A key prosecution witness in the murder case against Robert Durst denied Friday that he concocted his account of the New York real estate scion confessing outside a New York City restaurant to the killing of a mutual friend at her Los Angeles home.
Nathan “Nick” Chavin — who described himself as a longtime friend of Durst — acknowledged that it took about seven months of discussions with prosecutors before he told them about Durst’s alleged confession to Susan Berman’s December 2000 killing. He said he wasn’t ready earlier to disclose what he had heard.
Durst is charged with murdering Berman, 55, with prosecutors theorizing that Durst killed Berman because police in New York were about to question her in a renewed investigation into the disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, who vanished in 1982.
Attorneys spent more than two days questioning Chavin, who has been given police protection for more than two weeks since prosecutors disclosed to the defense that he is one of the “mystery” witnesses they wanted to examine early so they could preserve his testimony.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told the judge that attorneys will return to court April 25 for another series of so-called conditional examinations” of four more witnesses, including one more mystery witness.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E Windham has noted that the testimony — which was videotaped — will only be shown to a jury if a witness is unavailable.
During his final day on the stand, Chavin described Durst as being matter of fact and a little sad” when Durst said about Berman in December 2014, “It was her or me. I had no choice.”
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Chavin said he eventually decided to tell prosecutors in late October 2015 what Durst had told him because he felt what happened to Berman outweighed his loyalty to Durst. He said he would otherwise be dishonoring her memory and his friendship with Berman, who was also a close friend of his.
On cross-examination, the defense presented Chavin with a copy of an e- mail exchange between he and Durst in May 2014, in which Chavin responded, “Gracias for dinner last night.”
That wasn’t when we had dinner,” he told Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin.
Chavin later said he wasn’t sure if the two had dinner together more than once that year.
That’s not my recollection,” the witness said.
Under renewed questioning by the prosecutor, Chavin testified that it was clearly the words `It was her or me’ of which he had a better memory than the exact date the two had dinner. He said he wasn’t certain if Durst had used a credit card to pay for the dinner.
DeGuerin suggested in his questioning that it took months for Chavin to come up with a story.” But Chavin responded, “I didn’t ever come up with a story.”
He said he had been reluctant to tell prosecutors the entire account of his post-dinner conversation with Durst in 2014, testifying that “I hadn’t come to grips with what I wanted to say.”
“Clearly it’s your position and your testimony that Mr. Durst … confessed to you by saying, `It was her or me. I had no choice,”‘ DeGuerin said.
“Yes,” the witness responded.
Chavin said he didn’t deny acknowledging to the prosecution during a July 2015 interview that it would have put him in “good graces” with Durst’s brother, Douglas, if he told authorities that Durst had confessed to him that he had been involved in the killings.
“It sure would, but it would make me a liar,” Chavin said in the July 2015 interview. He had noted at one point during his testimony that the two siblings hate” each other, but said later he wasn’t sure that Durst’s brother would have wanted to see his sibling incarcerated for the rest of his life.
“I wouldn’t call it lying … I wasn’t ready to talk about it then,” he said of another interview with prosecutors in April 2015 in which he said Durst sort of shrugged” and “kind of mumbled something” when Chavin asked him about Berman.
DeGuerin also showed the witness a transcript from another interview in which Lewin asked if Chavin would tell him if Durst had confessed to killing Berman. “Yes, I would tell you,” the witness responded, according to the transcript.
Chavin described himself as “waffling” at the time and said he should have simply said that he didn’t want to talk to them about it.
“I know I didn’t want to speak about it then, the way I avoided answering” his questions, the witness said.
In his testimony Thursday, Chavin said Durst had asked to meet him for dinner because he “wanted to talk to me about Kathie and Susan.”
After Durst’s alleged confession to Berman’s killing, Chavin said he asked Durst about his long-missing wife, but he got no response as Durst walked away from their dinner meeting.
Asked if he still felt a bond with Durst, Chavin said, It sounds ridiculous, but yes.”
“This was a best friend who admitted to killing my other best friend,” Chavin testified.
Chavin also testified that after Kathleen Durst’s disappearance, Berman told him that Durst had confessed to killing her.
Chavin — whose identity had been kept secret from the public until he was called to the stand Wednesday — testified that he initially didn’t believe Berman. He said Berman told him there was nothing they could do for Kathie Durst and that they needed to protect their friend, Robert Durst.
Chavin testified that he found it very hard to believe what Berman had told him.
“I couldn’t believe that he would have committed a crime like that,” Chavin said.
The witness testified that he didn’t want to believe Durst had killed his wife. He said he asked Berman how she knew, and said she responded “because he told me.”
The 72-year-old man testified that he was later “flabbergasted” to learn about Berman’s death during a phone conversation with a New York Times reporter who has long covered Durst.
He said he was in “extreme shock” and “disbelief” after learning later that Durst had dismembered his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, because he believed Durst was not capable of such of hands-on violence.
Durst was tried for and eventually acquitted of Black’s killing.
Chavin was one of two witnesses that were called to testify early in order for their testimony to be preserved. Prosecutors have suggested that witnesses might be killed.
Defense attorneys objected to the early questioning of witnesses, countering that their client is in custody and does not pose any threat to anyone who might testify in his murder case.
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. Prosecutors, however, are not seeking 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 Black.
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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