LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Los Angeles Superior Court judge today denied a defense request for a mistrial in New York real estate scion Robert Durst's murder case, which has been on hold for more than three months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Judge Mark E. Windham noted that Durst's attorneys had asked for the trial to be postponed in mid-March, shortly after testimony began, and that the trial has been delayed twice since then as the pandemic forced court officials to close the county's courthouses to all but time-sensitive, essential matters.
Durst's attorneys contended in their court filing that a lengthy delay caused by the pandemic has “made it impossible'' for the now 77-year-old defendant to get a fair trial on the murder charge stemming from the December 2000 shooting death of his longtime friend Susan Berman at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, noting that the defense has repeatedly asked for a mistrial in a case, called the request Durst's “latest effort to restart a trial for tactical and strategic considerations independent of the (COVID-19) pandemic, (which) he rightly perceives is thus far not going in his favor.''
Court officials plan to move the trial from courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport, where jurors initially began hearing the case, to a larger courtroom at the Inglewood courthouse a few miles away. The move will better enable the court to implement social-distancing protocols, according to court spokeswoman Mary Hearn.
Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman after she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathie.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors alleged that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities launched a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.
In his opening statement in Durst's Los Angeles murder trial, the defendant's lead attorney told jurors that Durst panicked after finding Berman's body in her home while coming to visit her for the holidays. Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note'' that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found, attorney Dick DeGuerin said, noting that Durst would testify in his own defense during the trial.
Durst was profiled in a six-part HBO television series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,'' in which the defendant was later recorded saying “There it is, you're caught'' and “killed them all, of course.''
Durst 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 Kathie's disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
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.
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