INGLEWOOD (CNS) - A prosecutor told jurors today there is “overwhelming'' evidence of New York real estate scion Robert Durst's guilt in his longtime friend's shooting death at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles just before Christmas Eve in 2000.
In the first of an anticipated 3 1/2 days of closing arguments by attorneys in Durst's trial, Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian told the panel the case against the 78-year-old defendant is “easy.''
Durst is charged with murdering 55-year-old writer Susan Berman, along with the special circumstance allegations of murder of a witness and murder while lying in wait.
The prosecutor said Durst went to his best friend, Berman, for help after his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie'' Durst, was “wiped off the face of this earth'' in 1982, and that the two “embarked on a campaign to obscure the truth to lead the investigation in a completely wrong direction.'' That campaign included Berman posing as his missing wife in a phone call to the medical school where she was a fourth-year student, he said.
“He almost got away with it, but for this re-investigation that happened,'' Balian said, referring to a renewed probe into Kathie Durst's disappearance. “It became public again, the pressure came on again and what did he do? Like Kathleen Durst, he wiped her (Berman) away. He wiped her away. She helped him get out of that jam, and the thanks she got was to get a bullet in the back of the head by her best friend.''
The prosecutor contended that Durst feared Berman was going to tell authorities what she knew about Kathie Durst's disappearance.
Balian said the case could be summed up in “nine simple words – It was her or me. I had no choice'' -- the phrase a key prosecution witness and longtime friend of both Durst and Berman testified that Durst said when he asked him about Berman.
The prosecution also contends that Durst subsequently had to kill his neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, in September 2001 because Black figured out who Durst was. Prosecutors said Black was putting pressure on Durst while the defendant posed as a mute woman after investigators re-launched their probe to try to determine what had happened to Kathie Durst.
“Like Kathie, like Susan, he gets wiped off the face of this earth,'' Balian said, telling jurors later that everything Durst did stemmed from him covering up his role in Kathie Durst's disappearance and death.
Durst was acquitted in Texas of Black's murder after testifying that the gun went off during a struggle over the weapon.
Summing up the case against Durst, the prosecutor said, “... We have overwhelming circumstantial evidence of his guilt. We have overwhelming direct evidence of his guilt.''
The deputy district attorney asked jurors if they could trust Durst, playing portions of testimony in which the defendant said he would not tell the jury if he had actually been the one responsible for killing his wife.
The panel is expected to hear by mid-afternoon Thursday from the defense, which has insisted that Durst had nothing to do with Kathie Durst's disappearance and had no motive to kill Berman.
Durst and his lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, have disputed the prosecution's assertion that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst after the medical student vanished.
Durst has acknowledged that he wrote a “cadaver'' note that anonymously alerted police to Berman's body in Benedict Canyon, but he told jurors that she was already dead when he discovered her corpse.
“Did you kill Susan?'' DeGuerin asked his client during the trial.
“No,'' Durst responded.
“Do you know who did?'' DeGuerin asked.
“No,'' Durst again responded.
He also denied knowing what had happened to Kathie Durst and told jurors he has never loved anyone more than her.
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 six-part HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,'' which examined Kathie Durst's disappearance and the deaths of Berman and Black.
Durst testified that a bathroom recording of him shown in the series in which he said, “There it is, you're caught,'' referred to the cadaver note.
He had been confronted by Andrew Jarecki -- director and co-producer of “The Jinx'' -- about the cadaver note and two envelopes addressed to Berman and acknowledged that it was pretty obvious that the handwriting was the same, even though he had denied for years that he had written the note to police.
When asked what he meant by his recorded comment “killed them all, of course'' that was shown during the series, Durst said, “What I did not say out loud or perhaps I said very softly, `They'll all think I killed them all, of course.'''
He testified that he has talked to himself since he was a little boy.
“It seems I talk to myself about my thoughts, so some of what I'm thinking I do not say out loud,'' Durst testified.
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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