LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Defense attorneys for New York real estate heir Robert Durst are asking a judge to declare a mistrial in his murder case due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The trial has been paused since March 12. The trial is tentatively set to begin again on May 26, but Durst’s attorneys are saying the lengthy delay “has made it impossible” for their client to get a fair trial on a charge that he killed his longtime friend at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
“The spread of the virus has impacted every imaginable facet of American life, including our criminal justice system. In the present case, the adjournment caused by COVID-19 has made it impossible for defendant to receive a fair trial. The Constitution therefore demands a mistrial, even if it results in some moderate amount of judicial inefficiency,” attorneys Dick DeGuerin, David Chesnoff, Chip Lewis and Donald Re wrote in a motion filed Tuesday.
The motion states that the mid-trial delay has made it “unrealistic” to expect jurors will remember the evidence they’ve already heard about Susan Berman’s 2000 slaying.
“It is not realistic to expect the jurors, whose time and attention for the last several weeks has been largely devoted to life and death matters regarding the physical health and economic survival of themselves and their families, to simply pick up where they left off on March 12 with a complete and accurate recollection of the evidence presented,” their motion says. “A mistrial would allow these jurors to keep their focus where it belongs: on remaining healthy and providing for their families in these difficult economic circumstances.”
Durst, 76, is charged with murdering Berman in her Benedict Canyon home in December 2000.
The defense contends that Durst did not murder Berman, but found her shortly after she was killed.
“Bob showed up and found her dead. He panicked,” DeGuerin said. He also told jurors that Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note” that was mailed to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found.
Durst was previously tried and acquitted for the murder of 71-year-old drifter, Morris Black, who was living at the same small boarding house as Durst in Galveston, Texas, after he decided to go into hiding by disguising himself as a mute woman following the disappearance of his wife, Kathie Durst, in 1982.
Durst was tried for Black’s death and dismemberment after a nationwide manhunt in which he was located in Pennsylvania, but a jury acquitted him of murder after agreeing with Durst’s contention that he had killed his neighbor in self-defense.
Prosecutors told the eight-woman, four-man jury – along with 11 alternates – that Durst killed Berman and Black to cover up information about the disappearance of Kathie and that evidence would show he killed her, too.
DeGuerin said that he and Chip Lewis, who is also on the Durst defense team, had represented Durst in the case in Galveston about 20 years ago.
“You haven’t heard the whole story yet,” DeGuerin told the jury.
Durst’s past has been detailed in the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” In the finale, Durst was caught on microphone muttering to himself, “Killed them all, of course,” and “There it is, you’re caught.”
DeGuerin told the jury that the HBO series was “heavily edited” and “not a documentary.”
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was arrested in a New Orleans hotel room. He was indicted in April on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)