By BRIAN MELLEY, Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Robert Durst’s hotly contested murder trial spanned nearly two years. His sentence will be relatively short and may lack the fireworks that have erupted between the lead prosecutor and the defense attorney.
The eccentric New York real estate heir faces a life sentence without parole Thursday for the first degree murder of his best friend, Susan Berman.
“Now that the jury has found a thriller, the sanction is pretty clear,” said Laurie Levenson, professor at Loyola Law School. “I’m not sure there is much more to say for (the prosecutor).”
Durst, 78, was convicted last month in Los Angeles Superior Court for shooting Berman in the back of the head at point blank range in his Los Angeles home just before Christmas 2000.
The trial began in March 2020 and has been adjourned for 14 months as the coronavirus pandemic swept across the United States and the courts were closed. He resumed in May with the jury which returned its verdict on September 17.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas gangster, was Durst’s longtime confidante who prepared to tell police she had provided him with a false alibi after his wife went missing in New York City in 1982.
Kathie Durst has never been found. Robert Durst has never been charged with a crime related to his disappearance.
But following his conviction in Berman’s death, which was based on evidence that he had killed his wife, a New York prosecutor is now ready to press charges against him for his death, told the Associated Press a person familiar with the matter on condition of anonymity.
Durst testified in the LA case, denying killing his wife or Berman, but said he would be lying if he did.
Kathie McCormack Durst’s family had hoped to make statements to court on Thursday about their loss, but prosecutors have denied the request, according to emails sent to their lawyer.
Lawyer Robert Abrams said the McCormack family were disappointed and outraged. He said family members would not attend the sentencing.
“The family is not going to travel 3,000 miles to be a prop in a Hollywood production and sit there and not be able to give their victim impact statements,” Abrams said. “It’s not a movie where it’s a crass spectacle. It’s their life, and they suffered for 40 years.
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office did not return a message seeking comment.
Levenson said it was doubtful Kathie Durst was a victim in the Los Angeles case because Robert Durst was not charged with her murder. Allowing his siblings to speak out during sentencing would create another problem for an appeal.
Defense attorneys plan to argue for a new trial on Thursday, saying there was not enough evidence to prove the case and listing 15 ways the judge erred.
The petition is primarily aimed at preserving appeal issues and is likely to fail, Levenson said, although some of their claims may attract the attention of a higher court.
The defense said Judge Mark Windham should have declared the trial set aside when the jury was sent home and the case adjourned. They said the length of the delay was unprecedented.
Many other issues revolve around the admission of evidence, such as allowing prosecutors to present testimony that Durst killed a neighbor in Galveston, Texas in 2001 and chopped up his body and threw the parts overboard. Durst was acquitted of the murder after testifying that Morris Black pointed a gun at him and was killed in a gun fight.
They also objected to testimony and exhibits which showed that when Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015, he had a mask, fake ID, drugs, $ 40,000 in cash and a gun. loaded fist in his hotel room.
They also opposed the showing to jurors of a feature film based on Durst’s life and the six-part documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Crimes of Robert Durst”.
To limit the number of questions on appeal, prosecutors can be more sober in presenting the sentence, Levenson said, especially when the prison sentence is already set.
After the conviction, a reporter asked Assistant District Attorney John Lewin what he had to say to Durst.
Lewin, who was aggressive and was frequently fired with defense attorney Dick DeGuerin in the six years between arrest and conviction, initially said he had nothing to say to the man he had been chasing for years.
Then he called Durst a “narcissistic psychopath” who “killed his wife and… had to keep killing to cover it up”.
“He’s 78 years old. He’s been around a long time, “Lewin said.” He’s had a lot more of a lifetime, you know, Kathie hasn’t done 30. Overall, considering what he’s done, he’s had had much more of a life than there was entitled to.
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak in New York contributed to this report.
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