Robert Durst, the former New York real estate heir who inspired a grim HBO documentary, was sentenced to life behind bars on Thursday for the execution-style murder of his friend Susan Berman in 2000.
“I wish you peace in the future,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Windham told a handful of Berman’s relatives who were gathered in the courtroom.
Durst, 78, was convicted of the murder in September after a trial that took years to unfold and was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015, wearing a head-to-shoulder latex mask and carrying $ 42,000 in cash just before the last episode of “The Jinx” to air on HBO drawing international attention to his life and his family history. The Durst family owns and operates some of Manhattan’s most valuable commercial real estate. As the eldest son, Robert was expected to take over the family business, until his volatile personality turned out to be unsuitable. His brother Douglas was ultimately chosen for the post.
Berman was 55 when police found her dead in her California home with a gunshot wound to the back of her head. Neighbors alerted law enforcement when Berman’s dogs were seen roaming the streets. Police then received a note in the mail directing them to a “corpse” at Berman’s address – a note Durst admitted to writing.
Berman had been a friend of Durst for decades, serving as his spokesperson when his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1982.
Earlier this year, Douglas Durst testified about his brother’s violent tendencies during the trial, saying Robert “would like to murder me”.
“There is almost no emotion that Bob shows that is genuine,” said Douglas.
Thomas Durst, Durst’s third brother, also testified in 2020, before the trial was interrupted, that he was terrified of his older brother. Thomas said he would rate Robert’s generosity, on a scale of zero to 100, “about minus 50, if the scale is that low.”
Prosecutors suggested during the trial that Durst murdered Berman, a police writer who was in financial trouble, in order to prevent him from talking about McCormack, who Durst is also suspected of having killed.
“He’s a narcissistic psychopath. He killed his wife and then he had to keep killing to cover it up, ”Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney John Lewin said after Durst’s conviction last month.
Speaking to the judge on Thursday, Lewin said: “The evidence is very clear” that Berman helped Durst “cover up the murder of his wife,” but added: “I think it is very important to understand … That Susan Berman did not cover up what was described to her as murder. Susan Berman, most likely [believed] it was sort of an accident.
Windham repeatedly called the case a “witness murder” on Thursday before passing his sentence. Berman’s death represented a “denial of justice to the McCormack family,” Windham said.
The McCormack family were reportedly angry that they were not allowed to read a victim impact statement during Durst’s conviction, as a significant portion of prosecutors’ presentation during the trial was devoted to proving that his marriage had been in ruin in the 1980s.
When Berman’s family and friends rose to deliver the victim’s statements to the judge on Thursday, several of them asked Durst to tell the McCormack family where to find Kathy’s remains so they could ask for the closing.
McCormack was 29 when she disappeared and had been married for almost a decade. She was only a few months away from completing her medical degree.
The case of McCormack’s disappearance and presumed death was reopened in May. Westchester, New York, District Attorney Mimi Rocah is reportedly seeking indictment of Durst in his home state.
The former estate heir was first charged with murder almost two decades ago, when he was acquitted of the death of a neighbor after he admitted to cutting up the man’s body and l ‘having thrown in a stream.
During his trial in 2003, Durst claimed he was trying to defend himself in a fight over a gun that ultimately killed his friend and neighbor, Morris Black. He said he was worried that no one would believe him due to the strange circumstances of his lifestyle. Durst had kept a low profile and used a disguise after Berman’s death.
As his defense attorney said in 2003: “Her friend is dead, lying on the floor in a $ 300 apartment rented by a billionaire in Galveston, Texas, who is dressed as a woman. How much weirder than that, and who will believe it? “
After being arrested for Black’s death and released on bail, Durst quickly fled, only to be arrested in Pennsylvania for attempting to steal a newspaper and a chicken salad sandwich. He had shaved his hair and eyebrows.
He eventually served about a year in prison for escaping his bail.