LOS ANGELES (CN) — A new “secret witness” in the murder case against Robert Durst on Wednesday gave a big boost to a central allegation in prosecutors’ claim that the New York real estate heir killed his close friend and spokeswoman Susan Berman.
Durst charged with murdering Berman in her Benedict Canyon home in December 2000. Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin and his team say Durst shot Berman to prevent her from telling authorities what she knew about the disappearance and presumed murder of Durst’s wife, Kathleen, in 1982.
Kathleen Durst, then a medical student, vanished on Jan. 31 that year. But the dean of her medical school testified in February this year that he received a phone call from her on Feb. 1, 1982, saying she was sick and would not be able to start her new assignment.
Testifying in Superior Court Judge Mark Windham’s courtroom Wednesday, Hollywood producer Lynda Obst said that Berman years ago admitted posing as Kathleen Durst to make that phone call at Robert Durst’s behest.
“She once told me that she had called Albert Einstein Medical Center for [Robert Durst] and said she was Kathie,” Obst said.
At that time, in the early 1980s, Obst said, she didn’t pay much attention to the comment. She and Berman had been trying to turn Berman’s memoir of growing up as the spoiled daughter of a Las Vegas mob boss into a movie. The phone call was simply an example of Berman’s view of Mafia-style loyalty, Obst said.
Not until more than 30 years later, as she watched the 2015 HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” did she remember Berman’s statement and recognize its importance, Obst said.
She said she was stunned when the second episode of “The Jinx” mentioned a call to the medical center, apparently made by Kathleen Durst after her disappearance.
“I realized that [Berman] had called the Albert Einstein Medical Center, and I was immediately struck that I knew that she had. … I knew with the conviction of my entire being.”
Soon, she also realized that other people did not know it, so she called “Jinx” director Andrew Jarecki.
Obst, 67, is a movie producer responsible for films ranging from “Adventures in Babysitting” to “Sleepless in Seattle” and “Interstellar.” As a longtime friend of Berman, she also was interviewed for and appeared in “The Jinx.”
Jarecki told her to call Lewin, who was prosecuting Robert Durst. So did two of her friends who were attorneys. She delayed, she said, because she didn’t want to get involved in the case and because she was afraid of Durst.
“He kills witnesses,” Obst said.
Durst, 73, is frail from cancer and in custody, but Obst said she still fears him.
“He has means even while in prison,” she said.
Prosecutors did not disclose publicly that Obst would be a witness until she took the stand Wednesday, apparently out of similar concerns.
She is the second “secret witness” to testify in a conditional examination in pretrial hearings to preserve their testimony in case they die or unavailable by the time of trial.
The first secret witness, Nick Chavin, testified in February that Durst had admitted to him that he killed Berman, and implied that he’d killed Kathleen Durst.
Prosecutors have conducted conditional examinations of four other witnesses who are elderly or ill. Lewin said Wednesday he intends to bring in five more in June.
Durst’s lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin of Houston asked Obst repeatedly during cross-examination why she never mentioned Berman’s statement about the phone call any time earlier, for instance, after Berman’s funeral in 2000 or during her hours-long interview with Jarecki for “The Jinx.”
“I didn’t remember it,” she replied.
DeGuerin was to continue cross-examining Obst on Thursday.