Robert Durst's Murder Trial: Everything to Know About the Opening Statements So Far

Robert Durst is accused of first-degree murder in the 2000 death of Susan Berman

Susan Berman and Robert Durst
Susan Berman and Robert Durst. Photo: HBO

Opening statements began last week in the first-degree-murder trial of Robert Durst, with the prosecution finishing Monday.

The eccentric millionaire is accused of the execution-style murder of his close friend, writer Susan Berman, who was found dead inside her Beverly Hills home in 2000.

Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman, whose father was a Las Vegas mob boss, because she knew too much about the disappearance of his first wife Kathleen, who was last seen alive on January 31, 1982.

Prosecutors allege Berman was not Durst’s only victim, and that he killed Kathleen and Morris Black, his then-neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001. Durst was acquitted of Black’s murder when he claimed self-defense, saying Black pointed a gun at him and Black was killed over a struggle for the weapon.

“When Bob Durst killed Kathie, he killed Susan and Morris as well because once that happened, once he did that, there was no turning back,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors Monday.

“Bob Durst is a person who is going to protect and take care of Bob Durst.”

Over 100 witnesses are expected to testify during the five-month-long trial. Those witnesses include Durst’s brothers Douglas and Tommy, HBO ’s The Jinx filmmakers Marc Smerling and Andrew Jarecki and comedian Laraine Newman, a friend of Berman’s.

Durst, 76, has pleaded not guilty to murder charges in Berman’s death and has long maintained he had nothing to do with Kathleen’s disappearance.

Here are six things to know about the opening statements at his trial.

Robert Durst
Robert Durst. ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA/Shutterstock

1. The Moment that ‘Sealed Her Fate’

Prosecutor Lewin argued that Berman was marked for death when she told Durst that Los Angeles and New York investigators wanted to interview her about the disappearance of Kathleen, a 29-year-old medical student.

“Though he told her, ‘Go talk to them,’ he also decided to kill her,” Lewin said.

Lewin said Berman actually lied to Durst and that detectives hadn’t yet reached out to her. But her assertion “sealed her fate,” he said.

Durst didn’t realize Berman had lied to him until Lewin told him in an interview after his 2015 arrest in connection with her death.

2. No Forced Entry at Crime Scene

Berman’s body was found in the bedroom of her Beverly Hills home around noon on Dec. 24, 2000,after a neighbor reported her dogs were loose. She had been fatally shot in the back of the head. Officers determined there was no forced entry or signs of ransacking or a struggle. Her purse, with her ID and her cash inside, was sitting on the kitchen counter.

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During opening statements, Lewin said Berman knew her killer and let him inside because Berman was a “paranoid New Yorker” who would have never opened her door to a stranger.

“She was murdered by someone she truly trusted,” said Lewin.

3. Prosecutors Use Durst’s Statements in The Jinx

So far, the HBO series has played a huge role in the prosecution’s case against Durst. Durst agreed to be interviewed by filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling for the documentary despite pleas by his lawyers not to participate.

“The lawyers told him do not do the interviews,” said Lewin. “Evidence will show that Bob Durst loves media attention.”

Durst was taken into custody the day before the series finale where he was caught in the bathroom talking to himself on a hot mic, which recorded him saying, “There it is, you’re caught,” and “killed them all of course.”

Durst’s defense attorney Dick DeGuerin called the series “deviously misleading and heavily edited.”

Jarecki and Smerling are expected to testify.

robert and Kathy durst
Kathie and Robert Durst. HBO

4. Durst Admits Writing ‘Cadaver Note’

The day before Susan Berman was found dead, somebody sent a letter with the word “CADAVER” to the Beverly Hills Police Department. On the envelope, the word “Beverly” was misspelled.

Prosecutors said whoever sent the note also killed Berman.

“The killer wanted Susan’s body to be found,” said Lewin. “There was a relationship between the two of them.”

Durst had long denied writing the note but in December, Durst’s attorneys acknowledged he did indeed write it.

On Tuesday, during defense’s opening statements, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said Durst wrote the letter after finding Berman’s body.

5. Defense: Durst Didn’t Kill Berman ‘and He Doesn’t Know Who Did’

For decades, Bob Durst had denied he was ever in Los Angeles around the time of Susan Berman’s slaying.

However, in court Tuesday, DeGuerin admitted that he was in Los Angeles and had plans to spend the holidays with her when he found her dead.

“When Bob showed up and found her dead he panicked,” DeGuerin said. “He wrote the anonymous [cadaver] letter so her body would be found, and he ran. He ran away all of his life.”

DeGuerin said Durst and Berman were close friends and had spent the holidays together in the past.

Bob was not happy with his family,” said DeGuerin. “Susie was alone but she and Bob were the closest of friends.”

Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images

6. Durst Ran Away to Texas After N.Y. DA Looked into Kathleen’s Death

DeGuerin said after Durst learned from his family members that former Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro planned to reopen the disappearance of Kathie Durst, he panicked.

“Throughout his life he has run away from trouble instead of face it,” DeGuerin said. “When confronted with Pirro he ran away to Galveston.”

While in Galveston, Durst rented a $300 a month apartment and masqueraded as a mute woman named Dorothy Ciner, a former high school friend.

“He wanted not to be Bob Durst because what he feared was the same kind of lurid headlines and bad publicity when Kathie Durst disappeared. Bob doesn’t make good decisions. It is part of his makeup.”

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