LOS ANGELES (AP) — A prosecutor attempted to ensnare Robert Durst in a web of deceit Tuesday after he admitted at his murder trial that he lied under oath in the past and would lie to get out of trouble.
The New York real estate heir said he hadn’t lied during five days of testimony, but a series of inconsistencies during cross-examination in Los Angeles County Superior Court threw his credibility into question and exposed the risk of putting a defendant on the witness stand.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who relished the prospect of grilling Durst and prepared a 200-page outline for questioning, got him to acknowledge there are some acts he would never be honest about.
Lewin asked how jurors were supposed to believe Durst.
“If you’ve said you’ve taken an oath to tell the truth but you’ve also just told us that you would lie if you needed to,” Lewin asked, “can you tell me how that would not destroy your credibility?”
“Because what I’m saying is mostly the truth,” Durst said. “There are certain things I would lie about, certain very important things.”
Durst said he would never admit killing Susan Berman — even if he had done so.
“’Did you kill Susan Berman?’ is strictly a hypothetical,” Durst said. “I did not kill Susan Berman. But if I had, I would lie about it.”
Durst, 78, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the point-blank shooting of Berman, his longtime confidante, in her Los Angeles home. Durst said he found a lifeless Berman lying on a bedroom floor when he showed up for a planned visit just before Christmas 2000.
Durst said he had prepared for Lewin’s interrogation but was anxious.
“I feel relieved that I’m close to getting this over, and I’m nervous, of course,” Durst told Lewin. “What I want today is to be acquitted.”
Playing clips of interviews Durst gave filmmakers, an interrogation conducted after Durst’s arrest in New Orleans in 2015, and clips from his testimony, Lewin got Durst to admit several lies he told over the years.
Prosecutors say Durst silenced Berman as she prepared to speak with New York authorities about the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, in 1982 and how she provided a false alibi for him.
Durst acknowledged he wouldn’t admit killing Kathie Durst if he had. And he wouldn’t admit murdering his neighbor Morris Black in Galveston, Texas, in 2001 if he had done so.
He has never been charged with a crime in his wife’s disappearance and has denied killing her. Her body has never been found, but she has been declared dead.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Black’s death after he testified he fatally shot the man during a struggle for a gun. He was convicted of destroying evidence for chopping up the man’s body and tossing it out to sea.
Testifying at trial is incredibly risky for a defendant, and most lawyers won’t put their clients on the stand. Durst’s testimony Tuesday showed he was particularly vulnerable because of a trail of lies.
“You don’t just make up lies for the sake of lying,” Lewin said. “You lie in particular when there is a reason for you to lie. And, generally speaking in this context, when it relates to incriminating evidence, correct?”
In questions from his own lawyer Monday, Durst admitted for the first time publicly that he sent a note directing police to Berman’s “cadaver.” He said he had always denied doing so because it made him look culpable.
Durst testified earlier Tuesday that he had not confessed to any killings when he was captured speaking to himself on a live microphone after filming a documentary about his life and the deaths of people close to him.
In the climactic scene of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” he could be heard in a bathroom muttering: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
Durst, who had just been caught on video in a lie about the “cadaver” note, explained that he either didn’t say everything he was thinking or didn’t speak loudly enough for the mic to catch it.
“What I did not say out loud or, perhaps I said very softly, is: ‘They’ll all think I killed them all, of course,’ ” he testified.
Many viewers have interpreted the two sentences, which were edited together by the filmmakers for a dramatic conclusion to the six-part HBO series, as an admission.
Authorities arrested Durst the night before the finale aired in March 2015 because they expected him to flee after the gotcha moment and the unexpected dialogue that followed.
Durst testified that he had been planning to kill himself with a gun when FBI agents apprehended him in the lobby of a New Orleans hotel, where he was registered under an alias.
He told filmmakers that only the killer could have written the cadaver note. His comments off camera came after he was confronted during his final interview for “The Jinx” with a note he had once sent Berman with nearly identical handwriting and Beverly Hills misspelled “Beverley.”
“I wrote this one, but I did not write the cadaver one,” Durst insisted in the film. But moments later, he couldn’t tell the two apart. After an awkward moment blinking and burping, he put his head in his hands. He denied being the killer.
When he stepped off camera — unwittingly still wired for sound — he said: “There it is. You’re caught.”
Durst testified that he reached out to the filmmakers to restore his reputation after becoming a pariah following the Texas case.
Despite being a multimillionaire, he was rejected by condominium associations in New York, Houston and California, he said. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art wanted him to make a donation anonymously.
Despite advice from his lawyers and “everybody” not to give a series of interviews for the film project, Durst ignored them all.
