Friday, December 3

Why Robert Durst’s First Murder Conviction May Not Be His Last | US crime


For years, the wheels of justice moved so slowly against Robert Durst, the New York real estate heir with a trail of corpses dotting his incredibly haunted life, that the family and friends of his victims feared he would never pay the consequences. .

Now, however, it is open season. After Durst’s first murder conviction last month, the culmination of a sensational trial in Los Angeles with nearly 40 years of devastating evidence, prosecutors and civil litigants are working at lightning speed to bring him back to life. cut any way they can.

In Westchester County, New York, the district attorney’s office has assigned a newly formed unsolved unit, headed by a senior prosecutor, to reopen an investigation into the death of Durst’s first wife, Kathie, whose disappearance from his suburban home on a cold 1982 winter night has finally been reclassified as murder. According to local news reports, a grand jury could meet starting this week.

Kathie’s surviving siblings intend to sue Durst and believe that if he is charged in Westchester, they may overcome a technical problem with the statute of limitations that hampered an earlier effort to hold him accountable in civil court. They also want to go after Durst’s family, whom they accuse of participating in a cover-up after her disappearance by persuading the police that it was not a crime but a runaway wife. (The family has always denied any wrongdoing).

And there may be more. Since the jury in California has established that Durst murdered Susan Berman, a close friend whom she did not trust to keep quiet about the events of 1982, investigators in New York City may now want to reexamine the activities. of Durst and his associates in the weeks leading up to Berman’s death, a time when, in his own words, he was “becoming a fugitive,” and deciding if someone else was an accessory to the crime.

When asked by the Guardian if they were conducting such an investigation, the Manhattan district attorney’s office said: “We will decline to comment.”

Many people who have voluntarily spoken out about the Durst case in the past – former investigators, Kathie’s family, prosecutors, and defense attorneys – have kept quiet in the past two weeks, possibly ahead of a formal Westchester County grand jury announcement. Westchester District Attorney Miriam Rocah told reporters late last month that her team was working “very hardBut it wouldn’t be based on specifics.

Durst, who is 78 years old and in poor health, still has two years in prison for violating federal gun laws at the time of his arrest for the 2015 Berman murder. He also faces a sentencing hearing in Los Angeles on October 18, so it is more than likely that he will die behind bars. Still, legal experts say, there are at least two compelling reasons Westchester County and others would want to go after him.

The first is to offer Kathie Durst’s family and friends the justice they have been demanding in vain for four decades. In a statement issued in response to Durst’s conviction, Kathie’s family said it was “strange and unacceptable” that Durst was tried for killing an accessory to Kathie’s murder before being held responsible for the original crime. Opening his investigation in May, Rocah said: “The family obviously wants and needs closure … An entire community wants and needs closure.”

A photo of Durst and Kathie McCormack on their wedding day in 1973 was shown at their murder trial in Inglewood, California.
A photo of Durst and Kathie McCormack on their wedding day in 1973 was shown at their murder trial in Inglewood, California. Photograph: Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times / REX / Shutterstock

The second is as an insurance policy. Durst’s high-priced attorneys have signaled their intent to appeal the murder conviction, and while their chances of overturning the jury’s verdict appear slim, they have a track record of accomplishing the seemingly impossible for their client. (In 2003, Durst was acquitted of murdering a man in Galveston, Texas, even though he admitted to delivering the fatal blow and dismembering the body.)

“You never know what will happen on appeal,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “Especially here, when he had the Covid outbreak, and a long lull in the trial, and a prosecutor who was very aggressive.”

For many decades, the Kathie Durst case was considered too difficult to pursue. Many early investigation leads were lost because Durst and others misled police into believing they needed to investigate in New York, where Kathie was close to finishing medical school, and not in Westchester County, where prosecutors now believe she was. murdered. His body was never found, and to this day there is no certainty as to how he died.

However, thanks to the extensive efforts of the Los Angeles prosecution team, Westchester authorities can now rely on numerous statements by Robert Durst pointing to his guilt. (He told an interviewer: “Whatever happened to Kathie was a big part of my fault”).

Telephone records show that he was in Pine Barrens, in southern New Jersey, two days after the presumed day of his death, suggesting that he may have disposed of his body “Soprano-style,” as a US attorney put it. Los Angeles to the jury. A list retrieved by a friend of Kathie from the Dursts’ garbage, much disputed at the Berman trial, read in part: “City garbage dump, bridge, excavation, boat, other, shovel or?”

Of course, further investigation can provide even more evidence, against Durst or possible accessories. Levenson, the law professor, said this could be another reason prosecutors and others wanted to move on. “Derivative cases are possible and it is another way to tie up loose ends,” he said. “Until you do the research, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Over the past 20 years, the Durst family has issued repeated public statements distancing themselves from Robert and expressing regret for the damage he has caused. Durst’s brother Douglas, who runs the family real estate business, has even said that his brother would like to kill him because of his refusal to offer further support.

However, Berman’s verdict, and the prospect of further criminal prosecution, could raise troubling questions about the family’s actions in 1982, when Kathie disappeared, and again in 2000 when Durst received a tip (investigators say it was from his sister). which could be under new investigation.

Jordan Barowitz, a spokesman for the Durst Organization, told The Guardian that the family would continue to cooperate “in any criminal investigation of Bob.” He indicated that he was not afraid of any civil lawsuit that Kathie’s family and her lawyer, Bob Abrams, who burdened him, could bring against any member of the family or the company. “None of Abrams’ claims have gone beyond summary judgment,” Barowitz said.

Not everyone in Kathie’s former circle supports the continuing search for justice. Ellen Strauss, herself a lawyer, told The Guardian that the Los Angeles trial was clear enough to establish Durst’s guilt, and that she did not feel the need for more. “He is going to die in prison anyway. Many of us Kathie’s friends are dead right now, ”Strauss said. “Why waste taxpayer money to keep going after this guy?”

Durst himself, up to this point, has been silent on the subject of possible further processing. His longtime lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said he “did not feel comfortable making statements until after sentencing.”




www.theguardian.com

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