INGLEWOOD (CBSLA) – The trial of Robert Durst, a multimillionaire accused of killing his longtime friend Susan Berman at her Benedict Canyon home back in 2000, is set to resume this week at the Inglewood Courthouse after a year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jurors heard opening statements and two days of testimony about the shooting death of Berman before the case was put on hold in mid-March of 2020.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham said at an earlier hearing that he will allow attorneys to give abbreviated opening statements anew due to the lengthy disruption of the trial, which has been moved from the Airport Courthouse in L.A. to a larger courtroom at the Inglewood Courthouse because of concerns about social distancing.
The judge Monday denied an emergency motion filed by Durst’s attorneys asking for the murder trial to be postponed indefinitely due to Durst’s “life- threatening health issues.” The judge has repeatedly denied the defense’s motions for a mistrial.
Opening statements are set to begin Tuesday.
Durst was previously tried and acquitted for the September 2001 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 first 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.
In the previous opening statements, L.A. County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin alleged that the 78-year-old real estate scion killed Berman after she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst.
In his opening statement last year, the defendant’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told jurors that Durst panicked after finding Berman’s body in her home while coming to visit her for the holidays. Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note” that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found, Durst’s lead attorney said, noting that Durst would testify in his own defense.
Durst’s attorneys have argued that evidence about what happened to Black in Galveston would inflame the jury and should not be allowed at his trial. The judge has repeatedly denied the defense’s motions for a mistrial.
At a hearing earlier this year, the judge said evidence of Black’s dismemberment and Kathie Durst’s disappearance could be introduced at trial to support a special circumstance allegation that Berman was killed because she was a witness, rather than to prove Berman’s murder.
The judge said the prosecution could also use that evidence from Galveston to rebut the claim that Durst’s wife had merely disappeared rather than been killed.
Durst was profiled in a six-part HBO television series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was later recorded saying, “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course.”
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined Kathie’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers — including an investment in the World Trade Center. He split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle, and ultimately reached a settlement under which they reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.
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