Robert Durst will live the rest of his life in a California jail for killing his longtime confidante Susan Berman at his Los Angeles home in 2000, a judge ordered Thursday.
Durst’s sentence was effectively set last month as soon as a jury found him guilty of murdering Berman and upheld the special circumstances claim that the 78-year-old real estate scion shot his friend in order to cover up the murder of his first wife, Kathie, in New York in 1982. Under California law, defendants convicted of murder under special circumstances can only be sentenced to life without parole or execution, and the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney chose not to seek the death penalty against Durst.
The conviction follows a five-month trial which saw Durst testify for 15 days after prosecutors spent weeks pleading that he was guilty not only of Berman’s murder but also of his wife’s disappearance in 1982 and the shooting death in 2001 of his neighbor in Texas, Morris. Black.
Several of Berman’s family members, including his daughter and stepson, gave victim impact statements during the hearing in a crowded courtroom inside the airport courthouse on Thursday after -midday. They described a dynamic and talented writer whose life was “savagely” cut short at the age of 55 by Durst, leaving their own existence shattered.
“I haven’t had a single day off from the absolute destruction, heartache or pain that this has caused me,” said her stepson, Sareb Kaufman. “I fell asleep angry, I woke up angry, I eat, sleep and drink angry.”
Still, others who loved Berman acknowledged his closeness to his killer, even though they expressed frustrations with him.
“Hatred was never in my wheelhouse or hers and for that reason I will never hate Bobby because she loved him,” said Deni Marcus, a cousin of Berman.
Despite appeals from their attorney earlier this week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham has not allowed the family of Durst’s ex-wife Kathie McCormack to make a statement. Her disappearance hovered over proceedings, however, as several people asked Durst to let the McCormack family know where Kathie’s body was buried in the 1980s.
“Any hope of redemption you can find is letting them know where to find Kathie,” said Sareb Kaufman, Berman’s stepson.
Andrew Jarecki, the filmmaker behind the HBO documentary “The Jinx” that rekindled national interest in Durst as well as Berman’s murder, and several trial jurors were also in attendance Thursday. Nick Chavin, who said Durst admitted to the murder during a conversation in 2014, was also in the gallery.
Durst did not speak during the hearing and the defense offered no mitigation. Durst kept his eyes straight ahead the entire time.
Despite the life sentence, Durst’s four-decade legal saga is not over. Last week, sources told The Times and other news outlets that prosecutors in Westchester County, New York, would soon convene a grand jury to assess the charges against the estate heir in the disappearance of his first. wife. New York prosecutors did not respond to inquiries about the case, but Westchester County Dist. Atty. Miriam Rocah has announced that she will reopen an investigation into the case earlier this year.
Durst has denied any wrongdoing in both cases and his senior lawyer Dick DeGuerin has said he will appeal his conviction in Los Angeles. DeGuerin filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the evidence at trial was deficient, but Windham quickly dismissed the case on Thursday.
Once a staple of New York tabloids, Durst had vanished from the nation’s consciousness until 2015, when he appeared in an HBO documentary series chronicling his life. Entitled “The Jinx,” the show’s final scene saw Durst confronted with evidence suggesting he wrote the so-called “corpse note” that led police to discover Berman’s body. Seemingly oblivious that it was still recorded, Durst went to a bathroom and muttered the phrases “What have I done?” … Killed them all, of course, ”which many took for a confession.
Raw audio played during his trial, however, showed that some time had elapsed between the two comments, and DeGuerin said the sentences were taken out of context and deceptively altered.
Los Angeles Police arrested Durst at a New Orleans hotel in 2015, shortly before the finale of “The Jinx” aired. It took nearly two years for Durst to appear in a Los Angeles courtroom after authorities in Louisiana filed charges against him when marijuana and a handgun were found in his hotel room .
Prosecutors then had to archive the testimony of a number of older witnesses, including Chavin, in case they died before Durst’s trial, triggering a long series of pre-trial hearings. Opening statements in the case did not begin until March 2020, but the trial was suspended after two days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A self-proclaimed “mafia princess” whose father was involved in Las Vegas organized crime, Berman met Durst on the UCLA campus in the 1960s. The two quickly bonded in shared grief – the mother de Durst died when he was very young and Berman lost her father to cancer when she was only 12 years old.
The friendship would evolve quickly and the two would come to rely on each other in times of need. Berman acted as Durst’s unofficial spokesperson when the tabloids began to surround him after McCormack’s disappearance. Two years later, it was Durst who accompanied Berman down the aisle to his wedding.
Years later, when Berman’s writing career fell apart and she found herself in dire financial straits, Durst began loaning her money, even helping finance a Broadway play that she was trying to produce and that was never staged.