Real-estate heir Robert Durst, whose bizarre life was the subject of the HBO series The Jinx, was convicted Friday of murdering his best friend nearly two decades ago in Beverly Hills.
The 78-year-old multimillionaire was not in the Los Angeles courtroom as the verdict was read out—following months of testimony, including by Durst himself, and seven hours of of jury deliberations.
“It is not his choice to be absent, he would want to be here,” one of his defense attorneys said, noting that Durst was “in isolation” after exposure to COVID-19.
The conviction in Susan Berman’s shooting death would seem to ensure that Durst—who is already serving a seven-year sentence on a gun charge and has a host of health problems—spends the rest of his life behind bars.
It marks a dramatic reversal of fortune for the prodigal son of a billion-dollar property dynasty now headed by a younger brother who testified he was deathly afraid of the defendant.
Durst has never been charged with or tried for the disappearance and presumed death of his first wife, Kathie McCormack, a medical student who vanished in 1982 amid marital troubles.
He also was acquitted of murdering a Texas neighbor in 2003 after a jury bought his argument that he killed the man in self-defense before slicing up the body and disposing of it in Galveston Bay.
McCormack’s family hailed the verdict and called for Durst to be tried on charges of murdering her.
“The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family and charge Durst for the murder of his wife, Kathie, which occurred almost 40 years ago. They have had interviews, statements and documents for months,” the family said in a statement.
“The closing arguments by the Los Angeles deputy district attorneys should remove any doubt. It’s bizarre and unacceptable that Durst was tried for killing an accomplice before being held accountable for Kathie’s murder.”
Prosecutors argued that Durst killed Berman, the crime-writer daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, because she knew too much about Kathie’s disappearance. Berman, 55, was slain just one hour before a scheduled meeting with law enforcement in which she was to admit giving Durst a false alibi.
Durst has denied killing his wife and claimed he merely discovered Berman’s body on the floor of her bedroom with a gunshot wound in the back of her head.
During his turn on the witness stand last month, Durst admitted that even if he was Berman’s killer, he would never cop to it.
“‘Did you kill Susan Berman?’ is strictly a hypothetical,” he said. “I did not kill Susan Berman. But if I had, I would lie about it.”
The lengthy trial, delayed for 14 months due to the coronavirus pandemic, revealed that Durst had lied five times to investigators as they probed his involvement in the deaths of the two women over the years. His attorney said that though Durst’s “compass doesn’t point north,” he was not a murderer.
Beverly Hills Police received an ominous note with the word “Cadaver” on it before Berman’s death, and the handwriting strongly resembled another note Durst had sent her of the word “Beverley.” Durst had long denied that he sent the letter when confronted about it, but he admitted in court filings and in testimony at his trial that he had indeed mailed it.
“I have difficulty believing it myself that I would write the letter and had not killed Susan Berman,” he said.
Durst was caught on a hot mic making seemingly incriminating comments during the filming of the 2015 HBO documentary The Jinx: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course. There it is. You’re caught. He was right. I was wrong.” Durst said he was “high on meth” while sitting for interviews, and the scandalous audio has since been revealed as a compilation of multiple clips.
But the documentary was not Durst’s only damning moment. Nick Chavin, a friend of both the Dursts and Berman, testified during the trial that Durst had said of Berman, “It was her or me. I had no choice.”