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New York Millionaire Robert Durst Guilty of Best Friend's Murder

Robert Durst looks at jurors as he appears in an Inglewood courtroom in California, US. (Reuters)

Robert Durst looks at jurors as he appears in an Inglewood courtroom in California, US. (Reuters)

Susan Berman was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 as she was prepared to tell police how she helped cover up his wife's killing.

A Los Angeles jury convicted Robert Durst on Friday of murdering his best friend 20 years ago, a case that took on new life after the New York real estate heir participated in a documentary that connected him to the slaying that was linked to his wife's 1982 disappearance.

Durst, 78, was not in court for the verdict from the jury that deliberated about seven hours over three days. He was in isolation at a jail because he was exposed to someone with coronavirus.

Durst, who faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole when sentenced October 18, was convicted of the first-degree murder of Susan Berman. She was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 as she was prepared to tell police how she helped cover up his wife's killing.

Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst's longtime confidante who told friends she provided a phony alibi for him after his wife vanished.

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Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who didn't think the laws applied to him and ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way. They interlaced evidence of Berman's killing with Kathie Durst's suspected death and the 2001 killing of a tenant in a Texas flophouse where Robert Durst holed up while on the run from New York authorities. Bob Durst has been around a lot of years, and he's been able to commit a lot of horrific crimes. We just feel really gratified that he's been held accountable, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said.

Lewin met with jurors after the verdict and said they thought prosecutors had proven Durst had killed his wife and had murdered both Berman and his Texas neighbor in an effort to escape justice.

He said jurors did not find Durst credible as a witness. He's a narcissistic psychopath. He killed his wife and then he had to keep killing to cover it up, Lewin said. Lewin said he hoped Durst understands what it's like to be held accountable even if it took 40 years. Considering what he's done, he got a lot more of a life than he was entitled to," the prosecutor said. Durst was arrested in 2015 while hiding out in a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the airing of the final episode of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, in which he was confronted with incriminating evidence and made what prosecutors said was a confession.

Durst could be heard muttering to himself on a live microphone in a bathroom: There it is. You're caught. Durst's decision to testify in his own defense hoping for a repeat of his acquittal in the Texas killing backfired as he was forced to admit lying under oath, made damning admissions and had his credibility destroyed when questioned by the prosecutor. Defence lawyer David Chesnoff said Friday they believed there was substantial reasonable doubt and were disappointed in the verdict. He said Durst would pursue all avenues of appeal.

The conviction marks a victory for authorities who have sought to put Durst behind bars for murder in three states. Durst was never charged in the disappearance of his wife, who has never been found, and he was acquitted of murder in Galveston, Texas, where he admitted dismembering the victim's body and tossing it out to sea. The story of Durst, the estranged scion of a New York real estate developer, has been fodder for New York tabloids since his wife vanished. He provided plot twists so numerous that Hollywood couldn't resist making a feature film about his life that eventually led to the documentary and discovery of new evidence in Berman's slaying.

Durst ran from the law multiple times, disguised as a mute woman in Texas and staying under an alias at a New Orleans hotel with a shoulders-to-head latex mask for a presumed getaway. He jumped bail in Texas and was arrested after shoplifting a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania, despite having $37,000 in cash along with two handguns in his rental car. He later quipped that he was the worst fugitive the world has ever met. Durst escaped close scrutiny from investigators when his wife disappeared. But his troubles resurfaced in late 2000 when New York authorities reopened the case.

His lawyer told him to be prepared to be charged in the case, and he fled a life of luxury to Galveston, Texas, where he rented a cheap apartment as Dorothy Ciner, a woman he pretended couldn't speak. He eventually dropped the disguise after mishaps that included walking into a men's restroom and igniting his wig at a bar while lighting a cigarette. (AP) .

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first published:September 18, 2021, 14:02 IST