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Real Estate Heir Robert Durst Found Guilty of Murdering His Friend Susan Berman in 2000

Robert Durst testifies

Robert Durst

A jury in California found New York real estate heir Robert Durst, 78, guilty on Friday of first-degree murder in the death of his friend Susan Berman, 55, who was killed execution style at her Beverly Hills home in 2000.

Durst was not present when the verdict was read, to the dismay of the defense. But the verdict was read nonetheless.

Although the trial itself was lengthy, it took jurors around 7 and a half hours to reach a verdict. Jurors found that Berman was killed because she was a witness to a crime. Jurors also found that Durst was lying in wait when he committed the murder.

Prosecutors said all along that the victim knew Durst killed his missing wife Kathleen McCormack Durst in 1982 because Berman helped cover up the disappearance. The theory of the case was that Durst was worried Berman would go to authorities in New York State with the truth.

Jurors in Los Angeles County, California only had to decide if Durst killed Berman, but prosecutors led by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin focused much of the case around Kathie Durst’s 1982 disappearance and Robert Durst’s killing of Texas neighbor Morris Black, 71, in 2001. The prosecution maintained that each killing led to the other.

“Do not let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he has done,” Lewin told jurors in closing arguments. The prosecution described Durst as a prolific and creative liar, but one who nonetheless kept contradicting his own falsehoods. Durst insisted on the stand that certain statements on the HBO docuseries The Jinx were lies coached by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, but the prosecution dismissed this as Durst failing to keep his fabrications straight over time.

Durst’s defense lawyers Dick DeGuerin and David Chesnoff maintained the state lacked evidence to actually show their client killed Berman.

The general timeline for the case is that Kathie went missing in 1982. According to prosecutors, Berman pretended to be Kathie when calling out sick from the missing woman’s medical school. Robert Durst, who has never been charged let alone tried for killing his wife, got away with the crime for decades, authorities said. Durst finally killed Berman in 2000 to silence her, authorities said. She got a bullet to the back of the head as thanks for covering up Kathie’s disappearance, said prosecutor Habib Balian.

“It was her or me,” Durst said, according to testimony from former friend Nathan “Nick” Chavin. “I had no choice.”

Durst denied saying that.

Durst insisted in testimony that he found Berman’s body at her home, then — thinking no one would believe his innocence — wrote a cryptic, anonymous note for police. In that note, Durst wrote “cadaver” and made the idiosyncratic misspelling “Beverley.” Durst previously denied writing the letter, insisting that only the killer could have written it. Durst’s defense acknowledged that he did write the letter, but only after they could not prohibit handwriting evidence from the trial.

After Berman’s death, Durst fled to Texas where he pretended to be a mute woman in order to evade detection, prosecutors said. By his own account, the defendant wanted to evade then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro. Prosecutors said that the defendant then killed Morris Black for figuring out Durst’s identity.

Ultimately, jurors in Texas acquitted Durst of murder in 2005 after he claimed he accidentally killed Black in self-defense. He maintained that he shot Black during a struggle over a gun. Despite the murder acquittal, the same jury convicted Durst of dismembering Black’s body. Authorities have never found Black’s head, which is where Durst is believed to have shot him.

Through their lawyers, the McCormack family released the following statement Friday evening in reaction to the verdict:

Not a single day goes by that we do not think about our beautiful, smart, and kind sister, Kathleen. Today, more than ever before, it is clear that she was murdered by Robert Durst in Westchester County, New York on January 31, 1982. The evidence is overwhelming. Although Durst has now been rightly convicted of killing Susan Berman, who helped him conceal the truth about Kathie’s death, the McCormack family is still waiting for justice. Kathie is still waiting for justice.

The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family and charge Durst for the murder of his wife, Kathie, which occurred almost forty years ago. They have had interviews, statements, and documents for months. The closing arguments by the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys should remove any doubt. It’s bizarre and unacceptable that Durst was tried for killing an accomplice before being held accountable for Kathie’s murder.

Westchester DA [Mimi] Rocah has assembled a team of cold case prosecutors and investigators every bit the equal of those in Los Angeles. It is time for Westchester to finally do the right thing.

Editor’s note: this report was updated to include the McCormack family statement.

[Screenshot via Law&Crime Network]

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