It's been more than two years since the finale of HBO's The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and the dramatic arrest of its subject

By Christine Pelisek
August 23, 2017 12:00 PM
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It’s been more than two years since the finale of HBO’s the Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and the dramatic arrest of the eponymous real estate scion at its center, for the murder of his close friend Susan Berman, who authorities suspect knew too much about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen.

Since being arrested in March 2015, Durst, 74, has been sitting in a Los Angeles County Jail awaiting trial, which is still months away.

He denies being responsible for Berman’s killing and has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge against him.

Here’s what you need to know about the case in the last two years.

Taken Into Custody

Authorities say the eccentric multi-millionaire was staying at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, across from the French Quarter, under the alias “Everette Ward” when he was arrested on March 14, 2015.

He spent months in federal custody on weapons charges for illegally carrying a .38-caliber revolver before he pleaded guilty and was sentenced then extradited back to California in November 2016.

Durst hired a team of high-powered lawyers, including well-known Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, who previously represented former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay as well as Durst himself in another murder case.

DeGuerin and his team are up against two seasoned Los Angeles prosecutors, Habib Balian and John Lewin, the latter of whom is known for tackling circumstantial cases.

Credit: REX USA

Witness Testimony

Last winter, L.A. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham allowed prosecutors to record and preserve the testimony of several older witnesses in case they died before Durst’s trial.

Since then a parade of current and former friends of Durst’s have taken the stand, including Emily Altmani who testified last month that Durst told her that he was in L.A. and staying at the Beverly Hilton Hotel around the time Berman was killed — the first time any such accusation had been made — the Los Angeles Times reported.

Airline records showed that Durst flew out of San Francisco the day before Berman’s body was found on Dec. 24, 2000, but investigators never had proof that he was in L.A. during those critical days.

Credit: EPA/KEVORK DJANSEZIAN/POOL

However, under questioning by Durst’s attorneys, Altman retracted her statement, claiming that she knew Durst was in California but she didn’t recall if he was actually in L.A., according to the the Times.

The newspaper reported that Altman also testified that the handwriting on an envelope sent to police in Beverly Hills, California, alerting them to a dead body around the time of Berman’s death looked like Durst’s penmanship.

The envelope was at the center of a climactic moment in the final episode of the Jinx, in which Durst was the central and willing participant.

During that infamous episode, Durst was confronted by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki with a 1999 letter he had penned to Berman. The missive’s handwriting appeared to match the anonymous letter mailed to Beverly Hills police, alerting them to a “cadaver” at Berman’s residence.

Both letters also misspelled the word “Beverly” as “Beverley.”

In the final moments of The Jinx, Durst excused himself to the restroom and, apparently, not realizing that his microphone was still on, he muttered, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Credit: Polaris

Durst’s longtime friend Nick Chavin was also called to testify in L.A. court in February. Flanked by two officers for his protection, Chavin said on the stand that Berman told him before her death that Durst admitted to killing his first wife, Kathleen, who vanished without a trace in 1982 after a tumultuous weekend with her husband and who is presumed dead, though her body has never been found.

Berman allegedly said there wasn’t anything they could do for the 29-year-old medical student and they had to protect Durst, Chavin testified.

He also described a conversation he had with Durst in New York City in 2014, after Durst had called him to say he wanted to talk about Berman and Kathleen. Durst, he testified, allegedly admitted to killing Berman, stating: “I had to, it was her or me. I had no choice.”

Durst’s Health

Durst has said he has been in declining health since a bout with esophageal cancer in 2007 and told a prosecutor during a three-hour jailhouse interview that his life expectancy was around five years.

Durst’s friend Altman, at the hearing, commented that the frail and wheelchair-bound Durst didn’t look like the man she used to know, saying it was as a result of being under suspicion for so many years, the Times reported.

Next Steps?

Stewart Altman, a close friend of Durst and husband of Emily Altman, who previously testified, is scheduled to testify himself on Aug. 26 along with two of Berman’s close friends.

Durst’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for sometime in October. His trial is still at least a year away.