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Robert Durst’s defense pleads for closure;  the jury will start deliberating on Tuesday


Lawyers for Robert Durst, a real estate heir accused of silencing his best friend with a bullet to the head, argued before a jury that prosecutors had failed to prove a point central to their case: that Durst had killed his wife four decades ago, the alleged crime which Durst’s friend was said to have witnessed.

Los Angeles County prosecutors have argued that Durst killed his best friend, Susan Berman, because she helped cover up the death of his wife, Kathie Durst, who disappeared in 1982 and has never been seen since. After Kathie’s death, Berman impersonated her on a call to the medical school she attended, telling a dean she was too sick to go to class, the theory says. charge.

Two decades later, when authorities restarted the investigation into his wife’s disappearance, Durst killed Berman to prevent him from telling police what she knew, prosecutors said. They charged Durst with murdering Berman, 55, at his home in Benedict Canyon, with a single bullet to the head. The 78-year-old also faces allegations of special circumstances that he killed a witness and waited.

Durst’s attorneys Dick DeGuerin and David Chesnoff argued last week and Monday that the premise on which the prosecution’s case is based – that Durst killed his wife – was not supported by months of testimony and other evidence presented to the jury.

Berman, Chesnoff said, was “a witness to nothing”.

Robert Durst’s defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin, left, and David Chesnoff, listen as the prosecution begins oral argument.

(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The prosecution, Chesnoff said, asked the jury to clear the gaps in their case, “make leaps and bounds” and piece together the disjointed fragments of aging memories and bloody photographs to reach a guilty verdict. .

“It’s just, ‘Throw it against the wall, and something will stick,’” he said. “But that doesn’t count in a lawsuit, neither in California, nor in the United States of America.”

DeGuerin admitted that Durst’s treatment of his wife, whom he physically and emotionally abused, was “excruciating”. DeGuerin also conceded that Durst looked “really bad” on the witness stand, from which he was cross-examined for nine days.

It is clear from Durst’s testimony, his lawyer said, that his “compass does not point north. It is unusual.

But dislike, even hatred for him, or the impression that he lied on the witness stand, “does not replace proof … that he killed Susan Berman,” DeGuerin said.

On the witness stand, Durst testified that he flew to California for a planned “stay” with Berman in December 2000. When he entered his house, using a key that she loaned him, he found her body and panicked, he said. Unable to call police using Berman’s landline, Durst said, he wrote a note to the Beverly Hills Police Department, telling them about a “corpse” at Berman’s address.

Robert Durst’s defense pleads for closure;  the jury will start deliberating on Tuesday

Susan Berman was found dead in this Benedict Canyon home in 2000.

(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Shortly before his death, Durst, whose family owns some of Manhattan’s most iconic and treasured buildings, sent Berman two checks totaling $ 50,000. Prosecutors have suggested Berman, who became destitute towards the end of her life, was using one final asset – her knowledge of Kathie’s death and the cover-up she had organized – to lean on Durst for money .

Chesnoff said the checks were just gifts to help a friend who was broke. “Which killer gives his victim $ 50,000 and then tells the police where to find the body?” He asked.

Chesnoff conceded that the defense couldn’t explain all the mysteries of his client’s curious life. But “we don’t have to prove Bob’s innocence,” he said. “We have no burden. They ”- and he pointed to the prosecutors sitting behind him -“ do ”.

The prosecution is allowed to have the last word before the jury begins to deliberate. Dist. Atty. John Lewin began his argument on Monday to refute the claims of Chesnoff and DeGuerin. The jury is expected to hear the case at noon Tuesday.