March 5, 2015
There is an old saying, “The third time is a charm.” For millionaire real-estate heir Robert Durst however, the third time may be his jinx. Since the 1980’s Durst has been intimately linked to a missing person’s case and two murders, the victims all being close friends or family. Now, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has placed the spotlight directly on Mr. Durst, charging him with 1st degree murder for the death of his close friend and confidante, Susan Berman.
This recent charge stems from a fifteen- year old cold-case, in which Berman was found dead, shot execution style in her home, days before she was expected to speak to police regarding the disappearance of Durst’s wife in 1982. Although Durst had not been considered a suspect in the 1982 disappearance, it has been widely suspected that after years of marriage filled with violence and discord, that Durst was intricately involved in his wife, Kathleen McCormack’s disappearance. In between McCormack’s disappearance and Berman’s death, Durst was charged with the murder of his friend and neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, after admitting that he not only shot Black, but also chopped up and disposed of his body. Through expert legal maneuvering, he was acquitted of murder, after his lawyer’s successfully argued that Durst had killed Morris in self-defense.
Now, over a decade after the death of McCormack, for which Durst has long been the main suspect, new evidence has come to light from an unlikely source. HBO’s documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, chronicles exactly what the title implies and offers a candid look at the man who has been shrouded in mystery for so many years. While Durst expected and indeed welcomed the questions posed to him by the film’s director, Andrew Jarecki, he probably did not expect the series to be his potential undoing. In the final minutes of the season finale, Durst walked off-screen with his microphone attached, and made a very cryptic statement to himself, “What have I done?” “Killed them all, of course.” The next day, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office filed 1st degree murder charges against Durst for the death of Susan Berman, and immediately sought to extradite Durst from New Orleans, where he was staying under the alias Everette Ward. Although unconfirmed, Los Angeles authorities believe that Durst was only days away from fleeing to Cuba, before being arrested by New Orleans authorities in the hotel lobby in which he had been staying.
Allowing the statement to be admitted as evidence, however, will require prosecutors to maneuver around some tricky rules of evidence. Chief among the legal obstacles is the hearsay rule, which generally does not allow out of court statements or confessions to be admitted as evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted unless it falls under one of the many exemptions or exceptions. In this case, the strongest argument for allowing the recorded statement is that it is a party admission.
For prosecutors, however, Durst’s statements are simply icing on the cake. In 2002, while on trial for the murder of Black, detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department were comparing handwriting samples from two separate letters; one sent to police indicating the location of Berman’s body, and the other addressed to Berman. The handwriting on both letters are strikingly similar, and indeed, exhaustive forensic examination has concluded that both letters were most likely written by Durst.
Known as an “eccentric millionaire” Durst agreed to be filmed for the documentary after his attorney repeatedly advised him not to, probably because the director of the series, Andrew Jarecki, is the same man who directed the 2010 film All Good Things, which starred Ryan Gosling playing a fictionalized version of Durst. The film was less than flattering to Durst, and for the most part showed Durst to be a severely disturbed man. It indicated that he was solely responsible for the disappearance of McCormack and the deaths of both Black and Berman. If Durst is indeed guilty of Berman’s murder, it is extremely puzzling that he would volunteer himself to be a part of a television series directed by a man who clearly vilified him previously. It could be that Durst and his attorney believe this is precisely why the public should be slow to point fingers at the 71 year old, and that Durst purposely placed himself in the spotlight because he had nothing to hide.
Innocent or guilty, Robert Durst is certainly an odd man, and this case is sure to be one of the most captivating celebrity murder trials since the acquittal of O.J. Simpson in 1995. Shortly after being arrested in New Orleans, Durst can be seen smiling at cameras fully clad in an orange-jumpsuit and handcuffs while sitting in the back of a police car. More recently, the Texas judge who presided over Durst’s 2002 murder trial, Susan Criss, has come forward with some shocking revelations. Shortly after testifying at a parole hearing for Durst, she found a dismembered cat on her doorstep, and she believes Durst was responsible. In an interview on CNN Criss said, “I saw something right at the foot of my sidewalk, and at first I thought it was a dead rat . . . I realized it was a severed cat head with the front two legs attached . . . it was done perfectly, it was clean . . . I knew he had a history of destroying animals and cutting up animals and doing terrible things to them.” With Durst’s attorney attempting to have Durst placed in a psychiatric ward, it may be that they are gearing up for an insanity defense, but with evidence mounting against him, it seems that all good things do in fact come to an end.