A California jury on Friday found millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of murdering his best friend Susan Berman in 2000, the first murder for a man suspected of killing three people in three states in the past 39 years. pleaded guilty.
Durst, 78, is likely to die in prison as a jury also found him guilty of the special circumstances of lying while waiting and killing a witness, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, who oversaw the trial, set a sentencing hearing on October 18.
The nine-woman, three-man jury deliberated for seven and a half hours over three days. Durst, who has been jailed for the duration of the trial, was not present to read the verdict because he was in isolation after coming into contact with someone with COVID-19.
Windham decided to read the verdict in Durst’s absence.
Los Angeles County prosecutors called Durst a “narcissistic psychopath” who murdered Berman in 1982 while attempting to cover up the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, in New York.
Durst was only on trial in California for Berman’s murder, but prosecutors argued that he murdered three people: his missing wife, Berman, and a neighbor in Texas who discovered his identity when Durst was hiding from the law. .
Despite the 29-year-old medical student, a longtime suspect in the disappearance of his wife, Durst was never charged. Prosecutors said he killed her and decided to kill Berman 18 years later because he had told others he had helped Durst cover up the crime. Burman, 55, was shot in the back of his head inside his Beverly Hills home.
Defense lawyers in turn portray Durst, an infirm cancer victim, as a “sick old man” who uses a wheelchair. But he stood as a witness for 15 days, nine of whom were under cross-examination.
The trial came six years after Durst’s candid confession in the HBO television documentary series “The Jinx”, in which Durst was caught saying to himself over a heated microphone in the bathroom, “What did I do? … kill them all. Dumped, of course.”
In 58 days spanning a year and a half, including a one-year suspension after the trial began because of the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors presented mountains of circumstantial evidence pointing to Durst, who testified that they discovered Berman’s murderous body. when he had gone. But didn’t call the police.
Prosecutors also investigated the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, a neighbor of Durst in Galveston, Texas. A Galveston jury acquitted Durst of murder, although Durst admitted that he dismembered Black’s body and dumped it in Galveston Bay.
At trial in Texas, and again in Los Angeles, Durst testified that Black drew a gun at him and was accidentally shot when two men wrestled over a firearm in Durst’s apartment.
California prosecutors argued that Durst killed Black because Black discovered Durst’s identity, and Durst feared Black would take him in. At the time Durst was using a fictitious name and disguised himself as a mute woman because she feared she might be arrested by New York investigators. who had reopened the case of his missing wife.
Black’s death marked the second time Durst had a dead body at his feet, according to his own testimony.
In the deaths of both Black and Berman, Durst said he first tried to call the 911 emergency number, but later decided against it, fearing that no one would believe he was not guilty.
Durst testified from a wheelchair, usually in a prison uniform, but wearing a baggy suit jacket that would have fit properly in his younger, more robust days. His voice weakened by esophageal cancer, he seemed different from the man with the confident New York accent that the jury members had seen in “The Jinx.”
In addition to the “The Jinx” audio, two other evidence appeared to damage Durst’s defense. There was a 2017 recorded testimony from a mutual friend, Nick Chavin, who said Durst admitted to her in 2014 that he killed Berman.
“I had to. It was him or me. I didn’t have a choice,” Chavin told Durst after her dinner at a New York City restaurant.
Durst also admitted that he had written a handwritten letter to Beverly Hills police with the words “cadaver” and Berman’s address, directing them to his undiscovered body. Durst had denied writing the note for 20 years, but relented before testimony could begin, facing evidence that the note was his.
Durst is the grandson of Joseph Durst and the son of Seymour Durst, who built The Durst Organization into one of New York City’s premier real estate companies, which have developed some of Manhattan’s signature skyscrapers.
Robert Durst had long ago left the company, now run by his estranged brother, Douglas Durst, who testified at trial and said of his brother: “He wants to kill me.”
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sonya Hepinstall