Robert Durst Could Face Death Penalty In LA Murder

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Los Angeles prosecutors have filed a murder charge against real estate heir Robert Durst that could carry the death penalty. Prosecutors said Durst was charged Monday with first-degree murder in the killing of his friend, Susan Berman.

Latest From Phil Shuman:

This is a story with many twists and turns. Those who've investigated Robert Durst don't hesitate to call him a ''serial murderer''. We know he's sitting in a mental health unit at a Louisiana State Prison, awaiting his next hearing there before being extradited (presumably) back to Los Angeles to face a murder charge in connection with the shooting death of his one time college friend Susan Berman.

Now comes word that he is once was, and now may be again, a suspect in the 1997 disappearances of two teenaged girls, Karen Mitchell from Eureka, and Kristin Modafferi from San Francisco . A private investigator who's spent years working on Robert Durst's past said of Berman, his ex-wife, and the former Texas neighbor Morris Black, ''These three people.. one we know has been murdered, too we believe he's murdered. I don't think those are the only ones."

Bacha, who runs Blue Moon Investigations in Texas (bluemooninvestigations.com) told me she's long known of the possible connection between Durst and those two missing girls. Apparently, Durst was placed in the areas of their disappearance at the time, investigators looked into it, but never arrested or charged him.

No comment today from the various authorities in those two cases, but Modafferi's father, speaking from the family home in Charlotte North Carolina released a statement to the local TV stations there saying " It's possible that the ongoing interrogation of Durst, by law enforcement that's taking place right now, could uncover new information that could be of value and lead to the truth about what happened to Kristen." And as former D.A. from Westchester County NY, where Durst's wife disappeared, Jeanine Pirro said, and Pirro , who went from the D.A's office to being a Judge to now her high profile Fox News hosting job, said '' The wheels of justice are turning.'' True. But as always, slowly


From Phil Shuman:

Those who know the now 71-year-old Robert Durst, heir to a New York real estate fortune, say he seems to love the attention he's received over the years, most of it negative. Why else would someone who's been acquited of one murder, suspected of two others, but still walking free, voluntarily agree to more than 25 hours of interviews so he could be featured in a documentary about his life called ‘‘The Jinx'' on HBO?

Surely his attorneys advised him against it. Well, he's gotten plenty of attention now. As you, no doubt, have heard if you've been following the news since this weekend, Durst is under arrest in New Orleans on a Los Angeles warrant for the cold case 2000 murder of an old friend of his named Susan Berman. She was found Christmas Eve of that year, with a bullet to the back of the head, in her small rental home deep in Benedict Canyon on the edge of Beverly Hills. At the time the focus of the investigation was on her being a ‘‘mob daughter'', as her father had Vegas mobster connections back in the day. It went nowhere.

Now the theory put forth by the D.A.'s office is her friend "Bobby'' killed her to keep her from telling authorities what she knew about the still-unsolved disappearance of Durst's then-wife Katherine back in New York in 1982. So here we are. But before Durst gets on a plane back here to L.A., there's a little matter of resolving new charges in New Orleans. Seems when he was arrested in the lobby of a Marriott hotel there, he had a revolver and a quarter pound of marijuana in his room. He's now a ‘‘felon in possession of a gun ‘' and had enough drugs to be accused of being a seller. It is likely those charges will take a literal and figurative back seat to the obviously more serious murder case here, but it takes time. Durst's lawyers are good. They got him acquited back in 2001, a year after the Berman case, in the murder of his 71-year-old Texas neighbor, an unfortunate man named Morris Black. Durst claimed self-defense during a struggle over a gun.

He also admitted to chopping up Mr. Black, but didn't remember the particulars of why because he says he was so drunk. So, we have a fascinating character about to be the focus, perhaps, of yet another sensational L.A. ‘‘celebrity'' murder trial, if indeed he ever gets back here. Let's remember there are real people involved her who are no longer with us.




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Key evidence filmmakers found against Robert Durst

Durst was arrested in New Orleans over the weekend on a murder warrant and waived extradition to return to Los Angeles to face the charges.

Berman had acted as Durst's spokeswoman after his wife disappeared in 1982.

She was shot in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 just before New York authorities planned to interview her about Kathleen Durst's disappearance.

Prosecutors say Durst would be eligible for execution under special circumstances alleging murder of a witness and lying in wait with use of a gun. They will make that decision later.

The Jinx Finale: Durst Says He 'Killed Them All':

Robert Durst couldn't explain away the similarities between his handwriting and a letter he said "only the killer could have written" that alerted police to his friend's shooting 15 years ago.

Confronted with new evidence by the makers of a documentary about his life, the troubled millionaire blinked, burped oddly, pulled his ear and briefly put his head in his hands before denying he was the killer.

