Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 – 1:38 PM
(CNS) – With defense attorneys questioning the propriety of materials collected by police and prosecutors, a judge Wednesday agreed to appoint a “special master” to review evidence gathered during the investigation of New York real estate scion Robert Durst, who is accused of killing a woman in Benedict Canyon 16 years ago.
Meanwhile, prosecutors told the judge Wednesday they want to take video testimony from a pair of witnesses in advance a preliminary hearing for Durst — in case they might not be available later. One of the witnesses is 86 years old, but prosecutors declined to name the second witness, while insisting the person has “very important information.”
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin suggested that in addition to the issue of age, some witnesses feel threatened by Durst, prompting the request to conduct the advance videotaped depositions and to withhold the identity of one witness.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham scheduled a hearing for Jan. 6 to discuss the request, with prosecutors saying they hope to conduct the interviews Feb. 14.
Durst — who was profiled in the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” — is charged with capital murder in the death of his friend, Susan Berman, who was found dead inside her Benedict Canyon home on Christmas Eve 2000. Prosecutors believe the 55-year-old woman was killed on or about Dec. 23, 2000.
The murder charge against the 73-year-old Durst 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 that the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office does not plan to seek the death penalty against Durst.
Authorities suspect Durst killed Berman because prosecutors in New York’s Westchester County were about to interview her about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, who was in the process of divorcing him.
According to court papers, Los Angeles police detectives claim two handwriting experts have linked Durst to an anonymous letter alerting authorities to a “cadaver” at Berman’s home.
During his first court appearance in Los Angeles Nov. 7, Durst pleaded not guilty.
“I do want to say here and now, though, I am not guilty. I did not kill Susan Berman,” he said.
Durst was arrested March 14, 2015, in a New Orleans hotel room, hours before the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” which examined the disappearance of his wife in 1982, Berman’s execution-style killing and the killing and dismemberment of Morris Black in Texas — the latter for which he was acquitted.
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 documentary.
When asked by the prosecutor whether he would tell him if he had killed his wife or Berman, Durst responded, “No.”
In his filing, Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, argues that the prosecutor knew his client was represented by counsel and shouldn’t have talked to him without an attorney being present.
“To put something out that hasn’t been tested for admissibility — that they knew is going to be objected to — I don’t think is right,” DeGuerin told NBC News, accusing prosecutors of attempting to “taint the jury pool,” according to NBC.
“This motion is being litigated in a public forum and involves information that is relevant, material and necessary to refute the false allegations and mischaracterizations made by the defense in their opposition,” according to a statement released by the District Attorney’s Office.
With Durst’s attorneys contending that documents in Houston and New Orleans “were obtained through illegal search and seizures,” prosecutors asked that a “special master” be appointed to review documents and other evidence in the case. Windham agreed to that request.
Three days after a judge signed an arrest warrant for Durst in the Los Angeles case, FBI agents located him in a New Orleans hotel room where he had checked in under the alias Everette Ward. Agents discovered a loaded Smith and Wesson .38-caliber revolver, a “realistic mask” and more than $40,000 in cash, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
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 subsequently 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.