Robert Durst. Photo by Courtesy of HBO
Robert Durst. Photo by Courtesy of HBO

New York real estate scion Robert Durst, who is accused of killing a friend in Benedict Canyon in 2000, still presents a threat to witnesses in the pending murder case, prosecutors contended in court papers filed Thursday, despite defense arguments that Durst is jailed and too old and frail to be a danger to anyone.

In an 88-page document, Los Angeles County prosecutors argued in support of their request to conduct early questioning of up to four witnesses, including two whose identities haven’t been revealed to Durst’s attorneys, out of fear that “witnesses might be killed and evidence forever lost.”

“Unable to dispute this simple truth, the defense has instead argued that defendant Robert Durst poses no danger to witnesses because he is `frail,’ in a `wheelchair’ and unable `to harm anyone,”‘ prosecutors contend in the court document. “This argument flies in the face of reality, as defendant’s past conduct demonstrates that he continues to pose an ever-present danger to many witnesses in this case.”

During a court hearing earlier this month, Durst attorney David Chesnoff scoffed at the idea put forth by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin that Durst presents a threat to witnesses.

“What Mr. Lewin is doing by trying to inflame the circumstances by suggesting that a man in a wheelchair is somehow a threat to an 85-year-old doctor living in New York, when none of the allegations in any of these cases suggest that anybody has ever been involved but Mr. Durst is just hyperbole,” Chesnoff said.

One of the four witnesses prosecutors want to question in “conditional examinations” is Dr. Albert Kuperman, who is believed to have spoken to Durst’s estranged first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, around the time she disappeared in 1982.

Prosecutors suspect that Durst killed his friend Susan Berman in December 2000 in her Benedict Canyon home because authorities in New York’s Westchester County were about to interview her as part of a reopened investigation into the disappearance of Kathie Durst.

Shortly after Durst learned that Berman was going to be interviewed by police, “Susan was executed in her home, shot one time in the back of the head,” prosecutors contend in the court document. “The People will prove that defendant murdered Susan because he believed she possessed information that exposed him to criminal prosecution for the killing of his wife, and that he murdered her to prevent her from passing on that information to investigators.”

Prosecutors argued that Durst has a history of violence against witnesses, contending that Durst killed a neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001 in Galveston, Texas, where he was “living under an assumed name and pretended to be a mute woman.”

Prosecutors argued in the court document that Black was killed because he found out Durst was not really a mute woman, and Durst responded “by shooting him in the back of the head” and dismembering his body. Durst was tried for that killing, but was acquitted.

Before he was tried, however, Durst fled Texas and remained on the lam until he was caught while shoplifting at a Pennsylvania market.

“Defendant is a menace to society,” prosecutors argue in the latest court papers. “On three separate occasions, he has attempted to flee from public accusations, government investigations or formal charges in connection with the deaths of three people. During each flight, he has demonstrated a willingness to use deadly force to escape justice — killing two people and arming himself with deadly weapons to kill anyone who stodd in his way of escape.

“Moreover, defendant has immense financial resources at his disposal, and the idea that he does not have the wherewithal to intimidate, buy off or attempt to have witnesses killed who possess inculpatory evidence because he is `old,’ `frail’ or in custody, is ludicrous.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham will hold a hearing next week on prosecutors’ request to conduct advance questioning of witnesses.

Durst, now 73, has denied any involvement in Berman’s killing, saying during an earlier hearing, “I do want to say here and now, though, I am not guilty. I did not kill Susan Berman.”

Durst was arrested March 14, 2015, in a New Orleans hotel room, hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined the disappearance of his wife in 1982 and the killings of Berman and 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.”

During a jailhouse interview with Lewin, Durst said he was “on meth” while the documentary was being filmed and that he didn’t heed his attorneys’ advice not to be interviewed for the series.

Durst was indicted in April 2015 in U.S. District Court in Louisiana on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty to that charge and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison before being brought to Los Angeles in connection with the murder case.

He has been long estranged from his real-estate-rich family, known for ownership of 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.

–City News Service

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