Freshly extradited to California last week, Robert Durst entered a not guilty plea today at an arraignment hearing in Los Angeles Superior Court over the 2000 murder of Susan Berman. The real estate scion’s long-suspected involvement in the murders of his friend Berman, his first wife, and a Texas neighbor were the focus of HBO’s Emmy-winning documentary series The Jinx in 2015.
“I do want to say right here and now, I am not guilty,” Durst told the courtroom in a weak voice, sitting in a wheelchair. “I did not kill Susan Berman.”
Having been flown to the Golden State from Louisiana on Friday and with the plea in front of Judge Mark Windham now dealt with, a trial is expected to start in 2017. Charged with special circumstances of murder of a witness and lying in wait, the 73-year-old Durst is not eligible for bail and will remain behind bars up to and during the trial. Prosecutors from the L.A. County D.A.’s office say they will not be seeking the death penalty in the case.
Along with prosecutors, Durst’s lead lawyer Dick DeGuerin and a defense team of nearly half a dozen Texas-based attorneys were also in the packed courtroom Monday. Attorney Gloria Allred was also in attendence, as she has a client with connections to the Durst case. “He is very hard of hearing,” DeGuerin told Windham as he went to ask Durst if he agreed to February 15 next year as the date on which the court would next meet to set a preliminary hearing. “I can hear you now,” Durst said, and agreed to the date. Throughout today’s hearing, the bespectaled and neckbrace-supported Durst frequently turned to look back at those assembled in the courtroom.
Despite years of speculation and troubling behavior, the multi-millionaire has always insisted he is innocent in the fatal shooting Berman in her Benedict Canyon home. However, in the March 15, 2015 finale of the Andrew Jarecki-directed The Jinx: The Life And Deaths Of Robert Durst, he was caught on a microphone telling a different story. “What the hell did I do?” Durst is heard asking himself off camera in an episode broadcast March 15, 2015. “Killed ’em all, of course.”
Durst was arrested by the FBI in New Orleans one day before the well-watched The Jinx finale. The bureau was acting on behalf of L.A. officials who said they had newly discovered evidence linking him to Berman’s murder. The D.A.’s office has said that the move was not directly related to The Jinx, but had been refocused on the case for a while.
In the HBO series, a comparison was made between a letter Durst wrote to Berman in 1999 and an an anonymous 2000 correspondence to the Beverly Hills police telling them they would find “a cadaver” in the writer’s house. The letters had similar distinctive handwriting and spelling mistakes.
The L.A. County D.A.’s office and other law enforcement believe that Durst killed his former UCLA classmate almost 16 years ago because he had found out she was about to give information to authorities about what happened to Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who disappeared in 1982 as she was trying get a divorce.
A loaded .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver was found by the federal agents during their search of Durst’s New Orleans hotel room on March 14, 2015. Having previously been convicted of multiple felonies, Durst was indicted in the Eastern District of Louisiana on April 10, 2015, for being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was formally sentenced in April of this year to 85 months in prison, followed by three years’ supervised release, for weapons possession. Durst’s extradition to L.A. was worked out by his attorneys and the feds as part of the plea deal.
There was a delay in the extradition until last week due to medical complications.