LOS ANGELES -- A friend of Susan Berman testified that Berman tapped New York real estate heir Robert Durst as her potential killer years before she was executed in her home.
Miriam Barnes’ testified Tuesday that Berman once told her, “If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it.”
A nervous Berman had summoned Barnes to her New York apartment around the time Durst’s wife Kathleen vanished to say she had done something that day for Durst, but she wouldn’t elaborate. The gravity of what she said next wouldn’t sink in until Barnes was at Berman’s funeral nearly two decades later.
Barnes, who is expected to face cross-examination Wednesday, was the second witness at the unusual hearing to record testimony in Los Angeles Superior Court from witnesses who are old, ill or fear for their safety and may not be available at Durst’s eventual trial.
Durst, 74, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the fatal shooting of Berman in Los Angeles in 2000. Prosecutors allege Durst killed Berman to prevent her from telling police what she knew about Kathleen Durst’s mysterious 1982 disappearance. “48 Hours” investigated the case in the episode, “Murder 90210.”
Barnes, 66, a former film executive now working as a psychiatric social worker, never went to police because she feared Durst could harm her.
“I knew he was a very wealthy man and he could do whatever he wanted to somebody,” said Barnes, who nervously looked over at the diminutive and frail Durst. “I started thinking about his wife and Susan, I started thinking, oh my God, I don’t want anything to do with this. I was petrified. I still am.”
Barnes eventually told the account to The New York Times because she didn’t think Durst would live to see his day in court. She said she regretted that decision and wished she didn’t have to testify.
A retired New York detective testified that a few months before Kathleen Durst disappeared, she had frantically banged on a neighbor’s balcony window in her pajamas for help and said Robert Durst had beaten her and she feared he would kill her.
James Varian, 77, had interviewed neighbors of the Dursts after the disappearance and retired from the force later that year.
He said he did not recall much of what was written in the reports until he reviewed them, but he remembered the account of Anne Doyle, who lived in the 16th-floor penthouse next to the Dursts.
Doyle said a frightened Kathleen Durst once appeared at her bedroom window and said her husband had a gun and she feared he would kill her, Varian testified.
“Bob had beat her and wants to kill her,” Varian said. “That’s what Mrs. Doyle told me.”
Kathleen Durst said she was afraid to be near any window and hid in the Doyle bathroom for two hours. Eventually, Kevin Doyle calmed her down and spoke with Robert Durst.
Robert Durst did not admit beating his wife, but he told Kevin Doyle he was not mad and that she should come home, Varian said.
Kathleen Durst has never been found. A New York judge last month declared her dead.
A judge hearing the case hasn’t yet determined if Durst will stand trial or if the recorded testimony would be admissible at a trial. The defense has objected to the use of hearsay statements.
The video recorded testimony of Barnes and Varian will only be used if they’re not available at a future trial.