After Robert Durst was arrested for the killing of his longtime friend, the New York real estate heir sat down with a prosecutor for hours, making potentially damaging claims and lamenting his many physical ailments.
“My life expectancy is about five years,” the eccentric millionaire said in the 2015 jailhouse interview in New Orleans.
The cold-case specialist from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office who came to see him, John Lewin, has made a career out of cases like this.
“I’m pretty confident you’re not going to see outside again as a free man,” Lewin told Durst, now 76, according to a prosecution transcript and video of the interview.
Wednesday, nearly five years later, jury selection will begin in Durst’s long-awaited murder trial in Los Angeles.
He is accused of shooting his confidante, Susan Berman, in the head at her Beverly Hills home on December 23, 2000. He has pleaded not guilty, and he has repeatedly denied killing his best friend.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did,” lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said last month. “That’s the bottom line.”
Berman had been scheduled to speak with police hours after she was killed about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife. Berman’s body was found one day after she was fatally shot.
The sensational trial, which could last several months, will center on largely circumstantial evidence, including Durst’s infamous muttering on the HBO documentary “The Jinx” that he had “killed them all.” Jurors are also expected to hear statements he made during the three-hour interview with Lewin.
“Most people, when they’re talking to anybody … are very much concerned with what other people think of them,” Lewin told Durst in the interview. “I notice that, with about 90% of the things you’re asked, you are brutally honest. … More honest than most people that I’ve seen.”
The so-called ‘Cadaver’ note expected to be a key piece of evidence
There is little physical evidence in Berman’s nearly 20-year-old unsolved death. There are no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon.
One key piece of evidence is the so-called “cadaver” note, a cryptic letter sent to police with Berman’s address and the word “cadaver” in caps that led detectives to her body.
In “The Jinx,” Durst said the letter could have been sent only by Berman’s killer. Defense lawyers previously denied Durst wrote the note, and they tried to exclude from trial handwriting evidence about it.
But in a court filing late last year, lawyers for the real estate mogul reversed course and acknowledged that Durst penned the anonymous note. “This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman,” DeGuerin said at the time.
In the HBO documentary, filmmakers confronted Durst with another letter he once mailed Berman, with nearly identical handwriting to the “cadaver” note. In both, Beverly Hills was misspelled as “BEVERLEY.”
Lewin, in the interview with Durst, asked him, “Why would you think the killer would have left a note?”
“I’m gonna stay away from that,” Durst replied.
At another point, Lewin asked Durst why he hadn’t fled long before the documentary aired, especially after filmmakers confronted him with the incriminating envelopes.
“You saw the envelopes. How come you didn’t … leave then?” the prosecutor asked. “It’s mind-boggling to me.”
“I guess inertia,” Durst replied. “l just didn’t really, really, really think that (I) was gonna end up arrested.”
Immediately after the last shot of “The Jinx” finale, Durst went into the bathroom, apparently not realizing his microphone was still on.
“There it is. You’re caught,” he said. He rambled a series of seemingly unrelated sentences before saying, “He was right. I was wrong.”
Then, he muttered, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
The defense has said it will show Durst’s statements were heavily edited and not uttered in the order in which they appeared in the documentary.
Durst has long maintained he had nothing to do with his first wife’s disappearance
Jurors are also expected to hear statements Berman made about allegedly helping Durst build an alibi for the death of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, according to prosecutors.
Durst has maintained he had nothing to do with his wife’s disappearance. She was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in that case.
McCormack was on her way to medical school in New York when she vanished in 1982.
Prosecutors said McCormack’s death was the impetus for two other alleged killings that have shrouded Durst in suspicion — Berman’s killing and the 2001 slaying and dismemberment of a neighbor in the coastal Texas city of Galveston.
Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham ruled last month that jurors can hear about Durst wanting his wife to have an abortion before she disappeared. The judge called the evidence relevant to show motive “in the disappearance of Kathie Durst” as well as Berman’s murder.
The state is expected to call to the stand Nathan “Nick” Chavin, who told the court at a 2017 pretrial hearing that Durst was the best man at his wedding. He testified of marital problems festering until McCormack “said she was afraid” of Durst.
“On one occasion, she cried,” Chavin said. “She was appealing to me as Bob’s friend to understand she was having a terrible time with her marriage.”
Durst has said the last time he saw his wife was after she boarded a train near their suburban New York home, headed for the city to resume her studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.
Prosecutors say she never got on that train. They have said Durst allegedly killed her and asked Berman to help cover up the crime.
Chavin testified that Berman told him Durst killed his wife. He also told the court that Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman to keep her quiet.
“I had to. It was her or me,” Durst said, according to Chavin, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. “I had no choice.”
The defense has called Chavin less than reliable, indicating they may try to call to the stand a New York Times reporter who interviewed Chavin. The defense believes Chavin’s interview with the Times might conflict with his testimony.
He was arrested in New Orleans before final episode of ‘The Jinx’ aired
The Los Angeles jury will also hear about Durst’s 2003 murder trial in Texas in which he admitted killing neighbor Morris Black in Galveston and chopping up the body. He was acquitted after his attorneys argued he had acted in self-defense, though he later served nine months in prison on felony weapons charges stemming from that case.
“What happened in Galveston was 12 jurors agreed that Bob Durst acted in self-defense and he panicked, and that was a jury that heard all of the evidence,” DeGuerin said last month. “I just don’t think we should be trying that again.”
In 2003, prosecutors had argued that Durst planned Black’s killing to steal his identity. But defense attorneys said Black sneaked into Durst’s apartment, and he accidentally shot him as both men struggled for a gun.
Durst testified he panicked and decided to cut up Black’s body and throw away the pieces.
“I could understand Durst’s panic,” juror Joanne Gongora said after Durst’s acquittal in 2003.
Durst was arrested in New Orleans in March 2015, one day before the final episode of “The Jinx” aired. Investigators said he was preparing for a life on the lam when FBI agents picked him up at a hotel under an assumed name. He had more than $40,000 in cash — and a latex mask that could cover his head and neck to alter his appearance, according to court documents.
“Being a fugitive is not something I did well,” Durst told Lewin. “I hated being a fugitive. I would walk down the street and turn around and … start looking over my shoulder. And, you know, (I) was just the worst fugitive the world has ever met.”