Damning Testimony in Murder Pretrial for Robert Durst

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Susan Berman, whom New York real estate heir Robert Durst is accused of murdering, told her boyfriend that Durst had killed his own wife, Kathleen, the boyfriend testified Monday in court.

Testifying in Los Angeles Superior Court, Paul Kaufman said Berman made the surprising statement almost in passing as they flew from L.A. to New York to meet Durst in 1990.

On that day, Kaufman said, he and Berman — who were both in the entertainment industry and working on a play together — were kicking around plots for murder or organized crime storylines.

“We were talking about scripts,” he testified. “She said, ‘By the way, you know Mr. Durst killed his wife.’”

Kaufman told Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian he did not ask for any more information.

“We were at the time writing and playing games: What if this happens or that happens? I did not particularly believe it did happen or did not happen.”

Law enforcement officials have long believed that Durst did kill his beautiful young wife, who vanished in January 1982.

Los Angeles prosecutors have charged the eccentric multimillionaire with shooting Berman in December 2000 to keep her from telling New York investigators what she knew about Kathleen Durst’s unsolved disappearance nearly two decades earlier.

Robert Durst, 74 and frail, is to go on trial for Berman’s murder sometime next year. During sporadic hearings this year, Superior Court Judge Mark Windham has allowed the lead prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, to examine ill or elderly potential witnesses to preserve their testimony.

One such witness, Nick Chavin, testified that his longtime friend effectively confessed to killing Berman and implied that he’d killed Kathleen Durst.

Two other witnesses supported the theory that Berman had helped Durst cover up his wife’s death, and may have died as a result.

Kathy Durst, a medical student, was last seen on Jan. 31, 1982, according to prosecutors. But the dean of her medical school has testified that he received a phone call from her the next day, Feb. 1, saying she was sick and would not be able to come to work.

However, Hollywood producer Lynda Obst told the court that Berman admitted having posed as Kathleen Durst to make the call to the medical school. And Miriam Barnes recalled that early in 1982 her close friend and neighbor Berman anxiously told her that she “did something today for Bobby,” referring to Robert Durst, and that “if anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it.”

Kaufman, a producer and investment adviser, was romantically involved with Berman and lived in her Brentwood house from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. They worked together on a project to make a Broadway musical about the 19th century French scandal known as the Dreyfus affair.

During those years, Kaufman said, Berman became a surrogate mother to his son and daughter, then entering their teen years.

Like other witnesses, Kaufman said Berman was a larger than life personality who sometimes would embellish, exaggerate or make things up.

On cross-examination by Durst defender David Chesnoff of Las Vegas, Kaufman agreed that Berman once told him that the Mob had killed her father — who was a high official in Las Vegas organized crime — and that her father had killed her mother. Neither was true.

“Basically, she was capable of saying all kinds of things. That was part of her charm,” Kaufman said.

Also testifying Monday was Richard Markey, an elderly writer and photographer who was one of the last people to see Berman alive. They went out to dinner and a movie on Dec. 22, 2000, which is the day police suspect Berman was shot in the head inside her home in Los Angeles’s Benedict Canyon.

Markey described Berman as an “unusual” person who was very smart, curious and knowledgeable about the world, but “overly dramatic” and beset by many phobias.

One of those phobias was personal security. When Markey went to see her about a project, he would call ahead, yet when he knocked on her door, she would peek out the window at him and demand he identify himself.

Durst’s supporters and defense team have suggested that Berman was shot by a stranger. But Markey said she would never let someone she didn’t know into her home.

Markey initially suspected that Berman’s manager, Nyle Brenner, may have been the killer. She’d had a “turbulent,” “love-hate” relationship with Brenner, he said.

Markey said Brenner had left him an odd phone message telling him of Berman’s murder and warning him that police would be asking him very personal questions. In that message, Brenner said he planned on not cooperating with investigators, Markey said.

Brenner told him he had gone to Berman’s house after police left, crawled in through a window and noticed fingerprint dust scattered around, Markey testified.

Markey also described going to lunch with Robert Durst and other friends after a memorial service for Berman, which Durst did not attend.

He said that over lunch Durst did not talk about his late friend, but complained about being hounded by New York detectives who were re-investigating Kathleen Durst’s 1982 disappearance.

On Tuesday, Durst’s private attorney and high school buddy Stewart Altman is to testify about conversations he had with Durst when his client was in custody in New Orleans; Galveston, Texas and Pennsylvania.

Altman’s wife and legal secretary, Emily Altman, testified about some of those instances during a week of hearings in July.

Superior Court Judge Mark Windham ruled that Durst and the Altmans had waived attorney-client privilege over some of the conversations.

However, the Altmans’ attorneys, Marilyn Bednarski and David S. McLane, with Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt in Pasadena, were expected to argue a motion Tuesday to try to prevent Stewart Altman from testifying.

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