LOS ANGELES (CN) — Robert Durst’s personal attorney said his wife got it wrong last month when she testified that the New York real estate scion had been in Beverly Hills at the time he is accused of killing his close friend, Susan Berman.
“I told her she was wrong,” Stewart Altman said Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court. “I told her it didn’t happen.”
Altman’s wife, Emily Altman, testified in late July that Durst had told her he’d stayed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in December 2000. Berman’s body was found in her Benedict Canyon home — just a few miles from the hotel — just before Christmas that year.
Los Angeles prosecutors have charged the eccentric multimillionaire with murdering Berman to keep her from disclosing what she knew about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, whom they believe he murdered.
Authorities knew Durst had flown to and from San Francisco at about the time Berman was killed. Emily Altman’s testimony on July 26 was the first evidence to place Durst in Los Angeles at that time.
But she retracted her assertion from the stand the next day, telling the lead prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, that she wasn’t sure whether Durst had been in L.A. then or when or from whom she might have heard that he was.
She also acknowledged that she had discussed her testimony with her husband.
Taking the stand himself Tuesday, Stewart Altman said his wife had called him about what she’d said that first day.
“She was hysterical, she was crying, she was very upset,” he said. “She said, ‘I think I may have told Mr. Lewin that Bob [Durst] was in L.A. in December 2000.’”
Stewart Altman said he told her that “couldn’t have happened” because the couple were not in contact with Durst back then and did not hear from him again for several years.
“Her memory was wrong,” Altman told Lewin.
Durst, now 74, is not expected to be tried for murder until at least next year. Superior Court Judge Mark Windham is allowing Lewin to bring several ill or elderly potential witnesses to court ahead of time to preserve their testimony in case they die or become unavailable.
Altman, also 74, was a friend of Durst in high school. Since becoming a sole practitioner in Mineola, New York, in the mid-1990s, he has represented Durst in assorted matters from time to time. Emily Altman is his legal secretary, and both continue to be close friends with Durst.
Lewin spent much of Tuesday afternoon probing Altman about what he and his wife discussed concerning Durst’s alleged Beverly Hills visit.
He asked whether Emily Altman had said she was wrong about when Durst told her he was in L.A. or about whether it was Durst who told her rather than someone else, including her husband himself.
Stewart Altman insisted that none of that happened.
“I said there was no communication, so she could not have heard that,” he said.
Lewin grew so frustrated by Altman’s answers that he told Judge Windham he was considering asking for the witness to be held in contempt.
Instead, Windham several times told Lewin to ask simpler, more direct questions.
“I know what the problem is,” the judge said. “You need to be succinct.”
Durst’s attorneys, led by Dick DeGuerin of Houston, and the Atlmans’ separate counsel, Marilyn Bednarski and David S. McLane, of Kaye, McLane, Bednarski & Litt in Pasadena, objected repeatedly that Lewin’s questions violated Durst’s attorney-client privilege with Stewart Altman and violated the Altmans’ marital privilege to confidential communications.
Windham ruled, for the most part, that the privileges were not violated.
Besides DeGuerin, two other members of Durst’s high-powered defense team, Chip Lewis and Chuck Garcia, are based in Houston. All three said Tuesday that so far their homes and offices have remained dry during Hurricane Harvey. Garcia said he is worried because he lives only a few blocks from flooded Buffalo Bayou.
Stewart Altman was to continue testifying Wednesday and possibly Thursday.