SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5 / AP) – Robert Durst, the wealthy New York estate heir and unsuccessful refugee who was persecuted for decades on suspicion of the disappearance and death of those around him before being convicted of killing his best friend and sentenced to life in prison, is dead. He was 78.
Durst died at a state prison hospital in Stockton, his lawyer Chip Lewis said. He said it was due to natural causes due to a number of health issues.
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Durst was convicted in September of shooting Susan Berman at close range in 2000 at her Los Angeles home. He was sentenced to life on October 14. Two days later, he was hospitalized with COVID-19, his trial attorney Dick DeGuerin said.
Berman had served as Durst’s spokeswoman after his wife disappeared in 1982. She was the author and producer of the KPIX 5 program “Evening Magazine” in the 1970s and also worked on the San Francisco Examiner.
Durst had long been suspected of killing his wife, Kathie, who disappeared in 1982 and has been declared legally dead. He was finally indicted in November for second-degree murder in her death.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles presented evidence. Durst silenced Berman because she helped him cover up Kathie’s murder and was talking to investigators. They also claimed he killed a man from Texas who discovered his identity while living secretly in Galveston after Berman’s murder. Durst was acquitted of murder in that case in 2003, after testifying that he shot him in self-defense.
Durst discussed the cases and made several judgmental statements, including an astonishing confession during an unguarded moment in the six-part HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
The show made his name known to a new generation and brought renewed control and suspicion from the authorities. He was arrested in Berman’s murder the night before the last episode, which ended with him mumbling to himself in a bathroom while still wearing a hot microphone and saying, “You’re trapped! What the hell did I do? Killed them all , of course.”
The quotes were later revealed to have been manipulated for dramatic effect, but the production – carried out with Durst’s collaboration against the advice of his lawyer and friends – elaborated on new evidence, including an envelope linking Durst to the scene of Berman’s murder and incriminating statements he made. .
Police had received a note directing them to Berman’s home with only the word “CADAVER” written in block letters.
In interviews given between 2010 and 2015, Durst told the creators of “The Jinx” that he did not write the note, but the one who did had killed her.
“You’re writing a note to the police that only the killer could have written,” Durst said.
His defense attorneys admitted up to the trial that Durst had written the note, and prosecutors said it corresponded to a confession.
Clips from “The Jinx” and from the 2010 movie “All Good Things,” in which Ryan Gosling played a fictional version of Durst, starred during the trial.
Like Durst himself. His lawyers again took the risk by putting him on the stand for what turned out to be about three weeks of testimony. It did not work as it did in Texas.
During devastating cross-examination of prosecutor John Lewin, Durst admitted that he had previously lied under oath and would do so again to get out of trouble.
“‘Did you kill Susan Berman?’ is strictly a hypothetical, ”said Durst from the stand. “I did not kill Susan Berman. But if I had, I would be lying about it.”
The jury immediately handed down a guilty verdict.
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It seemed for a long time that he would avoid such judgments.
Durst fled in late 2000 after New York authorities reopened an investigation into his wife’s disappearance, rented a modest apartment in Galveston and disguised herself as a dumb woman.
In 2001, the body parts of a neighbor, Morris Black, began washing up in Galveston Bay.
Arrested in the murder, Durst jumped on bail. He was arrested for shoplifting a sandwich six weeks later in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he had gone to college. Police found $ 37,000 in cash and two handguns in his car.
He wanted to testify that Black had drawn a gun at him and died when the weapon went off during a fight. He told jurors in detail how he bought tools and dismembered and disposed of Black’s body. He was acquitted of murder. He pleaded guilty to violating his bail and for manipulating evidence of the partition. He served three years in prison.
Durst had bladder cancer, and his health deteriorated during the Berman trial. He was escorted into court in a wheelchair wearing a prison suit every day because his lawyers said he was unable to change into a suit. But the judge ruled out further delays after a 14-month hiatus during the coronavirus pandemic.
DeGuerin said Durst was “very, very sick” at the time of his sentencing and that it was the worst thing he looked like in the 20 years he spent representing him.
Durst entered the courtroom with wide-open, vacant eyes. Near the end of the hearing, after Berman’s loved ones told the judge how her death changed their lives, Durst coughed hard and seemed to be struggling to breathe. His chest stretched and he pulled his mask down under his mouth and began to swallow for air.
The son of real estate magnate Seymour Durst, Robert Durst, was born April 12, 1943 and grew up in Scarsdale, New York. He would later say that at the age of 7 he witnessed his mother die when he fell from their home.
He graduated with a degree in economics in 1965 from Lehigh University, where he played lacrosse. He began a doctoral program at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he met Berman, but dropped out and returned to New York in 1969.
He became a developer in the family business, but his father left him to make his younger brother and rival Douglas the leader of the Durst organization in 1992.
In 1971, Robert Durst met Kathie McCormack, and the two married on his 30th birthday in 1973.
In January 1982, his wife was a student in her final year of medical school when she disappeared. She unexpectedly showed up at a friend’s dinner party in Newtown, Connecticut, and then went after a call from her husband to return to their home in South Salem, New York.
Robert Durst told police he last saw her when he put her on a train to live in their Manhattan apartment because she had tuition the next day.
He would divorce her eight years later, claiming that her spouse was abandoned, and in 2017, at the request of her family, she was declared legally dead.
Robert Durst leaves behind his second wife Debrah Charatan, whom he married in 2000. He had no children.
Under California law, a conviction is waived if a defendant dies while the case is under appeal, said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Law School.
Lewis said an appeal was filed for Durst.
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