Jurors in Durst Murder Case Could Face 5 Month Trial

New York real estate heir Robert Durst is going on trial for murder five years after his arrest in an old California killing

In this file photo, New York real estate scion Robert Durst appears in the Los Angeles Superior Court Airport Branch for a pre-trial motions hearing involving witnesses that are expected to testify before the trial January 6, 2017.
Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

For someone who says he doesn't like talking with people, Robert Durst has shown a propensity to open up to strangers. It has not done him any favors.

The New York real estate heir's lengthy interviews with filmmakers led to a damning documentary on his suspected role in three killings. Before the final episode aired, he was arrested and behind bars, where he then spent nearly three hours talking with the prosecutor who had been on his tail for two years.

All of that leads to a Los Angeles courtroom Wednesday where attorneys will begin selecting jurors for Durst's trial on murder charges in the slaying of his best friend.

Durst, 76, has pleaded not guilty to charges he shot Susan Berman execution-style in the back of the head in December 2000.

Jurors have been screened to make sure they can serve for up to five months and Judge Mark Windham hopes to have a pool of 400 prospective panelists, said Mary Hearn, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles Superior Court.

Prosecutors contend Durst silenced Berman from telling investigators what she knew about the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen, in New York. They plan to present evidence Durst also killed a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 to protect his identity while he was living on the run from what he expected would be charges in his wife's death.

He was never charged in his wife's presumed killing and was acquitted of killing Morris Black in Texas. Durst testified that he shot Black in self-defense and then panicked and dismembered the elderly man's body and tossed it out to sea.

Defense lawyers contend Durst did not kill Berman and doesn't know who did.

With little physical evidence in the case, prosecutors will be leaning heavily on Durst's own words he allegedly said to friends and in recorded interviews he gave to the makers of the "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" and Deputy District Attorney John Lewin.

The investigation in Berman's death took on new life after the documentary makers unearthed a letter Durst wrote to Berman years earlier. The envelope had nearly identical handwriting to a note sent anonymously to police directing them to Berman's lifeless body.

The note mailed the day of the killing contained only the word "CADAVER" and Berman's address. Both letters misspelled Beverly Hills as "BEVERLEY."

Durst told filmmakers that only the killer could have written the so-called cadaver letter. When confronted with the letter he sent years earlier to Berman, he couldn't distinguish between the two, though he denied killing her.

Defense lawyers recently conceded Durst wrote the letter, though they have said it could have been sent by someone who didn't kill her but knew there was a body in her house.

That claim is undermined by what Durst told Lewin in a New Orleans jail cell after his arrest in March 2015.

Durst told Lewin that "whoever wrote that note had to be involved in Susan's death."

"I know that when you killed Susan, that was not something you wanted to do," Lewin said. "Do you know how I know that?"

"Umm, I'm gonna stay away from killing Susan," Durst said.

"You know that the killer left a note. Right?" Lewin said.

"I know that," Durst said.

Durst, who told Lewin he didn't like communicating with people, said he has not always told the truth. Defense lawyers have suggested their client has not always been reliable.

Durst told Lewin he was high on methamphetamine during the 20 hours of interviews he gave for "The Jinx," though he said he stood by his answers.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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