A witness whose identity had been kept secret from the public before he was called to the stand in the Los Angeles murder case of Robert Durst testified Wednesday that the New York real estate scion had a tumultuous relationship with his first wife before she vanished in 1982.
Nathan “Nick” Allen Chavin told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham he met Durst through Susan Berman — the woman Durst is charged with murdering at her Benedict Canyon home in December 2000.
Durst has denied any involvement in Berman’s killing.
Chavin is one of two witnesses to be called so far to testify at the prosecution’s request in advance of a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.
The 72-year-old Chavin testified that he has known Durst — whom he called “Bob” or “Bobby” — for 25 or 30 years after meeting him through Berman, whom he called “a very dear friend of mine.”
Durst was married to his first wife, Kathie, at the time, the prosecution witness said.
“At the time I met her (Kathie), things weren’t going well with Bob,” Chavin said, explaining that the two men went out on double-dates, with Durst sometimes taking his wife and sometimes another woman while Durst was still married to Kathie.
“She was having a terrible time with her marriage,” the prosecution witness testified, noting that Kathie Durst had said her husband was “impossible” and that “she was afraid of him.”
He said he recalled one incident in which he was supposed to go to dinner with Durst and his wife and found the two “mid-argument.”
Chavin — whose identity was released to the defense late last month — testified that he recalled Durst telling him about an incident in which he had allegedly kicked a man in the head because he believed the man was flirting with Kathie Durst and another incident in which he allegedly struck a female police officer with his car while driving at 1 mph.
“I think he said the man sued him,” Chavin said.
“Was he expressing any regret about what he had done?” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin asked.
“No,” the witness responded.
Chavin said he recalled saying that he loved Durst “like a brother” and was probably Durst’s closest friend other than Berman when Kathie Durst vanished. Berman felt similarly toward Durst, saying “how much she loved Bobby,” the prosecution witness said.
“Given the closeness of Bob and Susan’s relationship, is there anything you can think of that Susan wouldn’t have done for Bob?” the prosecutor asked.
“No, not if it were within her ability to do it,” Chavin responded.
When asked if he had suspected Durst of being involved with his wife’s disappearance, his longtime friend testified that he had not.
Chavin — who was taken out of court by a two-man security team through a back exit — was ordered to return to court Thursday to continue his testimony.
The prosecution’s first witness, Dr. Albert Kuperman, testified Tuesday that he received a telephone call from a woman claiming to be Kathleen Durst around the time the woman disappeared in 1982. The woman said she was ill and would not be showing up for a medical “clerkship” she was set to begin that day.
Kuperman, 85, said he now is not certain if the woman on the phone was actually the fourth-year medical student. Prosecutors have suggested that it could have been Berman who made the call, pretending to be Kathleen Durst, at Robert Durst’s request in an apparent attempt to cover up her disappearance.
Prosecutors theorize that Durst killed Berman in 2000 because police in New York were about to question her in a renewed investigation into the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, who has never been found.
Judge Mark Windham allowed prosecutors to question Kuperman and Chavin early in order to preserve their testimony in case they are not available by the time of the preliminary hearing or trial — with prosecutors suggesting the witnesses might be killed. Their testimony has been videotaped — something that will only be shown to a jury if they are not available to testify later.
“That man kills witnesses … When pushed into a corner, he murders people,” Lewin said last month of the defendant.
Defense attorneys objected to the early questioning of witnesses, countering that their client does not pose any threat to anyone who might testify in his murder case.
“Mr. Durst is in custody. Mr. Durst is in a wheelchair,” one of his attorneys, David Chesnoff, told the judge, noting that he believes his client’s jailhouse telephone calls are tape-recorded by authorities.
In earlier testimony Thursday that was not videotaped, witness Susan T. Giordano said she met Durst through Chavin and described Durst as her “closest friend.”
She maintained that their relationship is platonic, though she acknowledged that he has given or loaned her “maybe $350,000” and that the two have talked about getting a “love nest.”
“I wanted him to be close to where I lived,” Giordano said, denying any kind of sexual relationship with Durst.
Durst’s preliminary hearing is expected to begin Oct. 17.
The murder charge against Durst includes the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait, along with gun use allegations. But a prosecutor said in court the District Attorney’s Office does not plan to seek the death penalty.
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 Kathleen Durst’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and one of Durst’s neighbors, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. Durst was tried for and acquitted of Black’s 2001 killing.
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