LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A hearing is scheduled today in which attorneys are expected to question two witnesses -- including a “secret'' witness -- in the case of New York real estate scion Robert Durst, who is charged with murdering a friend in her Benedict Canyon home more than 16 years ago.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham agreed last month to allow expedited questioning of two witnesses, including one whose name has not been publicly released.
One of the witnesses was identified as Dr. Albert Kuperman, who is in his mid-80s and is believed to have spoken to someone identifying herself as Durst's first wife around the time she disappeared in 1982.
The judge ordered the prosecution to turn over information about the “secret'' witness to Durst's legal team by Jan. 31 so his attorneys could have time to prepare for the early questioning, which is called a conditional examination.
Prosecutors had cited concerns that witnesses “might be killed'' before they can be called to testify at a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to require Durst to stand trial in connection with Susan Berman's December 2000 killing. A date has not yet been set for the preliminary hearing, which is expected to include more extensive testimony.
“That man kills witnesses ... When pushed into a corner, he murders people,'' Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said last month of the 73-year- old defendant.
Prosecutors may ask later to allow early questioning of other witnesses, including a second “secret'' witness, if the case doesn't proceed quickly to a preliminary hearing, Lewin said in January.
Defense attorneys objected to the early questioning of witnesses, countering that their client does not pose any threat to anyone who might testify in his murder case.
“Mr. Durst is in custody. Mr. Durst is in a wheelchair,'' one of his attorneys, David Chesnoff, told the judge, noting that he believes his client's jailhouse telephone calls are tape-recorded by authorities.
The judge noted last month that the expedited testimony from the two witnesses -- which will be videotaped for future use if the witnesses are not available at the time of trial -- would give the defense an “additional opportunity to test the veracity of these witnesses.''
Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman because authorities in New York's Westchester County were about to interview her as part of a reopened investigation into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie'' Durst.
Durst has denied any involvement in Berman's killing. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait, along with gun use allegations. But a prosecutor said in court the District Attorney's Office does not plan to seek the death penalty.
Durst was arrested March 14, 2015, in a New Orleans hotel room, hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,'' which examined the disappearance of his wife in 1982 and the killings of Berman and one of Durst's neighbors, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas. Durst was tried for and acquitted of Black's 2001 killing.
On the documentary series finale, which aired the day after his arrest, Durst was caught on microphone saying to himself, “Killed them all, of course.'' He also was caught on microphone saying, “There it is, you're caught,'' and “What a disaster.''
During a jailhouse interview with Lewin, Durst said he was “on meth'' while the documentary was being filmed and that he didn't heed his attorneys' advice not to be interviewed for the series.
Durst was indicted in April 2015 in U.S. District Court in Louisiana on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He pleaded guilty to that charge and was sentenced to seven years in federal prison before being brought to Los Angeles in connection with the murder case.
He has been long estranged from his real-estate-rich family, known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers -- including an investment in the World Trade Center. Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle.
According to various media reports, Durst ultimately reached a settlement under which the family paid him $60 million to $65 million.