Los Angeles County prosecutors want jurors in New York real estate scion Robert Durst’s murder trial to hear about the 2001 killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor for which he was acquitted, according to court papers filed Thursday.
Durst — whose past was detailed in an HBO documentary series — is awaiting trial in connection with the killing of Susan Berman, 55, who was found dead in her home in Los Angeles’ Benedict Canyon on Christmas Eve 2000.
In a lengthy court filing objecting to a defense motion to exclude evidence about Morris Black’s killing, prosecutors contend that the manner of the two killings were “eerily similar” and that both victims were slain inside a residence they each considered to be safe while they were “either completely or largely helpless in their ability to defend themselves.”
Prosecutors contend that Durst’s actions in “killing and dismembering Morris” marked a “violent climax” of a nearly yearlong effort to conceal himself from authorities in New York who had re-opened their investigation into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” Durst, who has never been found. Prosecutors allege that he killed Berman to “prevent her from cooperating and providing information to authorities regarding his involvement in his missing wife’s disappearance.”
Durst’s attorneys contend that evidence about Black’s killing should be barred because the now 75-year-old defendant was acquitted by the jury in his murder trial in Galveston.
A hearing on the defense’s request is set Jan. 14 at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles.
Durst was ordered to stand trial for Berman’s killing following a hearing that wrapped up Oct. 25 after several weeks of testimony.
One of Durst’s attorneys, David Chesnoff, said then that there were no fingerprints, DNA, blood, eyewitnesses or hair samples linking his client to the crime.
But Deputy District Attorney John Lewin argued that Durst was “responsible” for his wife’s death in 1982 and got Berman to help him cover his tracks — in part by having Berman pretend to be his wife in a telephone call to the dean of the New York medical school his wife was attending at the time of her disappearance. The prosecutor contends that Durst killed his friend because he was “afraid she was going to talk.”
Durst 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 HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined the disappearance of his wife, and the killings of Berman and Black.
Durst went on trial for Black’s death and dismemberment 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 is caught on microphone muttering to himself, “Killed them all, of course,” and “There it is, you’re caught.”
At the end of the preliminary hearing this fall, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham called Durst’s comment in the documentary “cryptic.” The judge also described Berman’s murder as “an execution-style killing.”
The judge said then that the evidence suggested that Durst killed his wife, supporting the argument that Berman’s death was an effort to eliminate a witness to a crime.
Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is 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.