Jurors were handed the murder case Tuesday against New York real estate scion Robert Durst, who is charged with the killing of a longtime friend in her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles nearly 21 years ago.
Superior Court Judge Mark Windham turned the case over to the jury shortly after noon following three-and-a-half days of closing arguments by attorneys from both sides. Jurors spent about three hours after the lunch break discussing the case and are due back in court Wednesday afternoon to continue their deliberations.
The panel heard last from Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who told the jury that there was a “mountain of evidence” and that it is time for Durst to be “held accountable.”
Durst, 78, is charged with murder for Susan Berman’s execution-style December 2000 slaying. The charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder while lying in wait and murder of a witness.
Durst — who spent 14 days on the stand — repeatedly denied being involved in Berman’s killing, and testified that he wrote a so-called “cadaver” letter to police after finding Berman’s body while using a key she had sent him to enter her house.
“Justice matters. Consequences matter. Do not let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he has done, what he did to Susan Berman,” the prosecutor said as he neared the end of his rebuttal argument.
“That man killed three people, three people,” Lewin said.
The prosecution contends that Durst shot Berman and then his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, nine months later — in the head because each of them had damaging information against him and feared they would speak to authorities after a re-investigation was launched into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” Durst, whose body has never been found.
He was acquitted in Texas of Black’s murder after testifying that the gun went off during a struggle over the weapon.
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 documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined the disappearance of Kathie Durst and the shooting deaths of Berman and Black.
Durst has denied any involvement in his first wife’s disappearance.
The prosecutor noted that Durst’s wife had mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again, that Berman was killed after telling Durst she was going to talk to police looking into Kathie Durst’s disappearance, that Black was killed and dismembered and that a mutual friend of Durst and Berman testified that Durst had told him about Berman, “It was her or me. I had no choice.”
“That’s a lot of bad luck, but you know what you can really ask instead is it 40 years of undeserved good luck?” Lewin told jurors. “He has never been held accountable for his domestic abuse of Kathie. He was never held accountable for her death. The last 20 years he’s gotten away with murdering Susan. For the last 20 years, he’s avoided responsibility for Morris Black. Durst is not jinxed. He’s a three-time killer who has managed to escape accountability until this very moment…”
In his closing argument Monday, one of Durst’s attorneys, David Chesnoff, urged jurors to acquit the defendant.
“… They have not proven that Bob Durst killed Susan Berman beyond a reasonable doubt,” the defense lawyer said. “Bob did not kill Kathie Durst, therefore there was no great secret … No evidence is evidence that they haven’t proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Chesnoff told jurors Berman did not make a phone call posing as Kathie Durst to the medical school where the missing woman was a student — as the prosecution contends — and that she “wasn’t a witness to anything.”
He told the panel that Durst sent money to Berman “not from any threats but affection,” and contended that Berman’s account to friends that she had made the phone call shouldn’t be trusted because the 55-year-old woman was a “writer” and “attention seeker” who “liked to be dramatic” and “loved to tell stories.”
The defense attorney contended that the initial investigation by Los Angeles police into Berman’s killing was “shoddy and incomplete,” and that police didn’t even find a fingerprint from Durst even though he acknowledged being near the body of the woman he had met at UCLA years before.
“Who else did they miss?” Durst’s attorney asked. “They missed the real killer … This was a botched investigation. Now let’s blame it all on Bob. That’s what we always do and people wonder why Bob Durst was running — because it never stops. You will put a stop to it.”
Chesnoff said the lack of evidence linking Durst to the disappearance of his first wife or Berman’s killing is “consistent with Bob being innocent because he didn’t have anything to do with killing the two women,” while telling jurors that evidence involving Black’s killing in Galveston was “everywhere” because that man was killed accidentally during a struggle with Durst.
Wrapping up his argument, the defense attorney said he hoped that the jury would let Durst — whom he had described earlier as “sick and elderly” — be “in a hospital of his choosing to live out whatever time he has left.”
During his time on the stand, Durst told jurors 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.
Durst 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 about Berman’s body.
Durst has subsequently admitted that he wrote the letter.
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.”’
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.