LOS ANGELES — The brutal murder trial of Robert Durst spanned the better part of two years. His sentence will be relatively short, and he may lack the fireworks that go off between the chief prosecutor and the defense attorney.
The eccentric New York real estate heir is facing a life sentence without parole on Thursday for the first-degree murder of his best friend, Susan Berman.
“Now that the jury has found who is innocent, the sentence is pretty clear,” said Laurie Levenson, Loyola Law School Professor. I’m not sure the prosecutor has anything more to say.”
Durst, 78, was convicted in the Los Angeles Supreme Court last month for pinpointing Berman in the back of the head at his Los Angeles home just before Christmas 2000.
The trial began in March 2020 and was postponed for 14 months as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the United States and the courts closed. It resumed in May, with the jury making its decision on September 17.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst’s longtime confidant and was preparing to tell the police that he provided a false alibi for his wife after she disappeared in New York City in 1982.
Kathie Durst was never found. Robert Durst has not been charged with any crimes related to his disappearance.
However, following Berman’s conviction for his death based on evidence that he killed his wife, a New York prosecutor is now ready to press charges in his death, someone familiar with the matter told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Durst testified in the LA trial, denying that he killed his wife or Berman, but said he would lie if he did.
Kathie McCormack Durst’s family had hoped to file statements in court about their disappearance on Thursday, but prosecutors denied the request, according to emails sent to their lawyers.
Lawyer Robert Abrams said the McCormack family was disappointed and angry. He said his family members would not participate in the punishment.
“The family won’t be traveling 3,000 miles to support a Hollywood production and sit there and make statements to impress their victims,” Abrams said. “This isn’t a movie where it’s a terrible spectacle. It’s 40 years of suffering.’
A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office did not send a message seeking comment.
Levenson said it was doubtful whether Kathie Durst was the victim in the Los Angeles case because Robert Durst was not accused of murdering her. Allowing his brothers to speak while adjudicating would create another problem for the appeal.
Defense attorneys plan to argue for a new case Thursday, saying there isn’t enough evidence to prove the case and listing 15 ways the judge made a mistake.
Levenson said the motion was primarily to appeal the issues and would likely fail, though some of his arguments could attract the attention of a higher court.
The defense said Judge Mark Windham should have declared a wrongful trial when the jury was sent home and the case was adjourned. They said the length of the delay was unprecedented.
Much of the other issues revolve around the acceptance of evidence, such as allowing prosecutors to testify that Durst killed a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, and chopped up his body and dumped parts into the sea. Durst was acquitted of the murder after he testified that Morris Black pulled a gun on him and was killed in a gun fight.
When Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015, they also objected to statements and displays that showed he had a mask, fake ID, drugs, $40,000 in cash, and a loaded gun in his hotel room.
They also objected to the screening of a feature film based on Durst’s life and the six-part documentary ‘The Jinx: The Life and Crimes of Robert Durst’ to the judges.
To limit the number of appeals issues, Levenson said prosecutors can be more restrained in their sentencing presentations, especially when the prison sentence has already been established.
A reporter asked Assistant District Attorney John Lewin what he would say to Durst after his conviction.
Lewin, who had been an aggressor during the six years from his arrest to his conviction and frequently at odds with defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, initially said he had nothing to say to the man he had been chasing for years.
He then described Durst as a ‘narcissistic psychopath’ who ‘killed his wife and… continued to kill to cover it up’.
’78 years old. It’s been around for a long time,” said Lewin. “She had a lot more life, you know, Kathie wasn’t even 30. There’s a lot more to the balance than his life, given what he’s done. he had the right.’
Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak from New York contributed to this report.