A hearing is set to begin Monday to determine if there is enough evidence to require New York real estate scion Robert Durst to stand trial for the December 2000 execution-style shooting death of a close friend in her Benedict Canyon home.
Prosecutors have theorized that Durst, who turned 75 last Thursday, killed Susan Berman because police in New York were about to question her in a renewed investigation into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” Durst.
Berman, 55, was found dead in her home on Christmas Eve 2000. Prosecutors allege that she was killed a day earlier.
The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait. A prosecutor has said that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office does not intend to seek the death penalty against Durst.
At a hearing in February 2017 to preserve his testimony, one of the prosecution’s key witnesses, Nathan “Nick” Chavin, testified that he asked Durst after a dinner meeting about Berman, who was a mutual friend, and said that Durst responded, “I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice.”
Chavin testified that Berman told him after Kathleen Durst’s disappearance that Durst had confessed to killing his wife. 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, 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 Berman’s killing. He said he wasn’t ready earlier to disclose what he had heard, and eventually decided to tell prosecutors because he felt what happened to Berman outweighed his loyalty to Durst.
Superior Court Judge Mark Windham allowed prosecutors to call Chavin and a number of other witnesses last year in order to preserve their testimony in case they were not available by the time of the preliminary hearing or trial — with a prosecutor suggesting that the witnesses might be killed. Defense attorneys countered that their client is in custody and does not pose a threat to anyone who might testify in his murder case.
Durst, who turned 75 last Thursday, has been behind bars since his arrest March 14, 2015, in a New Orleans hotel room. He was taken into custody 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 Kathleen Durst, and the killings of Berman and a Texas neighbor, Morris Black, in 2001.
Durst went on trial for Black’s death after a nationwide manhunt in which he was located in Pennsylvania, but a jury acquitted him of murder after agreeing with Durst’s contention that he had killed his neighbor in self-defense.
In the finale of “The Jinx,” Durst was apparently caught on microphone saying to himself, “Killed them all, of course,” and “There it is, you’re caught.”
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. He 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.
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