A New Orleans judge announced Monday that Robert Durst, heir to an affluent New York real estate family, will be held without bail. He is currently awaiting extradition to California where he is being charged with first-degree murder of former close friend and confidant, Susan Berman. Durst is no stranger to breaking away. When previously accused of murdering his neighbor in 2001, Durst fled after he was released on a $250,000 bail and was later caught and arrested by authorities in a Pennsylvania grocery store after having shoplifted a sandwich (despite having $40,000 cash in his car in the parking lot). Nearly a year prior to that incident, after his wife’s disappearance case was reopened by investigators in 2000, Durst fled to Galveston, Texas, where he rented a room for $300 a month and attempted to conceal his identity by disguising himself as a mute woman.
In 2003, Durst was acquitted of murder charges in the murder case of his neighbor by a jury in Texas, despite the fact that he testified that he had chopped up the victim’s body and placed the body parts in trash bags and threw them into the bay. His criminal defense attorneys claimed that Durst was acting out of self-defense and highlighted the lack of evidence the prosecution had to prove the murder was deliberate. Since there were no witnesses to the actual killing itself, the jury was relying on only the testimony of Durst himself to determine how the killing took place. His attorneys did a masterful job in framing Durst as a sympathetic man who was been railroaded by an overly-aggressive district attorney in New York and was forced to flee New York for Galveston.
He has maintained his innocence in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathleen Durst, but is now being investigated a second time in the murder of Susan Berman who was found dead at her home in Los Angeles from a 9-millimeter bullet to the back of the head on Christmas Eve of 2000. Berman’s body was found shortly before investigators were going to interview her about Durst in regards to the disappearance of Durst’s wife.
Due to Durst’s suspicious past, it’s no surprise that authorities have been monitoring his whereabouts. Before Durst’s arrest on March 14th, federal authorities requested a warrant to track his cell phone activity. Investigators were able to track his activity as he traveled from his condo in Houston to a Marriott hotel in New Orleans. He had called his voicemail twice from his hotel, where soon after he was arrested.
Items suggesting Durst could have potentially been planning to flee the country were acquired by authorities from Durst’s hotel room. They included his passport and birth certificate, a map of New Orleans, Florida, and Cuba, $40,000 cash, and a UPS tracking number assigned to a package that authorities seized and found clothing and more than $100,000 cash.
He is facing felony firearm and drug charges in New Orleans.
In a New Orleans courtroom Monday, Durst was ordered by a judge to be held without bail as he was determined to be a flight risk. Alongside him in court was his attorney, Dick DeGuerin. Jeanine Pirro, former New York’s Westchester County District Attorney who investigated Kathleen Durst’s disappearance, made an appearance in court. DeGuerin asked that Pirro be removed from the courtroom as he claimed that he planned on questioning her as a witness. After the prosecutor and Pirro expressed dissent for DeGuerin’s request, she was allowed back into the courtroom. Pirro later commented in an interview that DeGuerin wanted her out of the courtroom because he was aware that she sought justice for Durst’s victims.
A note sent to Beverly Hills Police Department back in 2000 alerted authorities to a “cadaver” at Susan Berman’s home. Los Angeles Police Department officials announced that two handwriting experts may have linked the note to Durst.
Former Galveston County District Court Judge Susan Criss, who led Durst’s murder trial in 2003, recently spoke with the Los Angeles times addressing the evidence, specifically a “cadaver” note, and how technology could have potentially adapted to connect Durst’s DNA to the murder of Susan Berman.
It remains to be seen whether his attorneys, specifically Dick DeGuerin, can woo a Los Angeles jury into believing that Durst is an innocent individual, always at the wrong place at the wrong time.