Durst prosecutor seeks testimony, citing fear for witnesses

Real estate heir Robert Durst, center, is brought into a courtroom in the wheelchair for a hearing Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Los Angeles. At left is his attorney David Chesnoff. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Prosecutors who charged New York real estate heir Robert Durst with the murder of his best friend in Los Angeles said Wednesday they want to record video testimony from witnesses they fear could die or be killed before trial.

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said they fear for the safety of witnesses because Durst is accused of knocking off Susan Berman, his LA friend who was a witness in the 1982 disappearance of his wife in New York.

Lewin also suggested Durst killed and dismembered a Texas neighbor in 2001 because he was also a witness; Durst acknowledged the killing but was acquitted of murder.

Lewin wants to take conditional testimony from an unnamed person “who has very important information” and from Dr. Albert Kuperman, 85, who may have been the last person Kathleen Durst spoke with before her disappearance in 1982.

The testimony would only be used at trial if the witness isn’t available to testify.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool)
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool)

“If Dr. Kuperman passes away,” Lewin said, “we can’t go back later and figure out anything he would have said. … There is one way and one way only for this to become an issue. … The witness at the conditional examination would then have to disappear, die or be murdered.”

Defense lawyers objected to the suggestion that Durst, 73, who is frail, in custody and was wheeled into court, posed a threat to anyone.

“That a man in a wheelchair is a threat to an 85-year-old doctor in New York,” attorney David Chesnoff said, “is just hyperbole.”

Chesnoff also said Lewin had replaced the facts of Durst’s self-defense testimony in the Galveston, Texas, case with his own interpretation.

Judge Mark Windham set a hearing for Jan. 6 to discuss the conditional testimony, though he tentatively set a Feb. 14 hearing for the testimony from the two witnesses.

Durst has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder in Berman’s death just before Christmas in 2000. At the time, she reportedly was planning to speak with investigators about his wife’s suspected slaying.

Durst was nabbed in New Orleans last year just before the final installment of a six-part documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” aired on HBO.

Prosecutors said police moved in to arrest him because they feared he would flee after seeing the damning conclusion that ended with him walking off camera with a live microphone and muttering to himself: “There it is. You’re caught! What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Real estate heir Robert Durst, center, is brought into a courtroom in the wheelchair for a hearing Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Los Angeles. At left is his attorney David Chesnoff. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool)
Real estate heir Robert Durst, center, is brought into a courtroom in the wheelchair for a hearing Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Los Angeles. At left is his attorney David Chesnoff. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool)

In the moments before he uttered those words, filmmakers had confronted Durst with a letter anonymously sent to police in 2000 tipping them to the location of Berman’s “cadaver” that matched handwriting on a letter he had sent her years before.

Durst acknowledged in a nearly three-hour interrogation after his arrest with Lewin that he was in the process of fleeing when he was arrested. He was found in a hotel with a false Texas ID, more than $40,000 cash, bags of marijuana, a .38-caliber revolver, a map folded to show Louisiana and Cuba, and a flesh-toned latex mask with salt-and-pepper hair.

The defense objected to taking any testimony before they have been provided with evidence in the case and without enough advance notice of the names of conditional witnesses.

Prosecutors have said they might want to record conditional testimony from eight to 10 witnesses and won’t provide their names until shortly before any hearing, Chesnoff said.

The defense also attacked Lewin for publicly filing a transcript and audio of his lengthy interview with Durst, which they claim was improperly conducted and violated their client’s rights.

“I’m not going to be spreading the evidence in the public record,” defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said outside court. “I’m very critical about that … so we’re not going to be guilty of the same thing.”