“That was very, very, very big mistake,” Durst testified.
LOS ANGELES (AP)(August 16, 2021 10:26 p.m.) — New York real estate heir Robert Durst testified Monday that he lied for decades about sending police a note directing them to the dead body of his best friend because he feared it would implicate him in the killing.
It was so hard to fathom that Susan Berman’s killer was not the same person who sent police a note directing them to her “cadaver” that Durst even questioned the plausibility of that explanation.
“I have difficulty believing it myself,” he testified in his defense in Los Angeles County Superior Court. “It’s very difficult to believe, to accept, that I wrote the letter and did not kill Susan Berman.”
Durst, 78, has denied killing Berman during four days of testimony at his murder trial.
Durst, the estranged eccentric heir to a commercial real estate fortune in New York, is only charged with Berman’s December 2000 killing. But Los Angeles prosecutors have introduced evidence of a presumed killing he is suspected of committing in New York and one he admitted to in Texas to prove the Berman case.
Prosecutors say Durst killed Berman to silence her before she could tell New York investigators how she provided a false alibi for him when his first wife vanished in 1982. They say he murdered a Galveston, Texas, neighbor in 2001 when the man discovered his identity while he was in hiding after New York police reopened the investigation into his wife’s disappearance.
Durst has denied killing Kathie Durst and has never been charged with a crime connected with her disappearance. Her body has never been found, but she has been legally declared dead. He was acquitted of murder in the killing of Morris Black in 2001 after testifying he shot the man in self-defense during a struggle for a gun.
Durst, who skipped bail in the Galveston case before eventually being arrested for shoplifting a sandwich in Pennsylvania, testified that he considered committing suicide while he was on the lam.
“I was going to shoot myself because I couldn’t imagine being a fugitive,” he said.
Durst, who is frail and suffering from a series of health problems, spoke in a soft, raspy voice as he denied killing Berman, his longtime pal who served as a spokeswoman when his wife went missing.
He showed no emotion describing how he found Berman lifeless when he showed up at her Los Angeles house during a planned visit a few days before Christmas.
Durst said there were cars parked out front and he found a note taped to her front door telling him she had gone for a walk. No one answered when he repeatedly rang the doorbell and knocked, so he let himself in with a key she gave him.
Her dogs barked incessantly, which was common, and he found a rear door to the house open and went into the backyard searching for her.
When he returned to the house, the front door was open and the note was gone. He said he may have left the door open after entering.
He found Berman lying on her back on a bedroom floor.
“I did a double take when I saw Susan,” he said. “I put my hand over her face … to see if she was breathing, to see if I felt breath. It felt cold. Then I grabbed her by her arms … her head just hung down. I could see that her hair was in some kind of liquid.”
He initially thought she was injured from a fall, but eventually concluded someone killed her.
He tried calling 911 from her home, but the battery in her cordless phone was dead. He decided to leave the house after hearing neighbors walking by and thinking he would be suspected if he was found inside with the body.
Durst said he stopped at a pay phone near Sunset Boulevard and dialed 911. He didn’t want to provide his name to the dispatcher and considered providing a phony name. But he concluded his distinct voice would eventually be recognized on the recording, so he hung up.
“I decided that instead of calling 911 I would send police a letter telling them that Susan was dead in her house,” Durst said.
He mailed a note to police that simply said, “CADAVER” and included Berman’s address. The envelope misspelled Beverly Hills as “Beverley.”
Durst said he didn’t remember the details of writing the note because he was in a fog after taking an opioid pain-reliever the night before for a migraine headache.
Durst had always denied writing the note — to police and documentary filmmakers who confronted him with a letter he once sent Berman with nearly identical handwriting and the same misspelling of Beverly.
After the judge ruled that prosecutors could present evidence showing he wrote the note, his lawyers conceded before trial that Durst penned it. His testimony was the first time he’s publicly described finding Berman and writing the note.
Durst denied killing Berman and said he had no motive to kill her. He denied that Berman, who was was in financial trouble and had been supported by him over the years, had been blackmailing him.
“Someone must have had a reason, a motive, whatever, to kill Susan Berman,” he said. “I had no reason to kill Susan Berman.”
When Durst wraps up his questioning from his lawyer, he is expected to come under withering cross-examination from Deputy District Attorney John Lewin.
During arguments Monday over evidence, Lewin said Durst had repeatedly lied on the witness stand.
“He has perjured himself probably 100 times and that’s not hyperbole,” Lewin said. “He’s testified inconsistently with other statements he’s given under oath.”
For more coverage from this trial you can click the links below:
- Robert Durst takes stand at his trial, denies killing friend
- Durst says he lied to police about night wife disappeared