New York real estate heir Robert Durst has been sentenced to life in prison without chance of parole for the murder of his best friend more than two decades ago.
- Prosecutors said Robert Durst murdered long-time associate who provided him with a false alibi when his wife Kathie Durst disappeared
- He was convicted last month after the trial faced a 14-month adjournment due to COVID-19
- The case has been the subject of a film starring Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst as well as the documentary series The Jinx
Durst, 78, was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court last month of first-degree murder for shooting Susan Berman point-blank in the back of the head at her home in December 2000.
Prosecutors said Durst silenced Ms Berman to prevent her from incriminating him in the reopened investigation of the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, in 1982 in New York.
They said Ms Berman had provided a phoney alibi for Durst when Kathie Durst vanished.
Durst testified that he did not kill either woman, but said on cross-examination that he would lie if he had.
Prosecutors also presented evidence that he had intentionally killed a neighbour in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, although he had been acquitted of murder in that case after testifying that he shot the man in self-defence.
Durst is the grandson of Joseph Durst, who founded the Durst Organization, one of Manhattan’s largest commercial real estate firms.
His father, Seymour, took the reins of the company and later handed control of it to a younger brother, Douglas.
Robert Durst settled his share of the family fortune and was estimated by prosecutors to have $US100 million ($134 million).
Durst’s lawyer said an appeal was planned.
Further murder charge possible
This current trial began in March 2020 and was adjourned for 14 months as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the US and courts were closed.
It resumed in May of this year with the jury that reached its verdict on September 17.
Ms Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst’s long-time confidante who was preparing to tell police she provided a phoney alibi for him after his wife vanished in New York in 1982.
Kathie Durst has never been found and Robert Durst has never been charged with a crime related to her disappearance.
A person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that after his conviction in Berman’s death — which relied on evidence that he had killed his wife — a New York prosecutor was prepared to seek charges against him relating to her death.
Defence says Durst deserved new trial
Defence lawyers argued in court papers that Durst deserved a new trial, saying there was insufficient evidence to prove the case and listing 15 ways the judge had allegedly erred.
Judge Mark Windham rejected the motion and said the prosecution had overwhelming evidence and proved Durst’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt in at least five ways, including several admissions Durst made. He rejected all the arguments that he had ruled incorrectly.
“You said the court erred so many times [that] it made me feel self-conscious,” Judge Windham said.
The defence said Judge Windham should have declared a mistrial when the jury was sent home and the case adjourned. They said the length of the delay was unprecedented.
Many of the other issues revolve around the admission of evidence, such as allowing prosecutors to present testimony that Durst killed a neighbour in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 and chopped up his body and tossed the parts out to sea.
Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying that Morris Black pulled a gun on him and was killed in a struggle for the weapon.
They also objected to testimony and exhibits that showed when Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015, he had a mask, fake identification, drugs, $US40,000 and a loaded handgun in his hotel room.
Documentaries, film made case famous
The defence objected to showing jurors a feature film, All Good Things, based on Durst’s life and starring Ryan Gosling as him and Kirsten Dunst as Kathie Durst.
They incorrectly said jurors were shown the six-part documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Crimes of Robert Durst”, although jurors were shown excerpts, including a portion that many took as a confession.
In a moment off-camera — but with a live microphone, —Durst muttered, “Killed them all, of course.”