As his murder trial restarts, is Robert Durst's legal saga nearing an end?

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Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during his murder trial at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 4, 2020. After a Hollywood film about him, an HBO documentary full of seemingly damning statements, and decades of suspicion, Durst is now on trial for murder. In opening statements Wednesday, prosecutors will argue Durst killed his close friend Susan Berman before New York police could interview her about the 1982 disappearance of Durst's wife. (Etienne Laurent/EPA via AP, Pool)
Real estate heir Robert Durst listens to testimony during his murder trial in Los Angeles in March 2020. (Associated Press)

It's been more than 20 years since Susan Berman was shot dead inside her Benedict Canyon home.

In the ensuing years, Robert Durst, the man long suspected of killing Berman, has stood trial for a separate murder in Texas and been the subject of a sensational HBO documentary that turned the Manhattan real estate scion's bizarre and allegedly violent life into an international preoccupation.

And when Durst was arrested in 2015 for Berman's slaying, it took five years to bring him to trial. Then, the proceedings were halted after just a few days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, it appears the ailing Durst will have his day in court. On Monday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham slapped down a last-minute attempt to yet again delay Durst's trial, clearing the way for a jury to finally hear the case of a murder that prosecutors allege Durst committed in order to cover up another one.

Durst allegedly killed Berman — a close confidante and writer who had previously acted as the real estate heir's unofficial spokesman — because she was planning to speak to authorities about the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife in New York. His wife, Kathleen, told friends she was afraid of Durst and planned to seek a divorce around the time she vanished.

Prosecutors also say that Berman, a longtime friend of Durst from their days as students at UCLA, played a key role in helping him establish an alibi for the night of his wife's disappearance. Though authorities on both coasts have long believed Durst killed his wife, no one has ever been charged in the death.

New York authorities had reopened an investigation into Kathleen Durst's disappearance less than a year before Berman was killed.

Durst has long maintained his innocence. In a 2016 letter to The Times, he said he was "anxious to get to trial to prove I didn’t kill Susan Berman.”

But Durst refused to attend court Monday, prosecutors said, and Windham said he would issue an order to have L.A. County Sheriff's Department deputies extract the 78-year-old from the medical unit where he is being held.

Durst's lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, renewed a last-ditch bid to put off the trial, telling the judge Durst needed immediate hospitalization to be treated for an array of ailments, including bladder cancer.

DeGuerin said Durst remains in a hospital bed "90%" of his days, adding: "The question is not whether he can endure the rigors of a trial, it's whether he can survive."

Windham tentatively dismissed the request but agreed to hear testimony from Durst's doctor at a later date.

It's unclear how long Durst's trial will last. During opening statements in March 2020, Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin said he planned to present voluminous evidence and his list of witnesses includes more than 100 names. The prosecutor also plans to present hours of video evidence, including clips from the 2015 HBO series "The Jinx: The Life And Deaths of Robert Durst."

The documentary chronicled the disappearance of Durst's wife, Berman's murder and a bizarre 2003 case in Galveston, Texas, that saw Durst acquitted of murdering his neighbor, Morris Black. Durst admitted to shooting Black, dismembering his body and dumping it into the Gulf of Mexico, but he claimed self-defense.

Durst was arrested in New Orleans and charged with Berman's murder shortly before the show's final episode aired. In it, Durst was recorded during what he thought was a private moment in a bathroom muttering to himself the bizarre phrase, "Killed them all, of course." The utterance was widely interpreted by viewers and investigators alike to be a confession to the slayings of both his former wife and Berman.

Some of the key testimony against Durst was taken during a series of pretrial hearings in 2017, in the event some older witnesses died before trial. Nick Chavin, a longtime friend of Durst, testified back then that Durst had confessed to Berman's murder after they had dinner together in Manhattan in 2014.

“I had to. It was her or me,” Durst said, according to Chavin, who was 72 when he took the stand. “I had no choice.”

A close friend of Berman, Miriam Barnes, also testified in 2017 that Berman had admitted to doing "something" for Durst shortly after his wife disappeared. In the same conversation, Barnes testified that Berman delivered an ominous warning: "If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it."

Durst's first appearance in a Los Angeles courtroom back in 2016 attracted a crush of media, but the pending trial will be a much more subdued affair. Rules to reduce foot traffic inside L.A. County's courts during the pandemic will remain in effect for the time being, severely limiting the public's access to the trial.

Under the restrictions, only 40 people can fit inside the Inglewood courtroom where the case will be held, including attorneys, staff and jurors. Reporters will not be allowed in the courtroom at the same time as the jury, due to spacing limitations. The trial will be livestreamed via YouTube.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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