Robert Durst on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19, his lawyer says

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 14: Robert Durst was sentenced to life without possibility of parole for the killing of Susan Berman. Photographed in Airport Courthouse on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
Robert Durst, shown during his sentencing hearing last week, is hospitalized and on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19, his lawyer said. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Robert Durst has been placed on a ventilator after contracting COVID-19, his lawyer said Saturday.

Durst, 78, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Thursday for murdering his close friend, Susan Berman, inside her Benedict Canyon home in 2000. The real estate heir was in "very bad condition" during the sentencing hearing, according to his lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin.

"He was having difficulty breathing and he was having difficulty communicating," DeGuerin said in an email to The Times. "He looked worse than I’ve ever seen him and I was very worried about him."

DeGuerin confirmed that Durst had been hospitalized and placed on a ventilator. Durst has been held in a wing of County-USC Medical Center under the watch of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department throughout the trial, but it was not immediately clear whether he was still in that facility or when or where he became infected with the coronavirus.

Calls and emails to the Sheriff's Department, a court spokeswoman and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office were not immediately returned Saturday. Dozens of people packed into an eighth-floor courtroom at the Airport Courthouse for Durst's sentencing earlier this week and it was not immediately clear whether anyone else associated with the proceedings had contracted the virus.

Durst's health was an issue throughout the trial. He was not in court last month the day jurors convicted him of Berman's murder because he had been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. He was also briefly hospitalized in June after suffering an undisclosed medical incident.

The 78-year-old spent the majority of the trial seated in a wheelchair. In court filings, Durst's attorneys repeatedly sought a mistrial, claiming Durst was too sick to testify in his own defense.

A physician at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who examined Durst previously testified that he was “profoundly malnourished” and at risk of “sudden death” from elevated levels of potassium, and said Durst had suffered a "mini stroke" during a 2019 court hearing.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham slapped down each motion, dismissing the doctor's testimony as "advocacy." Durst ultimately spent 15 days on the witness stand at trial, often engaging in tense exchanges with Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin on cross-examination.

For the record:
10:58 a.m. Oct. 18, 2021: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham as having criticized a doctor’s testimony as “activism.” The word he used was “advocacy.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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