murdering a friend whose body was found on Christmas Eve 2000 in her Benedict Canyon home.
In December, Los Angeles County prosecutors and attorneys for Durst jointly filed an agreement calling on the prosecution to use its “best efforts and all available legal means” to secure his presence in a Los Angeles County courtroom for arraignment by Aug. 18, once he is sentenced in the federal court case in Louisiana.
The agreement — signed by Durst, four of his attorneys and Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys John Lewin and Habib Balian — was only binding if a plea agreement was reached in the federal case against Durst, in which he was indicted for being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.
Durst, 72, was charged last March 16 with capital murder in the shooting death of his close friend, Susan Berman, who was killed occurred on or about Dec. 23, 2000.
The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait, along with gun use allegations. Prosecutors have yet to decide whether to seek the death penalty.
Authorities suspect Durst killed Berman because prosecutors in New York’s Westchester County were about to interview her about the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, who was in the process of divorcing him.
According to court papers, Los Angeles police detectives claim two handwriting experts have linked Durst to an anonymous letter alerting authorities to a “cadaver” at Berman’s home.
Durst — who was profiled in the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” was arrested last March 14 in a New Orleans hotel room. Although he waived his right to an extradition hearing and his attorney said he was anxious to return to Los Angeles, Durst was booked in New Orleans in connection with a .38-caliber revolver allegedly found in his hotel room.
Durst has admitted to killing and dismembering Morris Black, a man who lived across from him in Galveston, Texas, where Durst fled while authorities were trying to make a case against him in both killings.
He went on trial for Black’s death in 2003 — after a nationwide manhunt located him in Pennsylvania — but was acquitted by a jury that deemed Black’s killing was an act of self-defense.
Durst has been long estranged from his real-estate-rich family, which is best known for a series of New York City skyscrapers — including an investment in the World Trade Center. Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn- out legal battle.
According to various media reports, Durst ultimately reached a settlement under which the family paid him $60 million to $65 million.
Durst’s arrest came hours before the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” which examined the disappearance of his wife in 1982, Berman’s execution-style killing and the killing of Black.
On the documentary series finale, which aired the day after his arrest, Durst was caught on microphone saying to himself, “Killed them all, of course.”
He also was caught on microphone saying, “There it is, you’re caught,” and “What a disaster.”
—City News Service