Robert Durst defense lawyers say his arrest was "illegal"

NEW ORLEANS -- The eccentric millionaire Robert Durst was back in court today in New Orleans where he faces a weapons charge, for a gun that was found when he was arrested for a Los Angeles murder.

Durst appeared to confess to that killing and at least two others in an HBO documentary.

Today was supposed to be an ordinary preliminary hearing but when Durst's attorneys came in and asked for those state charges to be dropped, it became an all out legal battle.

Robert Durst's arrest last month at a hotel in New Orleans is -- to prosecutors -- cut and dry. FBI agents, suspecting that Durst was about to leave the country made their move first.

But that is not how defense attorney Dick DeGuerin sees it.

"It was illegal," said DeGuerin. "It was not proper. They approached Bob in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel and he was under arrest from that point on."

The defense describes this timeline: on March 14 at 3 p.m., the FBI detained Durst. At 6 p.m., agents began to search his room. A .38 caliber gun in a coat hanging in his closet and marijuana in his luggage was seized.

Yet, it was only around 2:00 the next morning that authorities applied for a search warrant for the hotel room.

Not only that, the defense accused state police of intentionally misleading a judge on an application for an arrest warrant, making it appear the gun and marijuana were discovered after a valid search warrant was in hand.

In court today, Assistant District Attorney Mark Burton insisted the arrest was valid, but when attorneys for Durst called the FBI agents and state investigator to the stand, no one appeared. The magistrate judge postponed the hearing and ordered the U.S. Attorney's office to either produce the witnesses or be in contempt. Burton wouldn't comment, but DeGuerin did.

"We want to be in court," he said. "We want to have witnesses. We want to cross examine witnesses. I said to the court it sounds to me like they're hiding the ball."

If you're wondering why Durst's attorneys are taking these state charges so seriously, it's because it Durst is convicted on these weapon charges he could be sent to prison for 15 years, and when you're nearly 72 years old that could be a life sentence.

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"