LOS ANGELES (CN) — Susan Berman was shot to death because she told Robert Durst that police wanted to question her about the presumed murder of Durst’s long-missing wife, Kathie Durst, a Los Angeles prosecutor said Thursday.
“The evidence will demonstrate that it was that statement by Susan Berman to Bob Durst that sealed her fate,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told a Superior Court jury.
Durst went on trial this week charged with the murder of his close friend Berman in December 2000. Prosecutors contend he killed Berman to keep her from telling investigators what she knew about Kathie’s disappearance in early 1982.
Ironically, Lewin said, police in fact had not yet reached out to question Berman.
“Susan lied to Bob Durst,” he said.
Durst had previously given the financially desperate Berman checks totaling $50,000, and she may have been trying to manipulate him into giving her more.
A multimillionaire, the 76-year-old Durst is the oddball black sheep of a powerful New York real estate family worth billions. He gained international notoriety from an HBO true-crime documentary series in 2015 called “The Jinx” that examined the deaths of Berman and Kathie Durst, and that of Morris Black, a man Lewin says Durst murdered and dismembered while hiding out as a fugitive in Galveston, Texas. A Texas jury acquitted Durst of murder in that case on grounds of self-defense.
Lewin spent much of the second day of his opening statement describing in painstaking detail events leading up to Berman’s murder. He said evidence will show that Durst flew from his home in New York to his cottage north of Eureka, California, and then covertly drove down to Berman’s small cottage outside Beverly Hills.
Berman was extremely security conscious and cautious about letting anyone into her home, several of her friends testified in earlier proceedings during the long-running case. But she welcomed in her dear friend Durst, Lewin said.
“Bob Durst showed up at her doorstep. She let him into the house,” he told the eight-woman, four-man jury.
When she turned around to see to her dogs, Durst aimed a 9-mm pistol at the back of her head from one inch away. “He shot her point-blank,” Lewin said.
Berman’s body was discovered the next day, Dec. 24, 2000, after neighbors called police because her back door was open and her dogs were running loose.
“The killer wanted her body to be found,” Lewin told jurors.
In fact, on Dec. 23, Durst mailed an anonymous letter to the Beverly Hills Police Department that bore only Berman’s address and the word “cadaver” in block letters. On the envelope, Beverly is misspelled as “Beverley” with an extra “e.”
Durst’s defense attorneys, led by Houston’s Dick DeGuerin, recently stipulated that Durst wrote the so-called “cadaver note,” although they retained the right to appeal the issue.
In other portions of his opening statement Thursday, Lewin itemized evidence showing that Durst went on the run after New York state police reopened the investigation into the disappearance of his wife Kathie. He rented a tiny apartment in a Galveston rooming house while disguised as a mute woman. It was there he became friends with Black, who would learn Durst’s real identity and pester him for money.
Durst has maintained that Black brandished a small pistol at him, they struggled and fell, and the gun went off in Black’s face.
In 2010 interviews with the producers of “The Jinx” and in a 2015 interview with Lewin, Durst described how he dismembered Black’s body with an ax and bow saw, “the way you do a chicken,” by cutting into its joints to slice the ligaments apart.
Later in his opening statement, Lewin told the jury how Durst came to give several extensive interviews to Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling, the producers of “The Jinx.” In fact, Lewin said, the documentary series was Durst’s idea because he had enjoyed a movie the producers had made based loosely on him, called “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling.
In one famous scene in “The Jinx,” Jarecki showed a copy of the “cadaver note” to Durst, who responded that only the killer could have written it.
Then Jarecki showed him a note and envelope Durst had sent Berman in 1999. It is written in similar block printing and misspells “Beverley” the same way. Durst conceded he could not tell the envelope and the cadaver-note envelope apart.
Shortly after, Durst went to the restroom without realizing he was wearing a small microphone that was still recording. Whispering to himself, he said, “There it is, you’re caught.”
After some more whispers, he went on, “Killed them all, of course,” and later, “What a disaster. What the hell did I do?”
That famous hot-mic recording from “The Jinx” is one of what Lewin considers three confessions Durst made to murdering Berman and others. Another was in Lewin’s own lengthy interview with Durst, and the third to a longtime Durst friend after a dinner in New York.
Lewin is expected to describe those so-called confessions when he continues his opening statement Monday. DeGuerin and co-counsel David Chesnoff of Las Vegas will give the defense opening later that day or Tuesday.