Robert Durst died at the age of 78 of cardiac arrest just months after the New York real estate heir was convicted by a California jury of murdering his friend Susan Berman in an execution-style shooting at her Los Angeles County home in December 2000.
Durst died at San Joaquin General Hospital after he went into cardiac arrest, attorney Chip Lewis told the New York Times.
“Mr. Durst passed away early this morning while in the custody of California’s Department of Corrections,” Lewis said. “We understand that his death was due to natural causes associated with a litany of medical issues we had repeatedly reported to the court over the last couple of years.”
Durst was was sentenced on Oct. 14, 2021 to life in prison.
At sentencing, trial judge Mark Windham shot down at least 15 defense claims of legal error.
“There is overwhelming evidence of guilt,” the judge said while rejecting the complaints from Durst’s legal team about the way the trial had proceeded.
Just days after the sentencing hearing, Dick DeGuerin, one of Durst’s defense attorneys, said his client had “was having difficulty breathing and he was having difficulty communicating” due to a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“I can confirm that we were notified that Mr. Durst has tested positive for Covid,” the defense attorney wrote in an email to Law&Crime at the time. “Also, I was very concerned about his condition on Thursday in court. He had difficulty breathing and speaking and looked worse than I’ve ever seen him. His condition has steadily deteriorated during the trial, as our medical consultant predicted. I’m also concerned for anyone who came in contact with him Thursday, particularly the defense team and court personnel.”
Despite Durst’s apparently failing health on multiple fronts, authorities in Westchester County, N.Y. secured a grand jury indictment on Nov. 1 which alleged Durst killed his wife Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, 29, in late January 1982. Now that Durst has died, it stands to reason that justice will never be done in Kathie’s case.
In a statement on Monday, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah (D) acknowledged that efforts to hold Durst criminally accountable in his first wife’s death are over.
“After 40 years spent seeking justice for her death, I know how upsetting this news must be for Kathleen Durst’s family,” Rocah said in a statement. “We had hoped to allow them the opportunity to see Mr. Durst finally face charges for Kathleen’s murder because we know that all families never stop wanting closure, justice and accountability.”
The DA’s office said that, given Durst’s death, more information about the case is expected to be made public “in the coming days.”
The timing of Durst’s death is important for another reason: Because he died while his appeal of the California conviction was ongoing, that conviction was not final under California law. This also initially happened in Massachusetts after Aaron Hernandez’s death.
During blockbuster testimony at his California criminal trial, Durst admitted he lied for two decades about the so-called “cadaver” note that led Beverly Hills police officers to Susan Berman’s body.
For years, Durst insisted only the true killer could have penned the note. After failing to call a handwriting expert’s analysis into question, Durst told jurors he was actually in Berman’s home that fateful day in Dec. 23, 2000 — and mailed the short message, notably misspelling Beverly as “Beverley.”
The note got its name because it only contained the word “cadaver” and the address where authorities found Berman’s remains.
“Did you lie about it for years?” Dick DeGuerin asked.
“Yes,” Durst answered.
“Why?” the lawyer pressed.
“Because it is a difficult thing to believe,” Durst said, referring to his claim that he wrote it but was not the killer. “I mean, I have difficulty believing it myself.”
Durst did not merely tell a different story for years. He told producers of the HBO documentary The Jinx that only the real killer could have written the note and that this person took a “big risk” by doing so.
The California jury that found 78-year-old Robert Durst guilty of first-degree murder also found that Durst was lying in wait in Beverly Hills before he killed his 55-year-old best friend Susan Berman in 2000 because she was a witness to a crime. Los Angeles prosecutors said all along that Berman knew Durst killed Kathie in 1982, with Berman even pretending to be Kathie when calling the missing woman’s medical school after her disappearance. Prosecutors also pointed to a confession that they said Durst gave to his and Berman’s former mutual friend Nathan “Nick” Chavin.
“It was [Susan] or me,” Durst said, according to Chavin’s testimony. “I had no choice.”
The prosecution further said that Durst, after killing Berman, went on to kill his Texas neighbor Morris Black in 2001 because he feared that then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was gunning for him.
“I was hiding from Jeanine Pirro,” Durst admitted.
Prosecutors said Durst killed Black for figuring out Durst’s identity, then cut up the victim’s corpse.
Durst was famously acquitted of murdering Black in 2005 after he claimed he accidentally killed the man in self-defense during a struggle over a gun. Durst was only convicted for dismembering Black’s body.
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
[Image via mugshot]
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