Jurors are set to begin hearing closing arguments Wednesday in the murder trial of New York real estate scion Robert Durst, who repeatedly denied killing a longtime friend in her Benedict Canyon home but acknowledged he wouldn’t admit it if he had.
The panel is expected to hear up to 3 1/2 days of final arguments from attorneys in the 78-year-old defendant’s trial, with jurors expected to receive the case by midday Sept. 14.
Durst is charged with the December 2000 shooting death of Susan Berman, a 55-year-old writer.
In an updated opening statement when the trial resumed in May after being stalled for more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors that the evidence would show that Durst shot and killed Berman “out of survival” because he feared she would tell authorities about his involvement in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie.
The prosecutor called the cases of Kathie Durst and Berman “interrelated,” saying that the evidence would show that Durst killed his spouse 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, because Black figured out who Durst was and was putting pressure on him.
Durst was acquitted in Texas of Black’s murder after testifying that the gun went off during a struggle over the weapon.
Durst and his lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, have disputed the prosecutor’s assertion that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst after the medical student vanished, and insisted that Durst had nothing to do with his first wife’s disappearance.
Durst — who spent nearly three weeks on the stand testifying in his own defense — has acknowledged that he wrote a “cadaver” note that anonymously alerted police to Berman’s body, but said she was already dead when he discovered her corpse.
He also denied knowing what had happened to Kathie Durst and told jurors he has never loved anyone more than her.
“Did you kill Susan?” DeGuerin asked his client.
“No,” Durst responded.
“Do you know who did?” DeGuerin asked.
“No,” Durst again responded.
“Mr. Durst, you have repeatedly admitted that if you had killed either Kathie or Susan or both of them you would never tell us, correct?” the prosecutor asked in a second round of cross-examination.
“Correct,” the defendant responded.
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 six-part HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined Kathie Durst’s disappearance and the deaths of Berman and Black..
Durst testified that a bathroom recording of him shown in the series in which he said, “There it is, you’re caught,” referred to the cadaver note.
He had been confronted by Andrew Jarecki — director and co-producer of “The Jinx” — about the cadaver note and two envelopes addressed to Berman and acknowledged that it was pretty obvious that the handwriting was the same, even though he had denied for years that he had written the note to police.
When asked what he meant by his recorded comment “killed them all, of course” that was shown during the series, Durst said, “What I did not say out loud or perhaps I said very softly, `They’ll all think I killed them all, of course.”’
He testified that he has talked to himself since he was a little boy.
“It seems I talk to myself about my thoughts, so some of what I’m thinking I do not say out loud,” Durst testified.
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.