Robert Durst's Murder Trial Begins After Decades of Suspicion – The New York Times,

Robert Durst's Murder Trial Begins After Decades of Suspicion – The New York Times,

Mr. Durst, the one-time heir to a Manhattan real estate empire who is suspected of several deaths, is on trial for the execution-style killing of a close friend.

Robert Durst during his murder trial in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Credit …

Alex Gallardo / Associated Press

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    LOS ANGELES – It is perhaps fitting that the defense team for Robert A. Durst , the one-time heir to a Manhattan real estate empire who is on trial for murder, It is now ensconced in the luxurious Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was over breakfast at that hotel in 2010 that Mr. Durst made the fateful decision to cooperate with a filmmaker, Andrew Jarecki, ultimately agreeing to provide more than hours of interviews and access to cartons of his personal papers. His decision to break his silence at the hotel – after nearly four decades of being trailed by suspicions that he was involved in the deaths of three people in three states – led in no small way to an HBO documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in 01575879 and his (subsequent arrest on murder charges) in the execution-style killing of his close friend Susan Berman in Los Angeles in December . The lawyers have established a war room at the hotel to plan their defense of Mr. Durst against the prosecution’s contention that their client executed Ms. Berman because he was afraid that she was about to reveal to the authorities her role in helping him cover-up the disappearance and murder of his first wife, Kathie, in .

    The prosecution also maintains that Mr. Durst killed a neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, where Mr. Durst had gone to hide after learning in October of a new investigation into his wife’s disappearance.

    In a vigorous opening statement from the defense on Tuesday, David Z. Chesnoff told the jury that there were no fingerprints, blood, DNA or fibers linking Mr. Durst to Ms. Berman’s death, the only slaying with which he has been charged.

    “We believe the absence of evidence is evidence that Bob is not guilty, ”Mr. Chesnoff said. Black’s slaying, a jury acquitted Mr. Durst in 2018, said Dick DeGuerin, Mr. Chesnoff’s co-counsel, despite Mr. Durst’s testimony about carving up the body and dumping it in Galveston Bay. untouched on Tuesday is what lies at the heart of the prosecution’s case: Mr. Durst’s own statements from hours of interviews with the producers of “The Jinx,” coupled with his many jail house phone calls and his nearly three-hour interview with John Lewin, deputy district attorney of Los Angeles. On Tuesday, Mr. DeGuerin attacked “The Jinx,” which he said was a “deviously misleading and heavily edited television production, not a documentary.” While it will not be played in court, the prosecution plans to show jurors the raw unedited interviews with Mr. Durst.

    In his own words, Mr. Durst conceded that he and his wife had a “pushing and shoving” fight the night she disappeared, months before her graduation from medical school. He admitted lying to the police about his whereabouts when she disappeared. In recent years, he has acknowledged that the couple’s marriage had been marked by his violence against her. He told Mr. Lewin in 2018 that Ms. Berman had told him shortly before she was killed that she was planning to talk to the investigators looking into Mrs. Durst’s disappearance. Investigators had long suspected that Ms. Berman, who was fiercely loyal to Mr. Durst, knew his secrets. “It’s a long and complicated story because Mr. Durst committed a lot of crimes, ”Mr. Lewin said as he connected his unusually long and detailed three-day opening statement for the prosecution. “As you’re listening, some of the most damaging aspects of this case are going to come from him.” And while there may be little “forensic evidence,” there is the simple fact that Mr. Durst was in Ms. Berman’s home around the time of her death. After 33 years of denying that Mr. Durst was in Los Angeles or at Ms. Berman’s house, his lawyers now say that Mr. Durst had told Ms. Berman – a close friend since the s when they both attended UCLA – that he was planning to visit her over the Christmas holidays, information that she excitedly relayed to her friends. Durst had also denied for years that he wrote an anonymous letter alerting the police to a dead body at Ms . Berman’s home. The letter was postmarked Dec. , , the day before the police discovered Ms. Berman at her home in a pool of blood with a gunshot wound to the back of her head.

    In their opening statement on Tuesday, the defense lawyers told the jury that Mr. Durst had used his key to enter Ms. Berman’s home. “Bob showed up and found her dead and he panicked,” Mr. DeGuerin said. “He wrote the anonymous letter so her body would be found and he ran. He’s run away all his life. ”

    The story of Mr. Durst, the alienated scion of a New York real estate family, has enough twists and turns to require a navigation app. And there is something in the story for everyone who has ever picked up a thriller: murder mysteries, cross-dressing, a nationwide manhunt; a prominent real estate family, a betrayal of biblical proportions and allegations of a cover-up. “I’ve never seen a more interesting case in my career,” Judge Mark E. Windham said during jury selection.

    The prosecution says that Ms. Berman made a critical phone call after Mrs. Durst disappeared, after a weekend away with her husband at their cottage north of Manhattan, that threw the investigation off course. Posing as his wife, Ms. Berman called a medical school dean saying that she would not attend a clinic rotation that day. Four days later, Mr. Durst walked into a Manhattan police station to report that his wife was missing.

    story, which focused on Manhattan rather than the couple’s suburban cottage, was big headlines in the city’s tabloids. Because there was no body and no sign of her, the case eventually faded away. (In late) , Mr. Durst learned that investigators had reopened the case and he fled to Texas, where he rented an apartment for $ a month and posed as a mute woman. A short time later, Ms. Berman was found dead in Los Angeles. Initially, suspicion fell on her landlady and her agent. But they were soon cleared and detectives turned to Mr. Durst, who at the time was in jail on charges of killing Mr. Black. As the defense depicted Mr. Durst as an odd and pathetic figure who failed to pick up on social cues, Mr. Lewin painted Mr. Durst as a man who never played by the rules, who would kill when backed into a corner.

    “Evidence will show.” , ”Many things, Mr. Lewin told the jury, including that “Bob Durst is a person who is going to protect and take care of Bob Durst.”

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