Millionaire and accused murderer Robert Durst took the witness stand Monday to testify in his own defense, denying that he killed his old friend and unofficial spokesperson Susan Berman, who died from a gunshot to the back of the head in her Beverly Hills home.
The 78-year-old real estate heir was arrested in March 2015 for Berman’s December 2000 slaying. Prosecutors claim Durst killed Berman, 55, because she was planning to cooperate with investigators and implicate him in his wife Kathie’s mysterious 1982 disappearance.
After allegedly killing Berman, Durst went on the run and wound up in Galveston, Texas. In 2001, while there, Durst was accused of murdering a neighbor, 71-year-old Morris Black. Prosecutors said Durst killed Black after Black realized Durst—who was at that point living as a woman in an attempt to avoid capture—was a fugitive.
Before the trial was postponed in July 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, prosecutors played video for the jury of a 2015 jailhouse interview with Durst, in which Durst described in detail how he dismembered Black’s corpse: “I’ve been told, um, that a surgeon would cut up a body the same way you do a chicken. You go into the joint. And you, you cut around the joint. You get rid of all the ligaments. And then, the thing comes out. You’re not gonna try to cut through the goddamned bone.”
A jury in 2015 acquitted Durst in Black’s killing. Kathie Durst’s body has never been found.
“Did you kill Susan Berman?” defense attorney Dick DeGuerin asked Durst, who was wearing a plastic face shield to protect against COVID-19, on Monday afternoon.
“No,” Durst replied in a soft wheeze.
“Do you know who did?” said DeGuerin.
“No, I do not.” answered Durst.
DeGuerin then asked Durst about his health. Durst went through a list of his problems, which he said include hydrocephalus, neuropathy, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and COPD. DeGuerin pointed out Durst’s catheter to the jury, in case they hadn’t seen it, which Durst explained was there as the result of bladder cancer.
Durst said he “barely graduated from high school because I never spent any time there,” but “managed to graduate” from Lehigh University and then pursued a PhD in economics at UCLA.
He said he met Berman after his first year at UCLA in 1966, when a friend, Stuart Altman and his younger brother Eric, “came out to visit me.” There were rooms for rent at a nearby fraternity house, Beta Theta Pi, and they rented one together for the summer. “One night, what we did all summer long was to hang out at the Dykstra Pool, just west of UCLA’s main campus, south of Sunset…”
He said he met Berman by the pool, and that he “found out her parents were dead.”
“Both of us were raised by others than our parents,” said Durst. “Her parents were both dead, her father died when she was 7, her mother died when she was 12. My mother died when I was 7, my father couldn’t handle me and I kept running away and he kept sending me to see psychiatrists.”
Durst said he and Berman were only friends, and were not romantically involved. He appeared to still hold a grudge against his father for trying to bring him into the family real estate business rather than supporting his dream of opening a health food store.
In response to a question from his lawyer about his childhood, Durst said he blames his father, Seymour, for his mother’s death. Bernice Durst either jumped or fell from the roof of the family’s Scarsdale, New York, home in 1950; Durst said he did not know if his mother died by suicide or slipped, but that he “hated the house.”
The Dursts’ family turmoil came up several times during his testimony, with DeGuerin bringing up an old beef between Robert and his brother Thomas, who is now in his 70s, stemming from a 1981 incident.
“You heard Tommy, your brother, testify here that he resented you to this day for pulling a trick on him in a revolving door,” said DeGuerin. “Do you remember that event?”
“I remember Tommy’s testimony… [but] I don’t remember what he was talking about,” said Durst.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Windham at one point admonished Durst for launching into long, rambling answers that had little to do with the original question that DeGuerin had asked.
Durst took the stand following a blistering, multi-day cross examination of defense witness Dr. Elizabeth Loftus, a “false memory” expert who has in the past testified on behalf of alleged sex offender Harvey Weinstein, accused murderer O.J. Simpson, serial killer Ted Bundy, domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh, late pop star Michael Jackson, disgraced comedian and convicted rapist Bill Cosby, and convicted Penn State child molester Jerry Sandusky. In response to one question, Loftus told the courtroom that she has in fact refused cases in the past, such as one involving former Nazi death camp guard Ivan the Terrible.