LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles woman allegedly killed by millionaire New York real estate scion Robert Durst “knew her killer,” allowed that person into her Benedict Canyon home, and had her back turned when she was shot execution-style, a prosecutor told jurors today.
“The evidence is going to show without question that Susan knew her killer, and that she freely and voluntarily admitted this person into her house,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said during opening statements in Durst's murder trial, adding that the victim, 55-year-old Susan Berman, would have never opened her door for a stranger.
Berman had her back to the killer when she was shot, “demonstrating that she was unafraid,” Lewin said of the woman's December 2000 killing.
The prosecutor told the panel that the killer wanted Berman's body to be found, noting that a cryptic note was mailed to Beverly Hills police before the body was found that included her address and the word “cadaver.” He said Durst's first wife attended medical school, where the term cadaver is used.
Jurors heard a tape-recording of a 911 call made by a neighbor who reported that Berman wasn't answering her front door, her back door was wide open, and a dog of hers was outside.
Los Angeles police arrived at the home in a “very low crime neighborhood” and found her dead on the floor with a gunshot wound. There was no sign of ransacking or a struggle and no evidence that anything was taken, Lewin told the panel.
The prosecutor said the evidence would show the motive was not robbery or burglary, and there was no forced entry found at the home.
Durst -- whose past was detailed in an HBO documentary series called “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” -- is accused of killing his longtime friend inside her house in December 2000, allegedly because she was prepared to speak to New York investigators about the still unsolved disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathie, in 1982.
The 76-year-old defendant has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined the 1982 disappearance of Kathie Durst and the killings of Berman and Durst's Texas neighbor, Morris Black.
Durst was tried for Black's death and dismemberment after a nationwide manhunt in which he was located in Pennsylvania, but a jury acquitted him of murder after agreeing with Durst's contention that he had killed his neighbor in self-defense.
In the finale of HBO's “The Jinx,” Durst is caught on microphone muttering to himself, “Killed them all, of course,” and “There it is, you're caught.”
The prosecutor told jurors that they would hear evidence about all three killings, while noting that the case they were there to decide involves Berman's killing.
Lewin's opening statement was peppered by numerous objections from Durst's lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin -- some of which were sustained by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham.
“You present what you want to present and I'll present what I want to present,” the prosecutor told Durst's attorney at one point.
Opening statements from the defense may not be done until sometime early next week. An eight-woman, four-man jury -- along with the 11 alternates - - is hearing the case against Durst.
Lewin has argued at a previous court hearing that Durst was “responsible” for his wife's death in 1982 and got Berman to help him cover his tracks -- in part, by having her pretend to be his wife in a telephone call to the dean of the New York medical school his wife was attending at the time of her disappearance. The prosecutor contends Durst killed Berman because he was “afraid she was going to talk.”
Defense attorney David Chesnoff has countered that there are no fingerprints, DNA, blood, hair samples or eyewitnesses linking his client to the crime. Durst's defense team has long insisted that their client did not kill Berman and does not know who did.
A key piece of evidence in the case is expected to be the so-called “cadaver note” alerting police to a body inside Berman's home. The note simply contained the word “cadaver” and Berman's address.
Prosecutors have contended that Durst wrote the note and had originally planned to introduce handwriting evidence in an effort to prove who penned it. Defense attorneys responded with motions in an effort to exclude such evidence from the trial. But in December, Durst's defense team filed a motion admitting that their client had written the note.
DeGuerin insisted, however, that the concession is not an admission that Durst killed Berman. The attorney told reporters that he had never publicly admitted or denied that Durst wrote the note.
Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers -- including an investment in the World Trade Center. He 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.
Photo: Getty Images