Testifying in his murder trial, Robert Durst again denied Wednesday that he was involved in the killing of his longtime friend and confidante in her Benedict Canyon home just before Christmas Eve 2000 or the disappearance of his first wife, who vanished in 1982.
In his sixth day on the stand, the 78-year-old defendant said he “did not kill” Susan Berman, his first wife, Kathie, or his former neighbor, Morris Black, of whose murder he was acquitted following a trial in Texas.
Superior Court Judge Mark Windham ordered the testimony to be stricken along with a question by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who asked if statements Durst had made during his testimony Tuesday in which he admitted that he wouldn’t tell the jury if he was in fact responsible for the killings were “devastating, maybe fatal to your entire case” and could be “interpreted as a confession.”
“I would agree that they are not devastating because I did not kill Morris, I did not kill Kathie and I did not kill Susan Berman, and I am not going to go along with your hypotheticals,” Durst said even after the judge had sustained the defense’s objection to Lewin’s query.
Durst said he shouldn’t have responded at all Tuesday to the prosecutor’s hypothetical questions about whether he would tell jurors the truth if he had been involved with killing Berman, his first wife or Black because the questions were “all wrong.”
The testy exchange was one in a series between Durst and Lewin, who alleged that the defendant had set a “the perjury record” as the prosecutor was nearly finished with his second day of cross-examination. The judge sustained the defense’s objection, telling jurors at the end of the court session that the deputy district attorney should not have made that comment.
Durst — who has long denied being involved in the killing — previously testified he found Berman’s lifeless body after arriving at her home and sent an anonymous note to police notifying them about a “cadaver” in the house.
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, Lewin told jurors ithat the evidence would show Durst shot and killed Berman “out of survival” because he feared she would tell authorities about his involvement in the disappearance of his first wife.
Lewin called the cases of Kathie Durst and Susan Berman “interrelated,” and told jurors they would hear evidence 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 in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, because Black figured out who Durst was and was putting pressure on him.
Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told jurors that his client showed up at Berman’s home and “panicked” after finding her dead.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did,” DeGuerin said in May.
DeGuerin disputed the prosecution’s contention that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst after she disappeared, and called Berman a “storyteller” who had a “great imagination” and “made things up.”
The prosecutor’s cross-examination so far has largely focused on the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst, a fourth-year medical student whom Durst contends had enrolled in an outpatient drug rehabilitation program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York to deal with a cocaine problem.
Lewin showed jurors a copy of a document in which the same hospital is listed as his wife’s first preference for a residency program and questioned why Durst had never told investigators about her alleged entry into the drug rehab program before saying it while on the stand.
“You’re asking me to try to explain my wife. I cannot explain my wife,” Durst said. “This is what she did.”
The defendant denied the prosecutor’s assertion that he was “making this up literally as you go along.”
Durst acknowledged that he wouldn’t give anyone a key to his personal residence because that is his private space, but said that none of his personal property was in the $300-a-month studio apartment he rented in Galveston, Texas, and that he gave Black his key so he could watch TV in his unit when he wasn’t there.
The defendant had earlier told jurors that he was “scared” upon seeing Black with a gun, struggled with him for control of the weapon and “the gun went off.” He had also testified in his own defense in his trial in Texas that ended with his acquittal.
Under questioning by his own attorney on Tuesday, Durst said he decided — against the advice of others including an attorney — to speak with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki for a series of interviews that later became the six-part HBO series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which examined Kathie Durst’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
Durst said a bathroom recording of him in which he said, “There it is, you’re caught,” referred to the cadaver note. He had been confronted by Jarecki 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 — who said it was a “very, very, very big mistake” for him to expect that the series would be favorable to him — told jurors he subscribed to HBO so he could watch the series and became convinced by the fifth segment that he was going to be arrested and decided to travel from Houston to New Orleans to go into hiding. He said he took a gun because he was going to shoot himself.
On cross-examination, Durst said said Jarecki asked him to say that the note to police could only have been written by the killer.
Durst — who is due back on the stand Thursday to continue his testimony — 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.
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.