Robert Durst gets surprise offer of 9-month delay in LA murder trial

Nancy Dillon, New York Daily News
·4 min read

Robert Durst has been floated a 9-month pandemic postponement in his Los Angeles murder trial.

The millionaire Manhattan real estate scion previously acquitted of murdering a Texas man dumped in Galveston Bay was due to resume his separate California murder trial July 27 until a surprise offer from prosecutors Friday.

At a hearing in Inglewood, California, prosecutors said they’d be willing to wait until April 2021 on the condition the existing jury is brought back to continue hearing their case claiming Durst, 77, murdered his best friend, Susan Berman, inside her Los Angeles bungalow in December 2000.

Durst, the subject of HBO’s “The Jinx,” didn’t attend the hearing in person, so his lawyers said they had to visit him in custody to discuss the offer.

Before Deputy District Attorney John Lewin proposed the lengthy delay, Durst lawyer David Chesnoff argued for a mistrial, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and defense worries that current jurors may have been exposed to damaging “outside influence” during the 137-day trial hiatus so far.

Judge Mark Windham set a tentative April 12 jury return date Friday and ordered the lawyers back to court July 31 with Durst’s wishes before he officially rules on the mistrial motion.

“I expect you’ll all agree,” Windham said Friday.

“We have to meet with (Durst). What we know for sure is we’ll have another status on July 31, and we’ll report back to court on his position,” lead defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin told the Daily News after the hearing.

Durst remains on a no-bail hold in the Berman case as he finishes up a federal sentence for possessing an illegal gun when he was arrested on the murder warrant five years ago.

The federal sentence is due to end in March. Durst would not be released at that time, as the no-bail hold in California is statutory, and he’s already in state custody while the murder case plays out.

“We cannot have a jury trial in this case at this time with this jury,” Chesnoff argued by phone during the Friday hearing that was livestreamed by Law & Crime. “It is clear that the pandemic in Los Angeles County has spiraled out of control.”

Chesnoff said Durst’s “fragile health” along with the health of the jurors and everyone in the courtroom could be placed at risk if live testimony resumes while COVID-19 infections remain high.

He said the jurors who were released in mid-March have spent the last four months dealing with “life and death” issues and shouldn’t be expected to “concentrate on the evidence” during what’s expected to be a five-month trial.

“(Durst) should not be the guinea pig for the new way a trial can be conducted,” he said.

Lewin argued against a mistrial Friday, saying there were “25 different remedies” to make sure jurors could return to a safe environment and get a refresh of the testimony from 10 witnesses who took the stand in early March before lockdowns started.

“Let’s be honest. They want a do-over,” Lewin told Judge Windham.

“We are prepared right now to agree to an adjournment until April 2021 using the same jury, no do-over,” Lewin said. “We pick up where we left off with the jury, and we make accommodation as they are needed when we get to that point.”

DeGuerin has long represented Durst and helped him get an acquittal when Durst was charged with murdering his 71-year-old neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston.

In the Berman case, Durst is accused of killing his longtime friend to keep her from speaking to New York prosecutors about his missing first wife, Kathie Durst.

Prosecutors claim Durst was an abusive husband who killed Kathie in 1982 and later drafted Berman to help him cover his tracks.

They allege Durst murdered Berman 18 years later to guarantee her silence amid a renewed investigation.

Durst has maintained his innocence in the case, though he admitted through his lawyers he sent the infamous “cadaver note” that alerted authorities to Berman’s body.

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