Attorneys Give Opening Statements in Durst Murder Trial … Again

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The murder trial of the troubled scion of the Durst family, Robert Durst, resumed in Los Angeles County Superior Court today, after a 14-month recess, with another round of opening statements. 

The lawyer for the prosecution joked that the trial felt a bit like “Groundhog Day” as he laid out his case that Durst murdered his best friend, Susan Berman, and one other man in a cover-up to hide the murder of Durst’s wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst.

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“For some reason, standing here, it feels like I’ve done this before. I can’t quite place it,” joked Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who gave the first opening statement. “This is, without question, a new experience for everybody. I have never given an opening statement in the same case twice.”

Durst himself plans to testify, and his brother, Douglas Durst, who serves as chairman of the Durst Organization and oversees the Durst family’s $5 billion real estate empire, is a witness for the prosecution, according to The New York Times. Lewin plans to offer raw excerpts from interviews by the producers of the HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” and call 100 witnesses. 

Plexiglass separated those present in the courtroom and the judge sat behind the presenting lawyers, who faced a jury unrecorded by courtroom cameras. The plexiglass, social distancing, and masking are all part of efforts in an attempt to get the trial back on track without having to find a new jury. 

One juror was dismissed by the judge on Tuesday, because she had looked up information related to the case. After a few procedural instructions to the jury, Lewin began laying out his case for the second time. 

Durst, the septuagenarian heir to a commercial real estate empire, is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Berman. While not charged with the murder of his wife and his friend, Morris Black, the prosecution argues Berman’s death is connected to his wife’s mysterious disappearance in 1982 and the dismemberment of Black. Durst was acquitted of killing Black in 2003 and has pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge.

In December 2000, Berman was fatally shot in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home. During Tuesday’s opening statements, Lewin drew the jury’s attention to an anonymous note alerting the Beverly Hills police of a “cadaver” at Berman’s home, casually referred to as “the cadaver note” in trial. For years, Durst denied that he wrote the note, but in late 2019, Durst’s lawyers conceded that he was its author.

Durst himself appeared in court on Tuesday, and the judge admonished him for his absence the day before. Bailiffs reported that Durst refused to leave his L.A. County jail cell, but a defense lawyer disputed that account, saying jailers failed to get Durst, according to The Associated Press.

Durst’s lawyers have repeatedly sought a mistrial to no avail. The defense claims the year-plus delay would harm Durst’s ability to get a fair trial, but the judge denied their motions. Judge Mark Windham also denied the defense’s request to suspend the case because Durst has bladder cancer and other health problems.