Prosecutors in Robert Durst’s case asked a judge Wednesday to allow jurors to hear videotaped testimony of the government’s star witness and three other people who live outside of California after the trial resumes for the New York real estate scion, who’s charged with murdering a longtime friend at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
In court papers, prosecutors wrote that the four witnesses — including Nathan “Nick” Chavin — are all over 65 years old and are “at higher risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19” and asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham to find that they are unavailable to travel to Southern California to appear before the jury in Durst’s trial.
Chavin, now 75 and a New York state resident, was videotaped while testifying at a February 2017 hearing that he asked Durst about their mutual friend, Susan Berman, and that Durst responded that he “had no choice.”
“Bob said, `I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice,” Chavin said of the conversation that he said took place with his longtime friend after a dinner in December 2014.
Asked then if he still felt a bond with Durst, Chavin said, “It sounds ridiculous, but yes.”
“This was a best friend who admitted to killing my other best friend,” he said then.
Prosecutors are also asking the judge to allow jurors to hear the videotaped testimony of Charles Lachman, Steven Silverman and retired New York Police Department detective Michael Struk, who each testified in court earlier.
Prosecutors wrote that it would be “unnecessary under the law and reckless with the lives of these witnesses and their families for any court to order them to fly across the country, enduring two international airports, to testify a second time.”
Testimony began in mid-March, but was soon called off as part of an effort to reduce the chances for the virus to spread.
Jurors were initially due back in court as early as April 6, but the judge subsequently postponed the resumption of the trial until May 26.
Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman after she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathie.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors alleged that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities launched a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.
In his opening statement in Durst’s Los Angeles murder trial in March, lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin told jurors that Durst panicked after finding the woman’s body inside her home while coming to visit her for the holidays. Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note” that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found, Durst’s attorney said.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did. He did find her body shortly after someone had shot her in the head,” DeGuerin said, noting that jurors would hear Durst testify in his own defense during the trial.
Durst, who turned 77 earlier this month, was profiled in a six-part HBO television series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was later recorded saying “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course.”
DeGuerin told the panel that the series was “heavily edited” and “not a documentary.”
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.
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