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The multimillionaire real estate legacy gained fame after being portrayed in the HBO documentary The Jinx.
Posted on Sep 17, 2021 at 7:07 pm ET
Robert Durst, the multimillionaire real estate heir who appeared to confess three murders in the HBO documentary The Jinx, was convicted on Friday in Los Angeles of killing his longtime friend Susan Berman in December 2000.
The jury found that Susan Berman was killed for witnessing a crime – that is, Durst provided an alibi for the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. With this verdict, the jury signaled that they believed Durst, now 78, also killed Kathie Durst in 1982 and murdered Berman for believing she would implicate him in the earlier crime.
Durst was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read after being isolated due to possible COVID-19 exposure. The jury deliberated a little over seven and a half hours before reaching a verdict. Judge Mark A. Wyndham thanked the jury for their services and said it was « the most extraordinary trial » he has ever attended or seen.
Prosecutors have effectively charged Durst with three murders: Berman, Kathie Durst and his contentious 71-year-old Galveston neighbor, Morris Black, who died in September 2001.
Durst admitted killing and dismembered Black but claimed the death was an accident, and the jury in that one He was found not guilty of the murder trial. Despite the gruesome nature of Black’s murder, the Galveston, Texas jury believed Durst’s testimony that he accidentally shot Black during a fight, panicked the body and disposed of the remains in Galveston Bay.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles argued that Black knew the true identity of Durst, who had fled to Galveston and lived in disguise (as a woman unable to speak) to avoid District Attorney Jeanine Pirro’s re-investigation into his wife’s disappearance in New York. Although the Galveston jury acquitted Durst and he could not be charged again for the crime, Los Angeles attorneys were allowed to produce evidence from the case to determine the motive for Berman’s murder: Black, like Berman before him, could indeed be thirsty Woman involved disappearing almost two decades earlier.
Assistant District Attorney Habib A. Balian (left) with Assistant District Attorney John Lewin as the District Attorney begins with the closing arguments.
The People v. Robert Durst (2.0) was unprecedented in many ways. Most importantly, it was the first high-profile criminal case to be interrupted because of the pandemic. The jury only heard two days of testimony before the judge dropped the case in March 2020. The trial was then postponed several times before finally resuming more than a year later on May 17th.
During the marathon trial, the jury heard testimony for 54 days, including video recordings of witnesses interviewed earlier – beginning in early 2017 because they were about to die before the trial. Wyndham also allowed prosecutors to include testimony from the Black trial, but in the absence of video, « actors » – including trial attorneys and law students – took the stand to read loud transcripts to the jury in a Hollywood audition. p> Thirst’s health has been deteriorating for years. Prior to the study, he had esophageal cancer and underwent a number of unrelated surgeries, including a shunt to remove fluid from his brain. His head was shaved on his first court appearance in LA and showed a prominent scar on his scalp. Visibly frail, he sits in a wheelchair, wears a hearing aid, has a hoarse voice and his urine is collected in an exposed catheter bag that Deputy District Attorney John Lewin changed once during his lunch break.
In a prison interview with Lewin in March 2015 in New Orleans – the day the Jinx finals aired – Durst said his doctors had told him he had five years to live. In LA, his defense team recently argued that he was physically or mentally unable to testify and asked for a wrongful trial. « He’s too sick to make a decision on whether to testify, » said his chief attorney Dick DeGuerin, who had successfully represented him in Galveston. “It is cruel and unusual for Mr. Durst to go through something like this in his condition. You should put an end to this. «
Wyndham declined, noting that Durst had been » a fairly active participant « throughout the process. » He dresses in court, he listens, he takes notes, he does speaks to his lawyers, he waves to his friends and acquaintances in the audience. «
For the next nine days of the testimony, Durst remained sharp and committed. In Galveston, where the jury was influenced by his pantomime of a fight for a weapon , which led to the death of Black, his testimony had worked in his own name.
In his closing statements, prosecutor Lewin Durst called « happy » to have lived so long despite his health problems. « His victims and theirs Families don’t have the same peace of mind, ”he said.
When Thirst was younger, witnesses testified, he was capable of incredible violence – including kicking his wife’s guest in the face so hard he got a bone en broke, Kathie thirst tore her hair from a party, gave her a black eye and other visible injuries identified by her friends and colleagues, and during another argument in her Manhattan penthouse, she was attacked and threatened with death . She was so scared that she crawled out of the window of her apartment on the 16th floor in only her pajamas, climbed around a parapet on her terrace and begged her neighbors to let her in, shocked the courtroom, told of an incident in which his brother told him knocked so hard in a revolving door that he fell to the ground in the street.
