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Robert Durst Cannot Suppress Louisiana Gun Evidence

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Robert Durst, a felon and the estranged heir to a New York real estate fortune, cannot dismiss evidence he possessed a gun when he was arrested last March, a federal judge ruled.

Durst has been in custody in Louisiana ever since the gun was discovered in his Canal Street hotel room last winter. His trial on gun possession charges is scheduled to begin in January.

His lawyers have said they are eager to rid Durst of the gun charge so he can be extradited to Los Angeles where he faces charges he murdered his longtime friend, the writer Susan Berman, 15 years ago.

Durst, 72, was the subject of the HBO documentary, "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst." The documentary recounts the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, of which Durst is now a suspect, as well as Durst's murder acquittal in 2003 in Texas following graphic testimony -- from Durst himself -- recounting how he murdered and dismembered his neighbor's body.

Durst's lawyers lost a motion this week to suppress evidence that included a .38 caliber revolver, found during the March 14, 2015 search of Durst's hotel room at the J.W. Marriott on Canal St. Durst had argued the items were found during a warrantless search by two FBI agents after they identified Durst in the lobby of the hotel and that the evidence should be suppressed because there was no warrant.

U.S. District Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan disagreed with that assertion. "The items sought by the warrant are 'routine things that would naturally be sought in any warrant regarding a murder suspect likely on the run,'" she said in the 16-page ruling.

The FBI agents had been sent to the hotel by detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the opinion. At the time, the LAPD detectives were in Houston, investigating Durst for the pending murder charges he faces in California.

Los Angeles authorities issued the warrant for Durst's arrest based the affidavit of Los Angeles detective Luis Romero regarding his investigation of Susan Berman's death, the court document says.

After asking hotel staff and learning that Durst was not registered under his own name or one of his known aliases, FBI agents William Williams and Crystal Bender spotted Durst in the hotel lobby.

The agents identified themselves to Durst, despite that Durst would not acknowledge himself by name. Durst said his name was Everette Ward and that he had identification in his room. Upon telling the agents his room number, Durst was told the agents had a warrant for his arrest from California," according to the document.

Durst was escorted to his room, frisked and placed in a hotel room chair with his left arm cuffed to a room table as the agents went through his personal belongings. Durst told the agents he had a jacket in the closet with a gun in it and agents recovered a loaded Smith and Wesson .38 caliber revolver, loaded with four live rounds and one spent casing.

At the same time, detectives from the LA Police Department who had been in Houston investigating their murder case against Durst asked the federal agents to stop taking inventory and secure the hotel room for them to go through themselves, as they were already on the road to New Orleans. A warrant was issued at 2 a.m. on March 15 for their search of the hotel room, the document says.

Durst, in his motion to suppress, argued the federal agents lacked probable cause for the arrest warrant they served in the hotel lobby and that their questioning of him was in violation of his Miranda rights. He sought exclusion of any and all statements made while in custody. He additionally sought to have anything found during the search suppressed due to the agents' "warrantless search" of his room.

Judge Berrigan said the evidence seized during the search of Durst's room - the gun, a map, a face mask, prescription drugs and marijuana - are admissible under the independent search doctrine, especially because federal authorities had been advised that Durst "was about to repeat his previous behavior of attempting to flee a prosecution by leaving the country and 'going off the radar.'"

At the time of Durst's arrest, the second to last episode of "The Jinx" had just aired, and Durst's arrest seemed imminent.

"When combined with the fact that additional publicity and attention from the HBO series "The Jinx" focused on Durst's connection to Susan Berman's murder, the nexus is provided between his hotel room in New Orleans and the probability of him taking incriminating evidence with him and the possibility of finding it in his hotel room in New Orleans," the judge wrote in her ruling.

Following his New Orleans arrest, Durst declined extradition to Los Angeles to face the murder charges. Durst and his lawyers won't know what evidence Los Angeles prosecutors possess until Durst's trial there.

Judge Berrigan noted in her ruling that she agrees with prosecutors "that Durst's attack on the arrest warrant is an attempt to begin litigating the California murder charge and receive discovery he is not yet entitled to."

Dick DeGuerin, a lawyer who leads Durst's defense team and who was part of the legal team that represented Durst in his 2003 Texas murder trial, said, "we are disappointed and disagree with the ruling, but our purpose is to get to Los Angeles and trial there as soon as possible, so Bob Durst can prove that he didn't kill his friend Susan Berman and doesn't know who did."

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