Your Scorecard for the Robert Durst TrialBy
Los Angeles prosecutors presenting the murder case against Robert Durst must knit together events tracing back to the days of disco. Durst, the 73-year-old New York real-estate heir, is charged with killing a friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 because she knew too much about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife 18 years earlier. Though the trial hasn’t been scheduled yet, prosecutors and defense lawyers have started preliminary skirmishes. First up: a hearing Friday over protecting witnesses, with fights still to come over whether the district attorney has enough evidence to put the itinerant, pot-smoking, gun-toting and at times cross-dressing Durst on trial. Here’s a look at some of the key evidence and points of contention:
The Unidentified Witnesses
Friday’s hearing focuses on the district attorney’s proposed “conditional examination” of as many as 10 potential witnesses, in case they’re not available when the case goes to trial. Prosecutors want to start bringing witnesses to court as early as Feb. 14 to videotape their testimony, and they don’t want to tell Durst’s lawyers who most of these witnesses are until a week or two before they show up. Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said Durst is believed to have killed two possible witnesses already. Even though Durst, who has pleaded not guilty, is behind bars, he’s worth $100 million and witnesses are “understandably concerned about their safety,” Lewin said.
The Mysterious Phone Call
One witness is Albert Kuperman, a retired doctor who was an associate dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. In that role, Kuperman received a call purportedly from Durst’s first wife, Kathie, the day after she was last seen alive in 1982. The prosecution’s theory is that Kuperman barely knew Kathie Durst, a medical student, and that the call was made by Berman, pretending to be Kathie and saying she wasn’t able to come to work. Berman, a longtime friend of Robert Durst, served as his spokesman after his wife disappeared. During an interview the day after his arrest in March 2015, Durst was asked by prosecutors to explain why Kathie would call in sick to the dean of the medical school rather than the doctor she reported to.
The Jailhouse Interview
During that jailhouse interview in New Orleans, Durst agreed to talk to the prosecutors without his lawyers present, though he declined to respond to questions about Berman’s murder. Durst’s lawyers claim the interview was improper. It’s become a problem for them because Durst told the prosecutors that he allowed the makers of “The Jinx,” the 2015 HBO documentary about his enigmatic life, unlimited access to files he had stored at a friend’s house in upstate New York. The D.A. now says that by giving the filmmakers access to about 50 boxes of files -- which investigators later seized from the friend, Susan Giordano -- Durst waived attorney-client privilege to communications with his lawyers that are part of the trove. His lawyers have said they will fight the prosecution on this.
The ‘Beverley’ Note
A key piece of evidence so far against Durst is an anonymous note sent to “Beverley Hills” police after Berman’s shooting on or about Dec. 23, 2000, reporting a “cadaver” at her address. In the HBO documentary, the filmmakers confront Durst with the envelope of a letter he sent to Berman shortly before she was killed that has the same handwriting and the same misspelling of Beverly Hills. Lewin told Durst last year that the D.A.’s experts have said there was “no question” they were written by the same person.
The Mobster’s Daughter
One theory prosecutors floated during their interview with Durst was that he was being “subtly” squeezed by Berman in 2000. Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, had been in money trouble and Durst had sent her two $25,000 checks shortly before her death. That was around the same time he found out that police in Westchester County, New York, had reopened the investigation of Kathie Durst’s disappearance. Durst has said that Berman told him detectives had contacted her; if she told him that, she was lying, according to the D.A.
The ‘Jinx’ Microphone
Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence came in the final episode of “The Jinx.” After being confronted with the handwriting evidence, Durst went to the bathroom with his microphone still on and is heard muttering to himself, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” apparently referring to Berman, Kathie and his onetime neighbor in Galveston, Texas, Morris Black. Durst was arrested the day before the final episode of “The Jinx” was shown on HBO. He appeared to be ready to flee the country.
The Dead Neighbor
Durst won an acquittal in the 2001 killing of Black by convincing a jury that he shot his former neighbor in self-defense before carving up the body and dumping the parts in Galveston Bay. Now prosecutors say they will produce new evidence, and shed new light on old evidence, to prove that Durst killed Black for knowing too much -- the same reason he is accused of killing Berman. Durst rented his place in Galveston in November 2000 pretending to be a mute woman. That was after Durst learned that the investigation of Kathie Durst’s disappearance had been reopened. He eventually befriended and disclosed his true identity to Black, who was living in the apartment next door.
The Reference Shelf
- Vanity Fair’s 2015 feature on Durst and the allegations against him.
- A 2015 Bloomberg interview with Jeanine Pirro, the former district attorney of Westchester County, New York, who in 2000 reopened the cold missing-person case of Kathleen Durst.
- HBO’s website for the six-part documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
- Charlie Rose discussed “The Jinx” with its director, Andrew Jarecki, and its producer and cinematographer, Marc Smerling.
- Bloomberg View columnist Stephen L. Carter argued that Durst’s confession in the documentary is admissible.
- In a 2015 New York Times interview, Douglas Durst talked about his brother: “There’s no doubt in my mind that if he had the opportunity to kill me, he would.”