LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Robert Durst was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday in a Los Angeles courtroom for the 2000 murder of his longtime friend and confidante in her Benedict Canyon home just over 20 years ago.
After a trial which lasted four months, the 78-year-old Durst was convicted Sept. 17 by a jury of first-degree murder in the Dec. 23, 2000, shooting death of Susan Berman. He was convicted in the special circumstance allegations of murder while lying in wait, and murder of a witness. Jurors also found true allegations that Durst personally used and discharged a firearm during the commission of the crime.
Durst sat quietly in a wheelchair Thursday as Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Prosecutors argued that Durst shot Berman and then his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, nine months later -- in the head because each of them had damaging information against him and feared they would speak to authorities after a re-investigation was launched into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen "Kathie" Durst, whose body has never been found.
Durst spent 14 days on the stand and repeatedly denied being involved in Berman's killing, and testified that he wrote a so-called "cadaver" letter to police after finding Berman's body while using a key she had sent him to enter her house.
Durst has denied any involvement in his first wife's disappearance, and he was acquitted in Texas of Black's murder after testifying that the gun went off during a struggle over the weapon.
Jurors initially began hearing the case in March 2020. The trial was subsequently moved to a larger courtroom in Inglewood due to social distancing concerns because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which quickly forced a delay of about 14 months in the trial. Jurors returned to court in mid-May, when attorneys gave a new and abbreviated round of opening statements before testimony resumed.
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the six-part HBO documentary series "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," which examined the disappearance of Kathie Durst and the shooting deaths of Berman and Black.
During his time on the stand, the defendant told jurors that a bathroom recording of him shown in the series in which he said, "There it is, you're caught," referred to the cadaver note he ultimately admitted writing.
In his final argument, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told the jury that there was a "mountain of evidence" against Durst, whom he said "killed three people," and that it is time for Durst to be "held accountable." The prosecutor noted that Durst's wife had mysteriously disappeared never to be seen again, that Berman was killed after telling Durst she was going to talk to police looking into Kathie Durst's disappearance, that Black was killed and dismembered and that a mutual friend of Durst and Berman testified that Durst had told him about Berman, "It was her or me. I had no choice."
Another prosecutor, Habib Balian, told jurors that the killing was "planned" and "premeditated," and that "Susan knew her killer and let him into the house" before being shot in the back of the head when she turned her back.
Balian noted that Durst acknowledged that Berman had told him she was going to speak with police after the investigation was reopened into Kathie Durst's disappearance.
Durst has long been estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers including an investment in the World Trade Center. He split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle and ultimately reached a settlement in which the family reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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