Almost four decades after his wife’s abrupt disappearance threw a cloud of suspicion that would make his case one of the most notorious in the country, Robert A. Durst was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday for the execution-style murder. in 2000 from a close confidante.
Mr Durst, 78, whose life story inspired a Hollywood film and HBO documentary, will not be eligible for parole. The jury that convicted him of first degree murder in Los Angeles last month found that the prosecution had proven special circumstances: namely, that Mr. Durst shot Susan Berman, a journalist and screenwriter, because ‘he feared she was about to tell investigators what she learned about her media affair following the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst.
For the first time since the trial resumed in May, the courtroom was full on Thursday, with most of the jurors present.
Mr. Durst, who sat slumped in a wheelchair, wore a brown prison sweater and a surgical mask. He did not address the judge and, due to his hearing difficulties, followed by watching a tablet display the words spoken in court.
“I was robbed, and my stepson was robbed, of an absolutely amazing brilliant person whose life was savagely taken,” said Deni Marcus, one of Ms. Berman’s cousins, during the four victim impact statements that were given to the judge.
Another cousin of Ms. Berman, Dave Berman, swallowed back tears as he said, “I visited her and told her she could sleep well, that justice had been served. He added that Mr Durst should say where Ms Durst’s body is located so that her family can secure a closure.
Prior to sentencing, Judge Mark E. Windham dismissed a defense request for a new trial, citing “overwhelming guilt evidence”. The defense should appeal.
Since his wife disappeared without a trace, Mr. Durst, born into a family whose Manhattan real estate empire is now valued at around $ 8 billion, has led a traveling existence. He moved between New York, California and Texas, where he was tried in 2003 for the murder and dismemberment of Morris Black, a man who lived opposite him in a rooming house in Galveston where Mr. Durst was staying. passed off for a dumb woman.
Mr Durst claimed self-defense and a jury acquitted him, despite his testimony that he sat in a pool of blood as he cut up Mr Morris’s body.
Ms Berman, who had been Mr Durst’s close friend for many years, was found dead in her home on the outskirts of Beverly Hills on Christmas Eve in 2000. After neighbors saw her two dogs running free , the police were called and found her back door open. Mrs. Berman had been shot in the back of the neck; there was no sign of the break-in and her purse remained intact.
“I think she kind of fell in love with Bobby,” Dave Berman said in a pre-sentencing interview, adding that Ms Berman had met Mr Durst when she was in journalism school in California. “She had it given to her at her wedding. There are more pictures of her hugging Bobby than of her and her husband.
Even as Mr Durst was sentenced on Thursday, the investigation into his wife’s disappearance was advancing again.
Miriam E. Rocah, the prosecutor for Westchester County, NY, where the couple lived in 1982, announced this year that her office has reopened the case. Prosecutors are questioning witnesses and are expected to seek a first degree murder indictment from a grand jury in the coming week.
Understanding the Robert Durst case
This could be a challenge given that there are no witnesses, weapons, fingerprints or bodies.
Mr Durst has admitted in the past that he was a “bad husband” but has always insisted that he did not kill his wife. He also continued to deny any involvement in Ms Berman’s death.
He might still be a free man if he had not, against all advice from his lawyers, spoken and talked about the two cases, providing investigators with a trail of breadcrumbs. He gave 20 hours of interviews containing numerous damaging confessions to the producers of the 2015 HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”. (The director of the documentary previously made a movie, “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as a character based on Mr. Durst.)
After being arrested in New Orleans in 2015 and charged with the murder of Ms Berman, Mr Durst gave a nearly three-hour interview to a Los Angeles assistant prosecutor, John Lewin. The talkative Mr. Durst is also taped on hundreds of phone calls to prison, making not-so-careful statements that prosecutors have used against him in court.
The trial began in March 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic put an end to lives across America. When testimony was due to resume in May, defense lawyers called the 14-month adjournment the longest with the same jury in U.S. history.
After weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for about seven and a half hours before finding Mr Durst guilty last month. He was not in the courtroom for the verdict; he was in quarantine, officials said, after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
After the verdict, his wife’s family released a statement calling for Mr Durst to also be prosecuted for his disappearance. “Kathie”, they wrote, “still awaits justice.”