NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Robert Durst, a troubled millionaire from one of America’s richest families, agreed Monday to face trial for murder in the Los Angeles shooting 15 years ago of a woman who some believe knew too much about the disappearance of his wife in 1982.
Monday’s extradition hearing came only hours after Sunday’s finale of a six-part HBO documentary detailing Durst’s life of privilege and links to three deaths: his friend in Los Angeles, Susan Berman; his wife in New York, Kathleen Durst; and Morris Black, an elderly neighbor in Texas.
Durst is heard muttering that he “killed them all, of course,” at the end of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
His trip to California trip may be delayed by new charges in Louisiana, one of his lawyers said. A police report said the heir to a New York real estate fortune was carrying a revolver when FBI agents arrested him without incident at a New Orleans hotel before the final episode. It wasn’t immediately clear if Durst had the required gun permit. Christopher Bowman, a spokesman for the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office, declined to comment.
Durst shuffled into a courtroom with his hands shackled at his waist, wearing sandals and an orange jumpsuit, and appeared to fall asleep before Magistrate Harry Cantrell struck his gavel down. Then he answered “yes” to questions about waiving extradition. The judge also agreed that Durst could get pain medication meanwhile; defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said Durst had undergone “neurosurgery.”
Durst had been laying low at the Marriott hotel to avoid the growing attention from the documentary, his longtime lawyer, Chip Lewis, told The Associated Press.
This is not the first time in handcuffs for Durst, who has been estranged from family members who are together worth an estimated $4 billion. The Durst Organization manages a New York real estate empire including One World Trade Center.
Just last year, Durst was fined for urinating on the candy racks at a CVS pharmacy in Houston, where he keeps a townhouse. Lewis called that an “unfortunate medical mishap” and said Durst has Asperger’s syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder that can involve behavioral problems.
Former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro believes it was her reopening of the cold case into Kathleen Durst’s disappearance that provoked the murder of Berman, who had been Durst’s confidante. And she said Durst’s own words can now be used against him.
In the documentary, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki and Durst discuss an anonymous letter that alerted Beverly Hills police to a “cadaver” at Berman’s address. Durst says whoever sent it was “taking a big risk. You’re sending a letter to police that only the killer could have written.”
Then, in a second interview seen in the final episode, Jarecki shows him another letter that Durst had sent to Berman, which one of the slain woman’s relatives had recovered and given to the filmmakers. It has similar handwriting, and the address is misspelled as “Beverley Hills.”
“I wrote this one but I did not write the cadaver one,” Durst says, burping oddly when confronted with this potential evidence.
Then they wrap up the interview, and Durst says he’s going to the bathroom.
Still wearing his microphone, he is recorded as he seems to think out loud, pausing between each whispered thought. The documentary plays the sound and shows his words in subtitles over the now-empty interview room: “There it is. You’re caught! … You’re right, of course, but you can’t imagine … Arrest him! … I don’t know what’s in the house … Oh, I want this … What a disaster … He was right. I was wrong … And the burping! I’m having difficulty with the question … What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
And then the documentary fades to black, silently leaving law enforcement to pick up the story.
By Monday, the filmmakers were declining to comment, worried that they may be called as witnesses in the future. But Jarecki and his cinematographer Marc Smerling answered some of the many questions raised by their finale in a New York Times interview published Monday.
They said they had no idea they had the bathroom audio until editors found it last June, and that they never confronted Durst about it because they didn’t believe he would speak with them. But they did share evidence with authorities last year, they said.
Lewis smells a setup. He called Jarecki “duplicitous” for not making it clear to Durst that he would be sharing what he said with police. He also suggested that the timing of the arrest, just before the show’s finale, was chosen for maximum impact.
“It’s all about Hollywood now,” Lewis said.
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Kirk Albanese scoffed at that, saying police were “definitely” concerned that Durst might try to flee the country.
“The HBO series had nothing to do with his arrest. We do police work based on the facts and evidence, not based on the HBO series. I know there’s lots of speculation about that. It had nothing to do with the show,” Albanese told The AP on Monday.
Durst was already acquitted of one murder but suspected in two others when he willingly talked with Jarecki on camera. They met after the filmmaker told a fictionalized account of Durst’s story in “All Good Things,” a 2010 film starring Ryan Gosling. Jarecki told the Times that Durst signed a release form agreeing “that we could use any recording of him in any way we deemed appropriate,” and was well aware he was being recorded.
Berman was the daughter of an associate of Las Vegas mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky who spoke out on Durst’s behalf after his wife disappeared in New York.
After she was shot in the back of the head at her home near Beverly Hills in 2000, Durst went undercover, leaving as a mute woman in a Texas boarding house.
Then, in 2001, dismembered parts of his elderly neighbor’s body were found floating in Galveston Bay. Durst was arrested, fled, then caught shoplifting a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania, with $37,000 and a pair of guns in his rental car.
Lewis told that jury that Durst shot Black in self-defense, and he was acquitted of murder, despite admitting that he used a paring knife, two saws and an ax to dismember the body. With time served, Durst walked free after one more year for bond jumping and evidence tampering.
Pirro, the former Westchester County District Attorney and current Fox-TV personality who had hoped Berman would provide evidence against Durst, said the audiotape can clearly be used against him in court.
“It was a spontaneous statement, a classical exception to the hearsay rule,” Pirro told Fox-TV’s “Good Day New York.” “I don’t hear it as a muttering. I hear it as a clear, unequivocal `I killed them.’ That means he killed his wife, he killed Susan Berman and he killed Morris Black.”
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the current Westchester DA, said Kathleen Durst’s disappearance “remains an open homicide investigation and as such any new information that’s developed is investigated, both by the state police and by us if we’re involved.”
Robert Durst has been estranged from his family since their father chose his brother Douglas to run the family business. In recent years, they took out restraining orders against him, but he was acquitted of trespassing outside their homes.
“We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done,” Douglas Durst said in a statement.
Melley and Tami Abdollah reported from Los Angeles. Contributors include Associated Press Writers David Bauder, Jim Fitzgerald and Verena Dobnik in New York and Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas.