Witness in Robert Durst Hearing Points to Motive in His Murder Trial
Prosecutors alleged Robert Durst killed friend Susan Berman because she knew too much about the slaying of his wife, Kathleen
At a Tuesday hearing in Los Angeles before the murder trial of real estate scion Robert Durst, a former New York doctor testified that he received a call 35 years ago from a woman purporting to be Durst’s wife Kathleen — a day after she went missing.
The call — on Feb. 1, 1982 — is an important part of the prosecution’s case against Durst, who is on trial for the murder of his close friend, Susan Berman: Prosecutors allege the woman who placed the call was Berman herself, and that Durst killed her because she knew too much about the disappearance of Kathleen, whose body has never been found.
During the hearing, Dr. Albert Kuperman, the former dean of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where Kathleen had been enrolled, testified that the caller introduced herself and said she was too sick to make the first day of her pediatric clerkship that day.
“It was a woman’s voice,” Kuperman, now 85, testified. “The woman stated she was Kathie Durst and she would be absent from the clinical duties that day.”
Kuperman said he was under the impression at the time that he was speaking with Kathleen Durst. But when prosecutor Habib Balian asked if he was sure the woman on the other end of the phone was Kathleen, Kuperman responded, “No.”
Balian asked Kuperman if, in his teaching career, he’d ever had a student call him on the phone to announce an absence. No, Kuperman replied.
During cross examination, Durst’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, asked, “It has only been recently that you felt like prosecutors or police tried to make you believe it was not Kathie?”
Kuperman replied, “It arose in me the possibility that it might not have been Kathie Durst,” adding, “It didn’t occur to me it could have been somebody else.”
Durst, 74, is charged with the first-degree murder of Berman, who was found shot to death in her home in December of 2000. He has pleaded not guilty to one count of first-degree murder.
Durst walked into court on Tuesday. Previously, he had been rolled in by wheelchair.
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Both Kuperman and a witness whose identity remains a secret have been allowed to testify at a preliminary hearing prior to Durst’s trial. Prosecutors have said that both witnesses over the age of 65, making it a risk that one of them will die before the trial begins.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin also alleged at a January hearing that the speedy testimony is necessary because Durst “kills witnesses.”
“When pushed into a corner, he murders people,” John Lewin told a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.
“Defendant is a menace to society,” Lewin wrote in court papers last month. “He has demonstrated a willingness to use deadly force to escape justice — killing two people and arming himself with deadly weapons to kill anyone who stood in his way of escape.”
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Durst, who has said he is in declining health since a bout with esophageal cancer in 2007, was arrested in New Orleans the day before the finale of the HBO docuseries The Jinx, which chronicled his life and alleged crimes.
Prosecutors allege that Berman told Durst that she planned to speak with Los Angeles and New York detectives after they contacted her about the reinvestigation into Kathleen’s disappearance.
“Shortly thereafter, Susan was executed in her home, shot one time in the back of the head,” Lewin stated in last month’s court papers.
Lewin also alleged in the papers that Durst was not only responsible for the deaths of Berman and Kathleen but also the decapitation killing of Morris Black, his elderly Texas neighbor. In 2001, Durst admitted he killed Black, but he claimed self-defense. He was later acquitted of any crime.