LOS ANGELES (CN) — Evidence in the murder case against eccentric New York real estate scion Robert Durst will show he killed his friend and confidant Susan Berman in 2000 to keep her from revealing his involvement in the disappearance and presumed murder of his young wife nearly 19 years before, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Testifying Tuesday in Durst’s preliminary hearing, two of Berman’s close friends gave support to the prosecution theory.
One of them, former record executive and rock band publicist Daniel Goldberg, said Berman once said about Durst: “Even if he killed her, he’s still my friend.”
The other witness, Berman’s former college roommate Ricki Ring, said Berman had expressed shock that New York police in 1982 accepted the supposition that Durst’s wife Kathie — a fourth-year medical student — had run off with a drug dealer.
Ring said Berman also was shocked that Robert Durst threw out his wife’s possessions days after she disappeared and that he never mentioned Kathie when he and Berman vacationed together a few months later.
Ring, who was a lawyer, said she refused to let Berman say much more about her suspicions.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham must decide whether there is probable cause to believe Durst murdered Berman.
Kathie Durst was last seen on Jan. 31, 1982, in Westchester County, New York, where the couple owned a cottage.
Some evidence suggested she was still alive the following day. The dean of her medical school said he received a phone call from her on Feb. 1, but investigators and Los Angeles prosecutors believe Berman, on Durst’s behest, made the call pretending to be Kathie. Partly as a result of that call, New York police concentrated their missing person investigation in the city, with no result.
Investigators now believe Robert Durst killed his wife at their cottage and may have dumped her body in New Jersey. She has never been found.
In 2000, however, Westchester County authorities reopened the case and asked to interview Berman, who had been Robert Durst’s media spokesperson after Kathie’s disappearance.
Within months of being contacted, Berman was dead. On Dec. 24, 2000, Los Angeles police discovered her body on the floor of her Beverly Hills-area home, shot in the back of her head. The first witness Tuesday was Rashad Sharif, one of the officers who found Berman’s body.
Los Angeles authorities arrested Durst and charged him with her murder in 2015. He has pleaded not guilty.
In the past year, Windham has allowed prosecutors, led by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, to take testimony from older witnesses in case they are unavailable for trial, which may come next year.
Several gave testimony supporting the theory that Berman made the phone call to Kathie Durst’s dean, including movie producer Lynda Obst and former neighbor Miriam Barnes. Berman’s onetime boyfriend, Paul Kaufman, testified that Berman once told him matter-of-factly that Durst had killed his wife.
On Tuesday, both Goldberg and Ring said Berman was very close to Durst, whom she met in college at UCLA, and that they grew even closer over the years. They both said that Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, had a strict view of loyalty to family and friends.
Ring said Berman followed a Mafia-style code of honor. She noted that Berman’s father, known as “Davie the Jew,” was imprisoned at Sing Sing, but never informed on any of his colleagues.
“Susan adored her father,” and never would rat out anyone, Ring said.
Goldberg said Berman drew the mobster parallel herself when they spoke a few weeks before her death.
“I’m a gangster’s daughter, so I have different standards for my friends,” Berman told him. “I don’t have many friends. … Even if he killed her, he’s still my friend.”
Lead prosecutor Lewin played a recording of 2015 interview in which Goldberg remembered the conversation somewhat differently. In that interview, he said Berman told him she thought Durst probably had killed his wife. “As a gangster’s daughter, that doesn’t disqualify somebody as a friend,” she said.
The preliminary hearing is to continue through Thursday and then resume in October, according to the attorneys.