New York real estate scion Robert Durst testified Wednesday that he last saw his first wife at a train station as she prepared to head back to New York City and didn’t initially think that anything had happened to her.
In his second day on the stand in his own defense on charges of killing a close friend and confidante inside her Benedict Canyon home 20 years ago, the 78-year-old Durst said “it never dawned on me that something could have happened” to his wife, Kathie — whom the prosecution contends Durst killed in 1982.
“I was not imagining that the last time I would see her was when she stepped on to the train. I was imagining that she was out some place having fun,” Durst told jurors.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors in his opening statement that the evidence would show that Durst shot and killed Berman “out of survival” just before Christmas in 2000 because he feared she would tell authorities about his involvement in Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, disputed the prosecution’s contention that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst and called the 55-year-old writer a “storyteller” who had a “great imagination” and “made things up.” He has maintained that his client didn’t kill Berman and doesn’t know who did.
Durst — seated in jail clothes in a wheelchair near the witness stand — said he had dropped his wife off at a train station following a dispute about when the two would return from their cottage in South Salem, New York and doesn’t know if he actually saw her board the train. But he said there was nowhere else for her to go.
“That’s the last time I saw her,” he told jurors.
Durst said he wasn’t initially worried at all about his wife and thought she had found something fun to do after hearing an answering message from the medical school she was attending that indicated she had missed two days.
Durst said he grew worried when she still failed to show up, and called the police department and was told that he would have to show up at the police station to report her missing.
Durst said he subsequently lied when he told a detective that he had called his wife as she watched the news at their New York City apartment, saying that he wanted to convince the detective that she had gotten back to the couple’s New York City home.
Under questioning by DeGuerin, Durst said he believed she had been home because he found a Coca-Cola bottle and an ashtray with a cigarette in it on the kitchen table when he returned.
Durst told jurors that he learned that his wife had hired a “matrimonial” lawyer after learning about a $5,000 certified check to a law firm while reviewing the couple’s bank statement, wasn’t aware they were having any marital issues and was “happy with my marriage.” He acknowledged that he had persuaded her to have an abortion about a year after the two married.
“I did not want to be a daddy. My childhood had been a disaster,” he testified. “I did not want the same thing to happen to my child.”
The two lived apart for a time after Kathie Durst requested “her own space,” but no divorce papers were ever filed and they had subsequently moved back in together before her disappearance, he testified.
Durst said he used methamphetamine and “lots of marijuana” but didn’t consider his wife’s cocaine use a “big problem” until at least 1981.
Durst is set to continue his testimony Thursday morning.
In his first day on the stand Monday, Durst quickly denied involvement in Berman’s killing.
His attorney opened the questioning of his client by asking Durst if he killed Berman.
Durst quickly answered, “No.”
Asked by DeGuerin if he knows who did kill Berman, Durst said, “No, I do not.”
Questioned about his relationship with Berman, Durst testified Monday that they became fast friends after realizing they had much in common, including having been raised by people other than their parents, and the fact that “we were both rich” and “had trust funds set up by our parents.”
In his opening statement last year, DeGuerin told jurors that Durst “showed up and found her dead” and “panicked.”
DeGuerin acknowledged that his client had written an anonymous “cadaver” note that was subsequently mailed to police so her body would be found.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did,” DeGuerin said in May when the trial resumed after being stalled for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The defense attorney also told the panel that a six-part HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was recorded saying “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course,” was “heavily edited” and “not a documentary.”
During his updated opening statement in May, Lewin called the cases of Kathie Durst and Susan Berman “inter-related,” and told jurors they would hear evidence that Durst killed his wife and used Berman to help cover up his part in the crime, and that he subsequently had to kill his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, because the man figured out who Durst was and was putting pressure on him.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed Black in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities began a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined Kathie’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
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.
Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle, and ultimately reached a settlement under which the family reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.