INGLEWOOD (CNS) - Testimony is set to resume as scheduled today in the murder trial of New York real estate scion Robert Durst, following a short recess prompted by a courtroom observer who tested positive for COVID-19.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham cut testimony short on Thursday after learning about the positive diagnoses, which involved “an individual present in the courtroom, but not a member of either trial team,'' according to a court statement released Friday.
“Furthermore, Judge Windham learned that this individual – in defiance of strict COVID-19 court and public health protocols -- had been experiencing symptoms for several days, but nonetheless attended the trial,'' according to the court.
“... After review of the facts, including contact tracing and an assessment of close contacts under established public health definitions, Judge Windham and the court have determined that the circumstances do not warrant further recess of the trial.''
The trial is set to resume at 11 a.m. Monday, with Durst potentially taking the stand to testify in his own defense.
The person who tested positive was not identified. The Wrap reported that the person was a relative of someone on Durst's legal team.
According to the statement from the court, the person who tested positive was wearing a mask while in court.
Durst is accused of killing his longtime friend, Susan Berman, inside her Benedict Canyon home in December 2000. Berman was a 55-year-old writer whom he met while at UCLA. Prosecutors contend Durst killed her because she was prepared to speak to police about a renewed investigation into the disappearance and presumed death of Durst's first wife, Kathie.
Durst has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys contend there is no evidence linking him to Berman's killing.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did,'' defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said in May, when the trial resumed after being stalled for more than a year by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors that the evidence would show that Durst shot and killed Berman “out of survival'' because he feared she would tell authorities about his involvement in Kathie Durst's disappearance.
During his updated opening statement, Lewin called the cases of Kathie Durst and Susan Berman “interrelated,'' and told jurors they would hear evidence that Durst killed his wife and used Berman to help cover up his part in the crime, and that he subsequently had to kill his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, because the man figured out who Durst was and was putting pressure on him.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed Black in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities began a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.
DeGuerin disputed the prosecution's contention that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst and called Berman a “storyteller'' who had a “great imagination'' and “made things up.''
The defense attorney also told the panel that a six-part HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,'' in which the defendant was recorded saying “There it is, you're caught'' and “killed them all, of course,'' was “heavily edited'' and “not a documentary.''
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.
Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle, and ultimately reached a settlement under which the family reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.
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