Los Angeles prosecutors have secured witnesses they believe could help convict Robert Durst of the 2000 murder of Susan Berman. But they claim the witnesses are at risk of harm from the incarcerated Durst, and are requesting the witness identities remain concealed until ten days before they testify at Durst’s murder trial — which does not yet have a start date.
Assistant Los Angeles County District Attorney John Lewin said that Durst is a “menace to society,” and prosecutors insisted that Durst’s family wealth — he is an heir to a New York City real estate dynasty — represents a danger to the witness’s safety and their testimony. “The idea that he does not have the wherewithal to intimidate, buy off or attempt to have witnesses killed who possess inculpatory evidence because he is ‘old,’ ‘frail’ or in custody is ludicrous,” the prosecutors said in an 88-page court filing obtained by the New York Daily News.
A hearing is set for January 6, when the court will determine whether to grant the prosecution’s request for witness anonymity. Of course, keeping the witness names secret from the defense team could give the prosecution a strategic advantage, one that will likely be addressed at Friday’s hearing.
Still, there is certainly an argument to be made that Durst could pose a threat to the witnesses: After all, he is accused of killing his longtime friend Berman because she may have known something incriminating about his wife Kathleen Durst’s 1982 disappearance. Mrs. Durst has not been seen or heard from in over three decades, and some believe that is because Mr. Durst killed her as their marriage was unraveling.
While Durst was never arrested in connection to his wife’s disappearance, he did admit to killing a man in Galveston, Texas, where he fled and lived under an assumed identity. He claimed the murder was in self-defense, and was found not guilty, though he had cut the victim’s body into pieces and failed to report the death to police. In 2014, Durst was the subject of the HBO documentary series The Jinx. In the final episode, Durst is caught on a hot mic saying “I killed ’em all.” He later claimed he was high on meth during the filming of The Jinx.
The day after Durst said he last saw his wife, someone claiming to be her called the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, where Mrs. Durst was a student, saying she was unwell and wouldn’t be able to attend class. Investigators are doubtful that Kathie, as she was known, actually made that call –particularly as the call was made not to Mrs. Durst’s direct supervisor but the dean of the college, who barely knew Kathleen.
And if Robert Durst could have convinced anyone to help him evade suspicion for his wife’s disappearance and presumed death, it would have been his lifelong friend and closest confidante Susan Berman, who he met while both were students at UCLA.
Durst is known to have been in Los Angeles, where Berman lived, on the day she is believed to have been murdered execution-style with a gunshot to the back of the head. Shortly before Berman died, Durst learned that Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was planning a new investigation into Mrs. Durst’s disappearance. Berman would most certainly have been on her witness list.
“The defendant’s past conduct demonstrates that he continues to pose an ever-present danger to many witnesses in this case,” the prosecutors said in the filing.