The prosecution on Wednesday presented closing arguments in the months-longs murder trial of New York real estate scion Robert Durst, where they compared his testimony to cockroach soup in an effort to convince jurors that he killed his close friend.
After months of testimony and evidence spanning four decades, prosecutors made their case to the jury Wednesday in Los Angeles Superior Court that Durst, 78, silenced Susan Berman in December 2000 before she could tell authorities how she provided a phony alibi when his wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, disappeared in 1982. Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster who became friends with Durst when they met in the 1960s at the University of California, Los Angeles, was found dead inside her L.A. home.
“You can’t tell which part of that soup is tainted, and which part of that soup is not tainted. It’s all infected with lies,” said Deputy District attorney Habib Balian, who displayed a photo of a cockroach plucked from a bowl of soup on a courtroom screen.
Authorities said Berman posed as Kathie Durst over a phone call where she called in sick to the medical school where Durst was a student. Durst was dead by that time, Balian said.
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He began his closing argument by praising the jury for their attention and patience and calling them “saints.” He described how Kathie Durst was abused by her husband until she was ultimately “wiped away.”
He argued that Durst killed his wife in their South Salem, N.Y., home. Durst then turned to Berman for help before she was faced with a similar fate amid an reinvestigation of Kathie Durst’s case, Balian said.
“And what did he do? Like Kathleen Durst, he wiped her away. He wiped her away. She helped him get out of that jam. And the thing she got was to get a bullet in the back of her head,” he said. “The defendant kills witnesses or tries to kill witnesses or plans to kill witnesses.”
There is no forensic evidence to tie Durst to Berman’s death, but circumstantial evidence, incriminating statements he’s made — including on the witness stand — damning testimony from friends and his ill-considered decision to participate in “The Jinx” has bolstered the prosecution’s case.
Durst has been behind bars since his New Orleans arrest in 2015 that came on the eve of the final episode of “The Jinx” in which he was caught in a lie about writing a note directing police to Berman’s lifeless body. The FBI arrested him before he could watch the conclusion and either flee or kill himself, as he testified he planned to do.
The trial went on hiatus after only a few days in March last year when the coronavirus pandemic closed courts. It resumed in May and testimony wrapped up last week with Durst concluding three weeks on the stand in which he denied killing his wife and Berman but also said he’d lied if he had done so.
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At one point during his testimony, Durst said he hadn’t lied — at least up to that point — during his five days on the stand.
Under cross-examination from Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, the multimillionaire acknowledged there are some acts he would never come clean about.
The judge remarked outside the jury’s presence that cross-examination had been devastating and appeared to have destroyed Durst’s credibility.
Durst stuck to his story that he had only killed one person — Morris Black — in a 2001 struggle for a gun in the Galveston, Texas, boarding house where he was living under an alias. Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying in that case, though he was convicted of destroying evidence for chopping up Black’s body and tossing it out to sea.
Los Angeles County prosecutors said Durst knocked off Black because the neighbor discovered his true identity while he was hiding from New York authorities reinvestigating Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
Kathie Durst has never been found but was declared legally dead. Durst has never been charged with a crime in the disappearance.
Prosecutors presented evidence Kathie Durst, who was finishing medical school, was on the brink of seeking a divorce from an abusive husband she once described as “homicidal,” according to one witness. The defense portrayed her as having a cocaine problem and unable to complete her classes.
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But friends, fellow students and former professors said she was committed and hard-working and despite some absences was nearing graduation. Robert Durst testified he drove her from their lake house in Westchester County to a train bound for New York City the night before she was to start a clerkship in pediatrics, the area she hoped to specialize in.
The dean of students at Albert Einstein Medical School testified that he got a call from a woman who identified herself as Kathie who said she had diarrhea and wouldn’t be able to make it to the pediatric clerkship that day. Prosecutors said a student wouldn’t call the dean to report an absence and said Berman impersonated Kathie on the call to provide an alibi for Robert Durst.
Years after her disappearance, Durst agreed to be interviewed in an HBO documentary released in 2015, called “The Jinx.”
The filmmakers unearthed a letter he once sent Berman that had handwriting identical to the note police received after her death that only included the word “cadaver” and her address. Beverly Hills was misspelled “Beverley” in both instances.
Durst had once said the cadaver note could only have been written by her killer. Faced with the similarities and experts who would testify they were the same, the defense conceded before the trial he wrote the note.
He testified he had found Berman dead in her house and wanted to alert police to her body without anyone knowing he had been there.
Durst testified that the statement he made to himself off-camera at the end of production was not a confession — as many interpreted it. He said he either spoke too softy for the mic to hear or failed to utter what he was thinking: “They’ll all think I killed them all, of course.”
Balian told jurors that Durst has admitted to lying on the stand in an effort to deflect his guilt and cover his tracks.
“This was an Olympic year,” he said. “If there was an event for running from the truth, he’d be on the top of the podium.”
“It’s all infected with lies,” Balian added. “This is what he served you. Literally you were served a bowl of cockroaches and you were told, ‘You pick out which ones are bad and which ones are good and toss them aside, but you can trust the rest of that soup. Go ahead and eat it up. Lap it up.’”
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Durst said he regretted participating in the movie and that Jarecki had provided some of his lines. His lawyers, who plan to poke holes in the prosecution’s case during their closing argument, have likened the prosecution’s case to a script worthy of an Oscar nomination.
“Fortunately for Mr. Durst, they failed to deliver the required evidence to support their script/theory,” attorney Chip Lewis said Tuesday. “In our beautiful country, we do not convict folks based on made-for-tv-movies.”
Fox News’ Laura Prabucki contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.