Robert Durst had no reason to kill Susan Berman, defense says

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INGLEWOOD, CA - MAY 18: Robert Durst in an Inglewood courtroom faces the jurors as Judge Mark E. Windham gives instructions before opening statements in the trial of the real estate scion charged with murder of longtime friend Susan Berman in Benedict Canyon just before Christmas Eve 2000. Durst's murder trial was delayed more than a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Inglewood Courthouse on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 in Inglewood, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times).
Robert Durst listens during opening statements as his murder trial resumes in an Inglewood courtroom. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

When Robert Durst learned New York authorities had reopened their investigation into the disappearance of his first wife, he was not afraid his longtime friend Susan Berman was planning to implicate him in the crime, his lawyer argued in court Wednesday.

To the contrary, Durst asked Berman to talk to the police, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin claimed during his opening statement in the real estate heir's long-delayed murder trial.

DeGuerin spent much of his two-hour address to the jury trying to undercut Los Angeles County prosecutors' theory that Durst killed Berman in 2000 to prevent her from telling investigators what she knew about his alleged role in his wife's 1982 vanishing.

The defense attorney repeatedly admonished jurors to tune out the purported confession Durst made in an HBO documentary, a grisly Texas killing for which he was ultimately acquitted and prosecutors' allegations that Durst killed his wife, Kathleen.

“The only case before you to determine a verdict is the murder of Susan Berman. The evidence is lacking. The evidence isn’t there," he said. "Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman, and he doesn’t know who did.”

Durst's trial, stalled for more than 14 months by the COVID-19 pandemic, resumed Monday in a Los Angeles County courtroom in Inglewood. DeGuerin's opening remarks were a response to Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin, who in his opening argument Tuesday, argued it was clear Berman knew her killer as there had been no signs of a struggle at her home in Benedict Canyon.

But DeGuerin said that while evidence collected at the crime scene might suggest Berman knew her killer, it didn't implicate Durst.

"There was no blood. No DNA. No fingerprints. No murder weapon of any kind," DeGuerin said.

Prosecutors have said Berman — an author and close friend of Durst's since they attended UCLA together in the 1960s — had aided in crafting Durst's alibi the night of his wife's disappearance, by pretending to be Kathleen Durst in a phone call to the medical school she was attending.

DeGuerin said Durst had no reason to want Berman dead because she never made the call and Durst never asked her too.

The attorney also sought to throw cold water on the HBO documentary, which turned Durst into a subject of international interest in 2015. In the series' closing scene, Durst can be heard muttering the phrase "killed them all, of course" while he thought he was not being recorded in a bathroom.

The comment has been widely interpreted as a confession, but DeGuerin said his client was merely expressing his frustrations with the documentary, which he dismissed as a heavily edited "hatchet job."

“What the evidence will show is that Bob finally realized what [filmmaker Andrew] Jarecki and his crew were trying to show, that he’d ‘killed them all,’" DeGuerin said, adding that his client had been "fooled.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.