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Robert Durst murder case: Fate of eccentric millionaire in the hands of the jury

Robert Durst murder case: Fate of eccentric millionaire in the hands of the jury

Durst is charged with the first-degree murder of her close friend and confidant, Susan Berman, in 2000 at her home in Beverly Hills, hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack. Durst, who was last seen in 1982.

Defendant was sitting in a wheelchair, wearing a baggy gray blazer and white shirt, as concluding arguments ended, and Judge Mark Windham sent the panel to the jury. The nine women and three men began deliberations just after noon local time.

Durst, 78, took a stand on his defense during the sensational lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He refused to kill Berman, saying he found her on the floor of her bedroom with a fatal shot to the head.

In conclusion, prosecutor Habib Balian argued before the juries that the case was simple: Berman knew Durst had killed his wife and helped him cover it up, according to the prosecutor.

Balian pointed to one of the state’s strongest witnesses, a longtime friend of both Durst and Berman, Nick Chavin, who testified that defendant had told him, “It was her or me,” referring to Berman. “I had no choice.”

“These nine words sum up the whole case,” Balian told jurors.

McCormack Durst was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in that case.

Attorney Dick DeGuerin eventually portrayed his client as a sick and unhappy old man who was corrupted by prosecutors whose case was elaborate at best.

“If you come to two or more reasonable conclusions about where the circumstantial evidence leads you, say ‘not guilty,'” DeGuerin said.

He added: “If you are who you should be, still ask yourself, ‘What happened to Kathie? Where? When? How?’ “Then there is reasonable doubt. You can not guess. You must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt.”

DeGuerin told jurors they were not expected to like or even believe Durst – whose cross-examination revealed several lies he had made over the years – but being a liar did not make him a murderer.

“I think you can see from Bob Durst’s 14 days at the witness stand that his compass is not pointing north,” DeGuerin said. “He’s unusual. And I do not think you need a psychiatrist to tell you that.”

His testimony lasted for three weeks

Prosecutors allege that Durst shot Berman in the head to prevent her from accusing him of the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen, in 1982. They say Durst confided in Berman that he had killed Kathleen and that she helped him with covering its tracks.

Chief Prosecutor John Lewin, a cold case specialist from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, argued loudly and at times mockingly with Durst during his testimony.

At the stand, Durst denied having murdered his first wife and later Berman. But during cross-examination, Durst testified that he would have hurt himself if he had killed them.

Susan Berman and Robert Durst in the mid to late 1990s.

“Did you kill Susan Berman?” Lewin asked Durst, who was sitting immersed in his wheelchair a few feet away.

“No,” Durst replied in a weak but emphatic voice.

“But if you had, you would be lying about it, right?” asked Lewin.

“Right,” Durst replied.

Lewin urged Durst to admit he has injured himself five times during the trial, which resumes in May after a 14-month delay due to the pandemic.

Durst’s testimony spanned three weeks, with much of the cross-examination revolving around controversial sparring with Lewin.

Lewin and Durst first squared in a prison cell in New Orleans in 2015 after Durst agreed to an interview that would last three hours without his attorneys present, which could raise potentially harmful claims and complain about his many physical ailments.
Real estate agent Robert Durst, accused of killing his close friend, takes a stand

There was little physical evidence of Berman’s unresolved death. There were no eyewitnesses and no murder weapons.

An important piece of evidence was the so-called “corpse” note, a cryptic letter sent to the police with Berman’s address and the word “corpse” in caps that led detectives to her body.

In the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx,” Durst said the letter could only have been sent by Berman’s killer. Defense attorneys had previously denied Durst wrote the note, and they unsuccessfully tried to exclude manuscript evidence of it from the trial.

Filmmakers confronted Durst with yet another letter he once sent Berman to, with almost identical handwriting to the note “corpse.” In both, Beverly Hills was misspelled as “BEVERLEY.

In one case, lawyers for the real estate mogul filed the course late last year, acknowledging that Durst wrote the anonymous note. “This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman,” DeGuerin said at the time.

He has previously been acquitted of murder

Defense attorneys David Z. Chesnoff, left, and Dick DeGuerin, right, adjust Robert Durst's wheelchair during opening statements in his May 18, 2021 murder case.

Durst’s decision to take a stand on his own murder case had worked for him in an earlier case.

In 2003, Durst in Texas testified that he had shot a neighbor, Morris Black, fatally in self-defense, and admitted that he cut his body up with surgical precision and dumped it in Galveston Bay. He said he did so in panic, while prosecutors maintained he wanted to steal the man’s identity and escape the investigation into his wife’s disappearance.

The Texas jury, hearing how Durst posed as a dumb woman while hiding in Galveston, accepted his self-defense claim and acquitted him of manslaughter.

Durst’s second murder case is another chapter in an unusual life that reached the audience through the miniseries “The Jinx”.

Trial against Robert Durst, the subject of the crime documentary 'The Jinx,' restarts after break for coronavirus

He was arrested in New Orleans the night before the final episode of the show aired. In the last moments, Durst walked into the bathroom and apparently did not seem to have his microphone still on, making a series of comments that became infamous.

“There it is. You’re trapped,” he said in a series of seemingly independent sentences. “He was right. I was wrong.”

“What the hell have I done? Killed them all, of course,” he said in what was widely interpreted by viewers as a confession. But transcripts of the audio recording in court revealed that the quotes were spliced ​​and edited to be in a different order and context, The New York Times reported. Durst has said he was “high on meth” during the filming of the documentary.

Durst’s health has deteriorated since the documentary. He is thin and bent and speaks in a whispering voice. Durst has bladder cancer and has undergone several surgeries, including inserting a shunt into his head to ease the pressure on his brain.

Durst has long maintained that he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance.

McCormack Durst was on her way to medical school in New York when she disappeared in 1982. Prosecutors said her disappearance preceded marital problems and physical abuse from Durst.

“He’s been running from the truth for 39 years,” Balian told jurors last week. “Let him not run from the truth any more.”

CNN’s Stella Chan and Cheri Mossburg contributed to this report.

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