© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Robert Durst looks at jurors as he and his attorneys appear in an Inglewood courtroom to finalize arguments in his murder trial at the Inglewood Courthouse in California, the United States, Sept. 8, 2021. Al Sieb / Pool via REUTERS
By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – A California jury on Friday found multi-million dollar real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of the 2000 murder of best friend Susan Berman, the first conviction for the murder of a man suspected of three people in the past 39 years to have killed in three states.
Thirst, 78 and frail, is likely to die in prison as the jury also found him guilty of the special circumstances of lying in wait and killing a witness that resulted in a mandatory life sentence. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, overseeing the trial, scheduled a judgment hearing on October 18.
The trial came six years after Durst’s blatant admission on the HBO television documentary “The Jinx,” in which Durst was caught on a hot bathroom microphone and said to himself, “What the hell have I done?” … Killed everyone, of course. “
The nine-person, three-person jury spent seven and a half hours deliberating over three days. Durst, who was in prison for the duration of the trial, was absent when the verdict was read as he was in isolation after being exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Windham decided to read the verdict in Durst’s absence. He later spoke to lawyers on both sides and called the case “the most extraordinary trial I have ever seen or even heard”.
Los Angeles County attorneys called Durst a “narcissistic psychopath” who killed Berman to cover up the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in New York in 1982.
Durst was only on trial for killing Berman in California, but prosecutors argued he murdered three people: his missing wife, Berman, and a neighbor in Texas who discovered his identity at a time when Durst was hiding from the law .
Although Durst has long been a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, a 29-year-old medical student, he was never charged. Prosecutors said he killed her, then decided 18 years later to kill Berman for telling others that she helped Durst cover up the crime. Berman, 55, was shot in the back of the head at her Beverly Hills home.
Shortly after the verdict, the McCormack family released a statement calling on prosecutors in Westchester County, New York, to prosecute Durst.
“The Los Angeles judicial system has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family,” the statement said.
Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah reopened the case in May shortly after taking office.
Her office issued a statement Friday praising those involved in the conviction, but a spokesman said the Westchester investigation “is ongoing and we will not comment further at this time.”
Defense attorneys portrayed Durst, a cancer survivor using a wheelchair, as a “sick old man”. But he held out as a witness for 15 days, nine of which were cross-examined.
In 58 days, spread over a year and a half, including a year-and-a-half suspension after the coronavirus pandemic trial began, prosecutors presented mountains of evidence suggesting Thirst who claimed to have discovered Berman’s murdered body while visiting her but didn’t call the police.
Prosecutors also looked into the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, who was Durst’s neighbor in Galveston, Texas. A Galveston jury acquitted Durst of the murder, although Durst admitted to having chopped up Black’s body and disposed of in Galveston Bay.
Durst testified that Black was pulled a gun at him and was accidentally shot when the two men wrestled over the gun in Durst’s apartment.
Black’s death, according to his own admission, was the second time that Durst had a corpse at his feet.
After Black and Berman died, Durst said he first tried calling 911 but later decided against it for fear that no one would believe he was not guilty.
Durst testified from a wheelchair, usually in a prison uniform, but also in a baggy suit jacket that would have fit just right in his younger, sturdier days.
In addition to the audio from “The Jinx,” two other pieces of evidence appeared to damage Durst’s defense. One was the recorded testimony from 2017 by Nick Chavin, a mutual friend, who said Durst admitted to killing Berman in 2014.
“I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice,” said Chavin Durst one evening after dinner in a New York restaurant.
Durst also admitted that he wrote a handwritten letter to the Beverly Hills Police Department with the word “Carcass” and Berman’s address directing them to her undiscovered corpse. Durst had denied writing the note for 20 years.
Durst is the grandson of Joseph Durst and son of Seymour Durst who made The Durst Organization one of New York City’s premier real estate companies.
Robert Durst left the company a long time ago, now run by his estranged brother Douglas Durst, who testified in court and said of his sibling, “He would like to kill me.”