Robert Durst’s lead attorney told jurors Thursday that the prosecution tried to “demonize” the New York real estate scion so the panel would overlook the “weakness” of the government’s case involving the December 2000 killing of his longtime friend in her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
“I wouldn’t blame you after seeing what you’ve seen in this courtroom for hating Bob Durst,” defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin told the jury during closing arguments in his 78-year-old client’s trial for the execution-style shooting of 55-year-old writer Susan Berman.
Durst’s attorney told the panel that they had heard “nine days of beating up a sick old man who can’t defend himself” during Deputy District Attorney John Lewin’s cross-examination, and said it was “calculated to cause you to hate him.”
“I wouldn’t blame you after hearing what you’ve heard for these five months if you hate Bob Durst and believe he’s a liar. But making Bob Durst a liar does not make him a killer,” DeGuerin said. “… What I want to talk to you about is efforts they’ve gone to … demonize Bob Durst so that you will overlook the weakness of the evidence.”
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations by mid-Tuesday afternoon after hearing another 1 1/2 days of closing arguments from attorneys for both sides.
The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder while lying in wait and murder of a witness.
In his second day of closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian implored the jury to hold Durst “accountable for murdering Susan Berman.”
“Find him accountable for killing her to silence her as a witness,” the prosecutor said. “Find him accountable for using a firearm, lying in wait, putting it to the back of her head and pulling the trigger. Find him accountable and render fair and just verdicts in this case — verdicts of guilty on all counts and end his running.”
The prosecutor said Durst has “gotten away with murder for too long” and told the panel it’s time for that to end.
Balian said “overwhelming evidence” has proven that Durst “murdered his best friend, Susan Berman, who had helped him cover up the killing of his wife,” Kathleen “Kathie” Durst, in 1982, and that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, to silence him after Black learned Durst’s true identity and then dismembered Black’s body and dumped the body parts in Galveston Bay in September 2001.
Durst was acquitted in Texas of Black’s murder after testifying that the gun went off during a struggle over the weapon.
In 14 days on the witness stand, Durst repeatedly denied knowing what had happened to Kathie Durst, whose body has never been found, or being involved in the killing of Berman, whom he first met at UCLA.
The prosecutor noted that Berman and Black — who each had “damaging information” against Durst — were both shot in the head and that Durst claimed he didn’t have a cell phone nearby and didn’t wind up calling police either time because he didn’t think they would believe his account.
Balian asked jurors to consider who had a motive to kill Berman, who believed she was going to “rat him out” to the police, who fled California immediately after she was killed and who wrote a note “only the killer could have written.” He said that was “one man, one man alone,” showing a photo of Durst on a large courtroom screen.
The prosecutor noted that Durst acknowledged that Berman had told him that the police had contacted her to talk with her about Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
“That was the moment Susan Berman sealed her fate,” Balian said, telling jurors earlier that Berman had “worked” Durst for money and that he had “paid her to stay quiet and she stayed quiet for so long.”
The deputy district attorney said the killing was “planned” and “premeditated” and that “Susan knew her killer and let him into the house” before being shot in the back of the head after she trusted her assailant and turned her back.
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 — who was on the stand for 14 days — 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 ultimately admitted writing.
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.
Durst has subsequently admitted that he wrote the letter, but testified that he found Berman’s body after using a key she had sent him to enter the house.
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 did kill them all, of course,” Balian said during his closing argument, in which he told jurors that what they had heard from Durst on the stand was “fiction.”
In his closing argument, Durst’s attorney countered that the case is “supposed to be about Susan Berman,” but that jurors had heard “months and months of evidence” about Black’s killing in Galveston and had heard only a portion of the evidence that the jury that acquitted Durst heard during the trial in Texas.
“In my opinion, it’s here to prejudice you,” DeGuerin told jurors, noting that Black was killed nine months after Berman was shot to death.
“It’s terrible what Bob did to Morris Black’s body” after he was dead and the photographs of the dismembered body parts “are awful,” the defense attorney said, while telling jurors that the evidence was clear in Galveston that Black died from an accidental gunshot wound to the head after a struggle over a gun.
DeGuerin urged jurors not to get carried away by their emotions.
“If you remove the emotions that the prosecutor has played upon that Bob Durst is a bad guy and that Bob Durst lies and that Bob Durst would lie about anything and look at what the evidence or lack of evidence is then you see there’s no evidence,” he said. “The questions, if you are as you must be still asking yourself, what happened to Kathie, where, when, how, then that’s reasonable doubt. You can’t guess. You have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”
He said the prosecution’s case is “over” unless the government has proven its goal of showing that Durst killed his first wife, and that Berman made a call to the medical school Kathie Durst was attending and posed as her. The defense told jurors that Berman “didn’t have anything to blackmail Bob about” if Kathie Durst had actually made that phone call.
Another of Durst’s lawyers, David Chesnoff, is set to conclude the defense’s closing argument Monday, with Lewin then set to make the prosecution’s rebuttal argument before the jury is handed the case.
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.