But it seems that his other brother, Douglas Durst, was most afraid of Robert Durst. He had an injunction against him, which Durst was arrested for violating in 2008 when he tried to sneak into his brother’s property while wearing a ski mask. On another visit he carried two weapons with him. On a call to the prison, he was taped with code words interpreted to mean that he intended to kill Douglas Durst. When Durst was arrested in 2001 for shoplifting and bail jumping, the police found a notebook with the note: « What DD does to me puts me in the same place as what Kathie did to me. » The notebook also contained four Douglas phone numbers Thirst. Police also found two .38 caliber revolvers and 86 rounds of ammunition.
Balian is holding a rubber latex mask that Robert Durst was wearing when police arrested him, along with a fake ID and more than 42,000 US dollars -Dollars in cash.
A .38 caliber revolver was one of the items the FBI inventoried in Durst’s New Orleans hotel room after his arrest in 2015. They also found a chest-length « flesh-colored mask with salt and pepper hair » that Prosecutor Habib Balian waved to the jury in closing arguments. Instead of hiding in Galveston, Durst might have his sights on Cuba: Agents also found a map of the country – which has no extradition treaty with the United States – along with a fake ID, his passport and birth certificate and $ 44,600 in $ 100 bills / p> Though the case of Durst was more than dramatic, a « catch case » was stolen from prosecutors when, shortly before the trial began, Durst admitted to writing the anonymous « corpse note » that alerted Beverly Hills police to it had a body at Berman’s address. It was the highlight scene of The Jinx – before the hot microphone-bathing confession of the finale – when filmmaker Andrew Jarecki confronted Durst with another envelope they had found addressed to Berman on Durst’s office paper, written in block letters, the practically identical to the « Corpse Note. » Both envelopes misspelled « Beverly » as « Beverley ».
Although he had denied writing the « Corpse Note » for years, Durst and his defense team now admitted that he was at the scene but said Durst discovered Berman’s body and then fled in a panic. Lewin, in turn, made a lot of the fact that Durst admitted in her 2015 prison interview – of which various clips were played throughout the process – that only the killer could have written the note. Lewin also relied on evidence that Durst had apparently taken drastic measures in his itineraries and transportation to ensure no one knew he had been visiting LA at the time of Berman’s death.
Prosecutors also focused on the » BD Story « , a 33-page chronicle of 12 years of Durst’s life ( » BD « refers to » Bob « s initials), which was created in advance of the Black Trial. Durst repeatedly denied having written it, and although prosecutors believed it cited incriminating details, the defense argued that it was simply prepared for trial by Durst’s lawyers.
The jury was also given a copy of the « excavation notice » shown, what appears to be a to-do list that Kathie Durst’s sister found in a trash at the Thirst’s house a week after she disappeared. Durst admitted he wrote the note but insisted that « dig » is short for « digital » and his defense pronounced it as « dij ». Some of the scribbles are open to interpretation, but essentially they are, « City dump, bridge, dig, boat, miscellaneous, shovel it ?, check car-truck rental. » Durst explained the last point by asking a local child to rent a truck to haul his old sailboat to the landfill.
Despite all the hype surrounding The Jinx – which provided enough convincing evidence of thirst to be arrested the day before its explosive premiere – filmmaker Jarecki did not say the end. Prosecutors played much of the damning footage from the audio commentary of The Jinx and Durst for the DVD of All Good Things, a film loosely based on Durst’s life and alleged crimes. However, the defense pointed out that the famous “What the hell have I done? Naturally all killed ”line manipulated by Jarecki:“ Naturally all killed ”precedes“ What the hell have I done? ”With several muttered remarks in between.
However, a large part of the defense strategy involved victim shame. Kathie Durst has been portrayed as an « unstable » social climber suffering from a drug addiction that ruined her studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Durst said the medical school only accepted her into its program because of his family’s wealth and influence. However, her colleagues believed her grades had slipped because she was physically and mentally abused by her husband and feared he would kill her.
The defense described Susan Berman as a failed writer who essentially lived in a cheap apartment who recently sent two checks for $ 25,000 to Durst for being such a good friend. But prosecutors argued that she was extorting thirst, and the payments were supposed to keep her from telling the police that she had previously given him an alibi by pretending to be Kathie and herself at the time Kathie went missing , reported sick to her medical school. Berman’s girlfriend, Saturday Night Live alum Laraine Newman, said Berman confessed this to her, although she later resigned.
Aside from Durst’s blatant admission to The Jinx, the most damning second-hand confessions came from Nick Chavin, a mutual friend von Berman und Durst, whose testimony was repeated hours before the jury’s deliberations began. He said Berman told him that « Bob killed Kathie » and that thirst herself confessed to her. However, Berman – the daughter of a gangster from Las Vegas – insisted on staying true to Durst.
Probably Durst expected the same loyalty when he invited Chavin to dinner in 2014 to « talk about Susan ».
« I had to, » said Chavin Durst, which he interpreted as a confession to having shot her friend in the back of the head in her house.
His next nine words, said prosecutor Balian in his closing arguments, summed up the whole case:
A BuzzFeed News investigation conducted with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists based on thousands of documents the government refused to see.
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