Testifying in his murder trial, Robert Durst told jurors that he thought the person who killed his longtime friend and confidante at her Benedict Canyon home just before Christmas Eve 2000 was still on the property when he arrived to find her dead.
In his eighth day on the stand, the 78-year-old defendant said, “I am saying that I arrived at Susan Berman’s house in Benedict Canyon before the killer had left and that I promptly myself left.”
Near the end of the fourth day of Durst’s cross-examination, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin asked, “So, now you’re saying that the killer was actually in the house when you were there?”
Durst responded, “I believe the killer was either still in the house or in the yard when I arrived.”
Durst said he put his hand on the 55-year-old writer’s face, which he described as feeling “cold,” but said he did not feel her body was cold when he lifted her up by her arms.
“So, it’s your position that she might have only been dead for five minutes, her face is cold and that the killer is still in the house? Is that what you’re telling this jury?” the prosecutor asked.
“Correct,” the defendant responded as testimony wrapped up for the day.
He is due back on the stand Tuesday at the Inglewood courthouse.
Durst — who has long denied being involved in Berman’s shooting death — had testified under questioning by his own attorney that 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 that 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, Kathie.
The prosecutor 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 was acquitted in Texas of Black’s murder.
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.”
On the stand Monday, Durst said Berman was “lying” when she made statements to friends that she had provided an alibi for Durst by calling the medical school where Kathie Durst was a student and posing as her during a telephone call.
“Susan liked to make up stories,” Durst testified. “She liked to tell big stories … What Susan told each of those people was a lie.”
Durst has also repeatedly denied being involved in his first wife’s disappearance.
When asked why he didn’t call Kathie Durst’s family to check if they knew where she was before reporting her missing to police, he told jurors, “I’m not a normal person. I am told I am somewhere on the autism spectrum. I don’t know what a normal person does.”
Durst has 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 testified earlier that 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 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.