New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who was serving life in prison without parole for killing a friend in her Benedict Canyon home, died Monday.
One of Durst’s attorneys, Chip Lewis, said the 78-year-old Durst died “while in the custody of the California Department of Corrections” and that his death was believed to be “due to natural causes associated with the litany of medical issues we had repeatedly reported to the court over the last couple of years.”
Lewis said attorneys would have no further statements about Durst’s death.
Durst died at San Joaquin General Hospital in Stockton, according to various media reports.
“To the end, Mr. Durst was unrepentant and completely unremorseful and refused to take any responsibility for his actions to the point of repeatedly and continuously perjuring himself during his testimony at his trial,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told City News Service shortly after Durst’s death. “For those reasons, my sympathies lie not with Mr. Durst but with his victims and their families.”
Durst was convicted Sept. 17 of first-degree murder for the December 2000 shooting of Susan Berman, and was sentenced Oct. 14 to life in prison.
Durst testified that he found the lifeless body of the 55-year-old writer — with whom he had been close friends for years after the two met at UCLA — when he arrived at her home and that he subsequently sent an anonymous note to police notifying them about a “cadaver” in the house.
Prosecutors alleged that Durst killed Berman to prevent her from incriminating him in a renewed police investigation into the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” Durst, 29, in 1982.
The defense disputed the prosecution’s contention that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst after she disappeared.
He was indicted last Nov. 1 for Kathie Durst’s killing, shortly after he was sentenced for Berman’s murder.
In a statement released after Durst’s death, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah said her office had been working with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to transfer Durst to New York in connection with the indictment.
“After 40 years spent seeking justice for her death, I know how upsetting this news must be for Kathleen Durst’s family,” Rocah said in the statement. “We had hoped to allow them the opportunity to see Mr. Durst finally face charges for Kathleen’s murder because we know that all families never stop wanting closure, justice and accountability.”
That county’s top prosecutor said her office plans to make further information surrounding the case — to the extent allowed by law — available to the public in the coming days in light of Durst’s death.
Kathie Durst’s body was never found and she was declared legally dead, at her family’s request, in 2017. Robert Durst divorced Kathie Durst in 1990 citing abandonment.
Investigators reopened the case in 1999, searching a lake and the couple’s home, with Rocah’s office and the New York State Police again re-opening the investigation into Kathie Durst’s disappearance shortly after Rocah’s 2020 election.
Two days after Durst’s sentencing, one of his attorneys said Durst had contracted COVID and was on a ventilator. He was eventually moved to a state prison.
Durst’s attorneys had unsuccessfully repeatedly sought delays in the defendant’s trial for Berman’s killing, with lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin telling Superior Court Judge Mark Windham last July that his client was “too sick to continue.”
“He’s too sick to make the decision whether to testify,” Durst’s lawyer said then. “It’s cruel and unusual for Mr. Durst to be put through this in his condition. You should put a stop to this.”
A doctor who examined Durst twice and reviewed his medical records testified last summer that he believed that Durst should be immediately hospitalized and that his medical conditions are affecting his cognitive abilities. Durst has a series of “active problems,” including bladder cancer, esophageal cancer and chronic kidney disease, the doctor wrote in a letter that was included in the defense’s court papers.
The judge said last August that Durst had “endured 11 weeks of trial, but remains physically present,” adding that “the gravity of the crime dwarfs the significance of Mr. Durst’s illness” and the law “does not support ending proceedings, suspending proceedings or releasing the defendant prior to a verdict.”
The judge noted then that the court would take “measures to mitigate Mr. Durst’s discomfort,” including taking breaks as needed.
Durst — who subsequently spent 15 days on the stand testifying in his own defense — told jurors that he “did not kill” Berman, his first wife or his former neighbor, Morris Black, of whose murder he was acquitted following a trial in Texas.
Durst had 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’s then-neighbor in Texas in late 1982.
Durst was tried for Black’s killing and dismemberment, but he was acquitted after testifying that the gun went off accidentally during a struggle. Prosecutors in that case also alleged that Black had figured out Durst’s true identity. Durst was in hiding at the time.
Under questioning by his own attorney last year, 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 HBO series “The Jinx.”
Durst said a bathroom recording of him in “The Jinx” 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 said it was a “very, very, very big mistake” for him to expect that the series would be favorable to him.
Durst was the grandson of Joseph Durst, founder of the Durst Organization, one of Manhattan’s largest commercial real estate firms. Prosecutors estimate that Robert Durst’s share of the family fortune was $100 million.