Robert Durst’s defense attorney argued Monday during his trial for the murder of Susan Berman that he is a person who does not show emotion.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — Five days after his wife disappeared, Robert Durst called the New York State Police to report she was missing and was relatively calm as troopers peppered him with questions at his home.
Kathie Durst was last seen on Jan. 31, 1982. Robert Durst explained to the troopers he last saw his wife that night as she boarded a commuter train to New York City. She was never seen alive again.
Durst was never charged with Kathie Durst’s murder, but he is on trial for the murder of his friend Susan Berman, who was shot and killed in her Los Angeles home in December 2000.
On Tuesday, nearly 21 years after Berman’s murder, an LA jury listened to testimony from retired New York State Trooper James Harney about the day Robert Durst reported his wife missing.
As he was questioned at his vacation home in Westchester County in New York on Feb. 5, 1982, Robert Durst appeared at ease, Harney said.
“Some people cry, and others say do whatever you can to find this person,” said Harney. “That didn’t happen with Mr. Durst.”
Harney testified in 2017 and on Tuesday jurors listened for the first time as he recounted Durst’s odd behavior. But he suddenly became animated when Harney mentioned that he knew Kathie Durst was treated at a hospital for abrasions to her face. Durst was upset, said Harney.
“His demeanor was not consistent,” said Harney. “I would say it went from unagitated to agitated.”
Under cross-examination, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin asked Harney if maybe Durst was upset about the incident because he already spent several hours answering investigators questions about the hospital visit or because he never knew she went to the hospital.
He asked how Harney knew what constituted agitated or unagitated behavior from Robert Durst.
“He might be a person who does not show emotion,” said DeGuerin.
Robert Durst, 78, listened to testimony from a wheelchair in court.
Harney conceded he only had the one interaction with Durst when he filed the missing person’s report. At the time, Durst invited troopers to look around his vacation home in Westchester County, according to Harney’s police report. And Durst did not refuse to answer any of his questions. During the visit, Robert Durst revealed that Kathie Durst had $5,000 in her bank account and about $20,000 in a security account.
Harney also spoke to a divorce attorney Kathie Durst met with days before she disappeared. In his notes, Harney wrote down that the attorney told him that Kathie Durst was fearful for her life and her husband threatened to kill her.
The relationship between Robert and Kathie was deteriorating in the weeks leading up to her disappearance, according to her siblings who spoke to Harney as part of his investigation.
Jurors also listened to testimony from psychiatrist Peter Halperin, a former classmate of Kathie Durst. On Feb. 1, 1982, Kathie Durst missed her first day of rounds as a medical student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. Prosecutors have highlighted a phone call made to a college dean that morning from a woman who identified herself as Kathie Durst. That woman said she was ill and would not be able to make her rounds that day, but prosecutors say that wasn’t Kathie Durst but rather it was Susan Berman.
Los Angeles prosecutors say Durst killed Berman to keep her from telling New York detectives he had killed Kathleen.
It would have been highly unlikely for a medical student to call the school’s dean and not a doctor who would also be on the same rounds said Halperin. Before her disappearance, Kathie Durst appeared petrified during one of their classes, according to Halperin, but when he approached her after class, she acted like nothing was wrong.
“She appeared extremely frightened,” said Halperin.
Other students knew that Kathie Durst was married to a wealthy man and their marriage was volatile. She was afraid her husband would hurt her, said Halperin, who noted that they were not close friends but just acquaintances. Later that night, Kathie Durst called Halperin to explain she was going through a messy divorce and was fearful that her husband might hurt her. Halperin offered for her to stay with him and his wife at their home, but she passed on the offer.
DeGuerin asked Halperin if he knew that Kathie Durst used cocaine and that could have explained her demeanor. Halperin wasn’t aware of that part of Kathie Durst’s life.
When she disappeared, Halperin did not call police to discuss that phone call because he felt that there were other people who knew her better and they would be the ones to provide all the details of her life. It wasn’t until 2003 when Halperin saw that the New York district attorney’s office reopened the case that Halperin reached out. Prosecutors asked Halperin why he didn’t say anything in 1982.
“I thought I might be putting myself at personal risk,” said Halperin. “I was of the belief that Kathie had come to a potentially violent end and the person who might be responsible was an extremely powerful person who seemed to be able to kind of put a spin on the media already.”
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin asked Halperin if he was referring to Durst and asked him if he was still afraid of him as he testified on the stand and Durst was in custody.
“Less than I was in 1982,” said Halperin.
The jury will return back to court on Wednesday for additional testimony.