Robert Durst, the real estate heir suspected in a string of murders for nearly four decades, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering his friend and confidant Susan Berman.
A Los Angeles jury convicted Durst, 78, of first-degree murder last month for the 2000 murder. Prosecutors argued that Durst had shot Berman point-blank at his home to prevent him from telling police what he knew about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst. The verdict marked the first murder conviction for Durst, who has been linked to the deaths of three people in three states.
Thursday’s sentencing was expected as prosecutors did not seek the death penalty and the jury also convicted Durst on the special circumstances of waiting and killing a witness, which carry mandatory life sentences.
The sentencing came six years after the documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst brought the billionaire into the spotlight. The series chronicles the murder of Berman, as well as the disappearance of Durst’s wife and the 2001 death of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, where Durst was hiding disguised as a deaf-mute woman. He was arrested on the eve of the broadcast of the last episode of the series, in which Durst seemed to confess to the murders and said to himself: “What the hell did I do? … He killed them all, of course. “
In court, the 78-year-old appeared ill and much more fragile than in the 2015 documentary. He has difficulty hearing and used a wheelchair throughout the trial. At one point, after 38 hours of cross-examination, the judge urged the lead prosecutor to stop his questions. “At some point, there is a limit,” said the judge.
Authorities have tried to put Durst behind bars for years for his role in crimes that officials believe date back to McCormack’s disappearance and probable murder.
“It all starts with the disappearance and death of Kathie Durst at the hands of Mr. Durst,” said John Lewin, the deputy district attorney, in his opening statement at Berman’s trial.
McCormack’s body was never found, although she was pronounced dead in 2017. Durst was never an official suspect in the case, but prosecutors argued that he was responsible for her death. The couple had been fighting before she disappeared, Durst admitted, and in the previous weeks McCormack had gone to the hospital with injuries that she claimed Durst had caused.
Prosecutors said Durst had killed Berman, his best friend, because he was willing to tell police how he helped cover up McCormack’s murder. Berman had reportedly told friends that she had provided him with a false alibi.
Durst had previously faced a murder trial in Texas for the death of his neighbor Morris Black. While in Galveston, the heir tried to pose as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, but Black did not buy the costume and was shot and dismembered, prosecutors said. Durst and his legal team argued that he had killed Black in self-defense and was acquitted.
New York prosecutors are expected to press charges against Durst in the death of his ex-wife. the The Westchester district attorney’s office has reopened the investigation into McCormack’s death, but has not confirmed reports of its plan to pursue a prosecution against Durst.
McCormack’s family expected to speak at Thursday’s sentencing, a request that was denied as California law requires that only Berman’s family be eligible to offer victim impact statements in court. Los Angeles Times reported.
“It was never really a thought that they wouldn’t be allowed to give a victim impact statement,” Robert Abrams, the McCormack family’s attorney, told the newspaper. “When someone is the central focus of the criminal trial, that is to be expected.”