The prosecution completed its opening statement Monday in Robert Durst’s murder trial, with a deputy district attorney telling jurors that the millionaire New York real estate scion killed his longtime friend and confidante at her Benedict Canyon home and a neighbor in Texas in an effort to cover up information about his first wife’s disappearance.
In his third day before jurors, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told the eight-woman, four-man panel — along with 11 alternates — that the evidence would show that Durst killed his first wife, Kathie, in 1982 and that Susan Berman’s decision to help him would ultimately “cost Susan her life” when she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the woman’s still-unsolved disappearance in New York.
The prosecutor told the panel that Durst “waited for Susan to turn her back on her best friend, someone she loved and trusted” and that he “executed her at point-blank range” inside her home in December 2000.
“The evidence is going to show that he murdered his friend, Morris Black, dismembered his corpse, dumped the body parts like they were trash into Galveston Bay (in Texas) and that he did that, because again Morris Black was a connection to Kathie,” Lewin said of Durst’s boarding-house neighbor, who had grown to realize who Durst was while the defendant posed as a mute woman while hiding out in Galveston.
Durst was tried for Black’s death and dismemberment after a nationwide manhunt in which he was located in Pennsylvania, but he was acquitted by a jury in Texas of a murder charge stemming from that killing in September 2001.
“It’s been long and it’s complicated because Mr. Durst has committed a lot of crimes,” Lewin told jurors, noting that he would ask them at the end of the trial to “finally” hold Durst accountable for the crimes.
Jurors are set to begin hearing Tuesday from Durst’s attorneys, one of whom said at an earlier court hearing that there are no fingerprints, DNA, blood, hair samples or eyewitnesses linking the 76-year-old defendant to the crime. Durst’s defense team has long insisted that their client did not kill Berman and does not know who did.
Durst was profiled in the six-part HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which he was recorded saying “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course.”
The comments came after filmmakers questioned Durst about the similarities in handwriting between a letter he had sent to Berman before she was killed and a so-called “cadaver note” that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police to advise them about a body at Berman’s address.
As he neared the end of his opening statement, the prosecutor said Durst — who had repeatedly denied writing the “cadaver note” — stipulated about two months ago that he had written the document.
“Durst has also made clear, absolutely and without reservation, whoever wrote the cadaver note is in fact the person who murdered Susan Berman,” Lewin told jurors.
The prosecutor played a segment of an interview in which Durst told a documentary filmmaker that the note was one that “only the killer could have written,” along with a segment of an interview with prosecutors and police in which Durst said, “Whoever wrote that note had to be involved in Susan’s death.”
Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, has insisted, however, that the concession is not an admission that Durst killed Berman. The attorney told reporters that he had never publicly admitted or denied that Durst wrote the note.
Jurors also heard earlier videotaped court testimony from Nick Chavin, a longtime friend of both Durst and Berman, who testified that Durst had told him about Berman, “I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice.”
Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman to silence her from talking to authorities about Kathie’s disappearance, but Lewin told jurors that Durst “killed her about 20 years too late” because he didn’t realize that she had told friends that she had posed as Durst’s missing wife during a call to a dean at the New York medical school Kathie was attending. Berman had lied to Durst about being contacted by investigators, though they had planned on reaching out to her, the deputy district attorney said.
Lewin told jurors that the evidence would show that the killings were “not signs of a deranged individual,” but someone who was trying to protect himself after being backed into a corner.
“When Bob Durst killed Kathie, he killed Susan and Morris as well,” the deputy district attorney said. “Because once that happened, there was no turning back.”
The prosecutor also contended that Durst had unsuccessfully plotted to kill his brother, Douglas, who had assumed control of the Durst Organization after their father’s death.
In a motion asking that the alleged plot be allowed to be discussed before the jury, prosecutors alleged that Durst wore a ski mask with eye openings pulled back over his forehead and then accelerated and drove away at a high rate of speed when a security guard pulled a firearm on him after he drove into the driveway of his brother’s New York home.
“It’s been long and it’s complicated because Mr. Durst has committed a lot of crimes,” the prosecutor said as he neared the end of his opening statement.
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. 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.