Then he stepped away from the tense interview and went to the bathroom, still wearing the live microphone that recorded what he said next.

"There it is. You're caught!" Durst whispered to himself before running the tap water. "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

That moment didn't just make for a captivating finale to a six-part documentary on the eccentric life of an heir to a New York real estate fortune.

It also may have given police and prosecutors the evidence they needed to close the long-cold case of a mobster's daughter. Susan Berman was felled by a bullet to the back of her head as investigators prepared to find out what she knew about the disappearance of Durst's wife in 1982.

Durst, who was arrested at a New Orleans hotel on the eve of Sunday's final episode, agreed Monday to face trial in Los Angeles for the murder of Berman, who vouched for him in public after his wife vanished.

The makers of "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst" said Durst had waved off his lawyer's advice to stay quiet before granting them two lengthy interviews. They also say he knew he was being recorded throughout, and that they shared any evidence they gathered with police long before broadcasting the film on HBO.

Legal experts say the bathroom tape could become key evidence.

"Any statement that the defendant makes that they want to use against him, they can use against him," said Andrea Roth, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "Even if it's sketchy, and only in context appears to make him look guilty."

Kerry Lawrence, a defense attorney in Westchester County, New York, said Durst's lawyers will have to try to explain away his comments, perhaps dismissing them as a joke.

"Prosecutors would argue it was a candid moment of self-reflection, and he I assume will argue that he knew he was still being recorded, and this was either said in jest or he was being facetious or sarcastic or was being provocative," Lawrence said. "I don't think it's quite the smoking gun."

The documentary shows filmmaker Andrew Jarecki confronting Durst with a copy of an anonymous letter that alerted Beverly Hills police to go look for a "cadaver" at Berman's address.

Durst offers that whoever sent it was "taking a big risk. You're sending a letter to police that only the killer could have written."

Then, in the final episode, Jarecki reveals another envelope, which Durst acknowledges mailing to Berman, that has similar writing in block letters and also misspells the address as "Beverley."

"I wrote this one but I did not write the cadaver one," Durst says. But when shown an enlargement of both copies, Durst can't distinguish them.

Former Westchester County prosecutor Jeanine Pirro seemed stunned when the filmmakers showed her Durst's previously unknown letter to Berman, saying "the jig is up."

She believes it was her reopening of the cold case into Kathleen Durst's 1982 disappearance that provoked the murder of Berman, who had been Durst's confidante.

Now, she said, his own words can convict him.

"It was a spontaneous statement, a classical exception to the hearsay rule," Pirro told Fox's "Good Day New York." ''I don't hear it as a muttering. I hear it as a clear, unequivocal 'I killed them.' That means he killed his wife, he killed Susan Berman and he killed Morris Black."

Durst - still worth millions despite his estrangement from his family, whose New York real estate empire is worth about $4 billion - has maintained his innocence in three killings in as many states.

He was acquitted by a Texas jury in the 2001 dismemberment killing of his elderly neighbor, whose body parts were found floating in Galveston Bay. Lawyers said Durst - who fled Texas and was brought back to trial after being caught shoplifting in Pennsylvania - killed Morris Black in self-defense.

Durst, however, admitted using a paring knife, two saws and an ax to dismember the body, and that may result in a delay of his transfer to Los Angeles, because he was arrested with a revolver on Saturday. That's illegal for felons, and Durst did prison time after pleading guilty to evidence tampering and jumping bail. Louisiana authorities were considering Monday whether to press firearms charges.

Attorney Dick DeGuerin said outside court Monday that Durst didn't kill Berman, and is "ready to end all the rumor and speculation and have a trial."

When Durst approached the filmmakers and agreed to go on camera, he was still suspected in the killing of Berman, whose father was a Las Vegas mobster associated with Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, and the disappearance of his wife, who was declared dead long after she vanished in New York in 1982.

Lewis called Jarecki "duplicitous" for not making it clear to Durst that he would be sharing footage with police.

"It's all about Hollywood now," Lewis said.

But Jarecki said Durst signed a contract clearly giving the filmmakers the right to use what they gathered however they wished.

Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Kirk Albanese said authorities arrested Durst Saturday out of concern that he would flee the country.

"We do police work based on the facts and evidence, not based on the HBO series," Albanese told AP on Monday. "I know there's lots of speculation about that. It had nothing to do with the show."

By Monday, the filmmakers - likely witnesses at a trial - said they would make no more comments.

___

Melley and Tami Abdollah reported from Los Angeles. Contributors include Associated Press Writers David Bauder, Jim Fitzgerald and Verena Dobnik in New York.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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