Durst is charged with the first degree murder of his close friend and confidante, Susan Berman, in 2000, at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she is about to speak to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife , Kathleen McCormack Durst, who was last seen in 1982.
Durst has long denied killing Berman, and his lawyer said he panicked and fled after finding his body. He pleaded not guilty.
The trial began early last year but was suspended in March 2020 after just a few days due to the coronavirus pandemic. It finally resumed in May, and prosecutors closed their case on Tuesday after several months of testimony.
Durst’s awaited testimony is just the latest saga in an unusual life that reached mass audiences through the miniseries “The Jinx” in 2015.
“This is it. You’re stuck,” he said in a series of seemingly unrelated sentences. ” He was right. I was wrong.
” What did I do ? I killed them all, of course.
Durst’s health has deteriorated since then, and he looks fragile in court. At 78, he is slim, hunched over and in a wheelchair and speaks in a low voice.
“I am worried about his health,” said his longtime lawyer Dick DeGuerin. “I am concerned about his ability to survive and his ability to understand complex issues, both live and on cross-examination.”
What to expect from his testimony
Testifying in one’s own defense is rare for those accused of murder, but the tactic worked for Durst in a previous murder trial.
In 2003, an animated Durst testified that he shot a neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense and admitted that he cut his body up with surgical precision and threw it into Galveston Bay. He said he did so in a panic, while prosecutors said he wanted to steal the man’s identity and escape the investigation into his wife’s disappearance.
The Texas murder trial further revealed Durst’s often eccentric behavior, including how he was posing as a silent woman while in hiding in Galveston.
Durst’s testimony is expected to last several days, and legal analysts warn he needs to be careful with what he says.
His “testimony could open the door to all types of past misconduct that he could be questioned about,” said Joey Jackson, CNN legal analyst. “If the jury thinks he’s lying, is evasive or unsympathetic, a conviction is assured.”
Medical issues could also come into play.
“There is still a small chance of eliciting sympathy from a member of the jury,” said Stan Goldman, professor at Loyola Law School.
But Jackson thinks Durst needs to be careful with how jurors view his medical issues. “If he testifies and fakes illness or disability, the jury will see through,” Jackson joked.
In addition, Judge Windham could further delay the trial due to Durst’s poor health, Goldman said.
“That’s if the judge changes his mind and determines that Durst’s condition renders him unfit to testify at this time or for the foreseeable future,” Goldman said.
How we got here
Durst will likely be cross-examined by Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney John Lewin, who relentlessly pursues Durst over Berman’s murder.
“My life expectancy is around five years,” the eccentric millionaire said in the 2015 interview.
There is little physical evidence in the unsolved death of Berman at almost 20 years old. There are no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon.
A key piece of evidence is the so-called “corpse note,” an encrypted letter sent to the police with Berman’s address and the word “corpse” in all caps that led detectives to his body.
In the HBO documentary “The Jinx,” Durst said the letter could only have been sent by Berman’s killer. Defense attorneys have previously denied that Durst wrote the note and tried to exclude handwriting evidence on it from the trial.
Also in the documentary, the filmmakers confronted Durst with another letter he once sent to Berman, with almost identical handwriting as the “corpse” note. In both cases, Beverly Hills was misspelled as “BEVERLEY”.
Lewin, in the interview with Durst, asked him, “Why do you think the killer would have left a note?”
“I’m going to stay away from this,” Durst replied.
CNN’s Augie Martin and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.
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