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Robert Durst case: Lawyer questions witness testimony on alleged confession

Robert Durst case
Robert Durst case 02:25

LOS ANGELES -- Robert Durst’s close friend said Friday that it took seven months for him to come clean and tell prosecutors what the real estate heir said about killing their close friend.

Nathan Chavin said he struggled during that time to balance his loyalties to two best friends before deciding to tell “the whole truth” about what he knew about Susan Berman’s death.

“I had to consider my obligation to Susan and Susan’s memory,” Chavin said in explaining how she won out in the balance of loyalties. “I had a duty to protect her memory like she had to protect Bob.” 

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Chavin offered bombshell testimony Thursday when he said Durst told him on a New York sidewalk in 2014 what he took to be a confession to Berman’s killing. 

“I had to. It was her or me,” Durst said, according to Chavin. “I had no choice.” 

Chavin also testified that Berman told him years ago that Durst confided in her that he killed his first wife, Kathleen Durst, who disappeared in 1982 and has never been found.   

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But Friday, Durst’s lawyer suggested Chavin fabricated the story of the confession to curry favor with Douglas Durst, who ran the family’s New York real estate development empire and feared his older brother and wanted him behind bars. Chavin is an advertising executive who does business with The Durst Organization, and his wife works there.

Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin showed several instances where Chavin stonewalled or misled prosecutors who tried for months to find out what Robert Durst told him about Berman’s fatal shooting.

DeGuerin tried to get Chavin to admit he lied to authorities, but he struck a combative tone at times and offered nuanced answers, saying he had waffled and parsing words in transcripts of phone calls with prosecutors.

“I wasn’t ready to talk about it then,” Chavin testified in a rare pretrial hearing to record testimony in case he can’t be at a future trial. “I wouldn’t call it lying.”

Durst, 73, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the fatal shooting of Berman in her Los Angeles home. Authorities have long suspected he killed Kathleen Durst, but he’s never been charged with any crime related to her disappearance.

After Chavin first spoke with prosecutors in April 2015 - shortly after Durst’s arrest in Berman’s killing - he provided different accounts of what he knew about Durst. In one instance he told them the sidewalk conversation in December 2014 ended with Durst shrugging, mumbling something and walking away. 

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On other occasions, Chavin told prosecutors he was making a major pitch to The Durst Organization and that his business depends on maintaining goodwill with Douglas Durst, who hates his brother. He was asked that if he told authorities about a confession, if it would put him in the good graces of Douglas Durst. 

“It sure would,” he said. “But it would make me a liar.” 

Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015 just before the final episode aired of the six-part HBO series, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” 

After the arrest, Durst called Chavin from jail and said he regretted participating in the documentary film project that dredged up new evidence and ended with him muttering to himself on a live microphone: “You’re caught! What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” 

On the jailhouse call, Durst said the filmmaker had put him behind bars. 

Durst said it was “unbelievable how stupid I could be.” 

Chavin said he didn’t want to sound like an “I told you so person,” but he reminded Durst that he counseled him not to participate in the project. 

Chavin said Durst had urged him to participate in the film and he declined. 

“I thought it would be harmful to him,” Chavin said.

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