Former New York real estate heir Robert Durst took the stand in his first-degree murder trial Monday and flatly denied murdering his close friend Susan Berman more than two decades ago.
“No,” Durst answered in response to the direct question from defense attorney Dick DeGuerin: “Did you kill Susan Berman?”
When DeGuerin asked his client if he knew who murdered Berman in her Los Angeles home in December 2000, Durst replied “no” once again.
Prosecutors say Durst, now 78, shot Berman execution-style in order to prevent her from incriminating him in the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie. Durst’s legal team has said that he found Berman’s body, panicked and fled to Texas, sending a letter to police that read “CADAVER” with his friend’s address.
The ailing Durst struggled to hear both the clerk when he was sworn in and DeGuerin as he asked questions, using a tablet that showed a live transcription to help him understand. He also struggled to hear the prosecution’s objections and the judge’s rulings. He frequently spoke after he was told to stop.
Durst and Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, met in the late 1960s, when both attended graduate school at UCLA.
“We both had trust funds,” said Durst, who recalled that the two bonded over their wealth and tragedy-hit childhoods. Both of Berman’s parents had died about a decade before she met Durst, while his mother had jumped or fallen from the roof of his family’s Scarsdale home when he was just 7 years old. Durst added that despite the close friendship, he and Berman were never lovers.
Durst, who suffers from bladder cancer and several other ailments that he listed from the stand, wore the brown jail attire he’s had on in court for the past few weeks of the trial. His attorneys said he’s been unable to stand to put on a suit.
Prosecutors rested their case against Durst last week. They had been allowed to present evidence that Durst murdered both his first wife and his Texas neighbor Morris Black in 2001.
Kathie Durst’s body was never found, but she has been declared legally dead. Durst has never been charged in connection with her disappearance, and has denied having anything to do with it.
A Texas jury acquitted Durst of murdering Black in 2003. During that trial, Durst testified that he had killed Black in self-defense after he entered Durst’s home with a gun. Durst described dismembering and disposing of Black’s body on the stand and later pleaded guilty in December 2004 to two counts of bail jumping and one count of evidence tampering. He was released from prison in 2006.
The latest chapter in Durt’s lengthy legal saga began with the 2015 HBO docu-series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” — the final scene of which featured Durst saying on a hot mic: “Killed them all, of course.”
Durst was arrested in Berman’s murder in March 2015, the day before the final episode of “The Jinx” aired. A search of his New Orleans hotel room by FBI agents turned up a .38 caliber revolver, a mask, and more than $40,000 in cash. Durst pleaded guilty in April 2016 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 85 months in federal prison.
In 2016, Durst was extradited to California the following year and a Los Angeles judge ruled in 2018 there was enough evidence for Durst to be tried on the first-degree murder charge. However, the trial did not actually begin until March 2020, when it was almost immediately paused until May of this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
With Post wires