LOS ANGELES (CN) — The long-missing first wife of New York real estate heir Robert Durst told her medical school professor she was terrified of her husband, who had “a homicidal side,” the professor told a Superior Court judge Wednesday.
Kathleen Durst was a fourth-year student at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx when she vanished at the end of January 1982. Authorities and her family have long believed Robert Durst killed her and disposed of her body.
Durst, 75, faces trial for the execution-style slaying of his close friend and confidant, writer Susan Berman, whose body was discovered in her Beverly Hills-area home on Dec. 24, 2000. Los Angeles prosecutors contend Durst shot Berman to prevent her from revealing what she knew about Durst’s involvement in Kathleen’s disappearance.
Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham is to decide whether there is enough evidence to put Durst on trial for Berman’s murder. The case depends in part on whether Deputy District Attorney John Lewin and his team can demonstrate that Durst killed Kathleen in 1982 and that Berman knew about it.
Retired surgery professor Dr. Peter Wilk took the stand Wednesday to present evidence indicating that Kathleen Durst was being emotionally and physically abused by her husband.
Wilk, who was the head of the medical school’s surgical program, said he met with Kathleen in March 1981 because she had often been absent from rounds during her surgical rotation and was failing the class.
Wilk said he remembered their meeting clearly.
“She was very emotional. She was shaking,” he said.
She told him she was going through an extremely difficult time with her husband. “There was violence involved, court proceedings, lawyers, therapists,” Wilk said.
More terrifying still, he said: “She said there was a homicidal side to him.”
Wilk said Kathleen recounted an event in which her husband came home in a foul mood to find her with friends, including one man. Durst attacked the man and kicked him in the face.
“She said she was sure if she hadn’t interfered, he would have killed this other person,” Wilk testified.
Kathleen threw herself between her husband and the man, and Durst ended up hitting her, the professor said.
Kathleen had been a dental hygienist and completed nursing school before beginning medical school. Wilk found her to be more mature and poised than other medical students.
She was deeply committed to becoming a doctor, and despite her troubles, managed to make up her missing work. He said he gave her a passing grade on her surgical rotation.
In what he called “terrible irony,” Wilk said he told New York authorities about his meeting with Kathleen Durst on March 3, 1982 — one year to the day after it took place and just a month after the young medical student disappeared.
“I wonder if I could have, or should have, done more,” he said. “She had told me she was in danger.”
In a brief cross-examination, Houston criminal attorney Chip Lewis, part of Robert Durst’s defense team, asked Wilk if Kathleen Durst’s trembling might have been caused by cocaine. She was known to use drugs with some regularity.
In response to another question, Wilk said she “seemed to be influenced by what she was saying, rather than a drug.”
“It seemed to me to be all fear, all emotion. She was terrified.”
After Wilk testified, Judge Windham adjourned the preliminary hearing until Oct. 15.
However, magazine writer Lisa DePaulo then took the stand for a conditional examination. Windham has allowed Lewin to take testimony from ill and elderly witnesses early on, in case they are unavailable at trial.
Over strong objections from defense co-counsel David Chesnoff of Las Vegas, Windham let Lewin question DePaulo about interviews she had conducted with some friends of Berman and Durst years ago. DePaulo wrote several in-depth investigative articles about Berman’s death shortly after it happened.
In an odd twist in a case that has many of them, DePaulo testified that Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro had a long-term romantic relationship with Galveston, Texas, homicide detective Cody Cazalas.
When Pirro was district attorney of Westchester County in New York in 1999-2000, she reopened the investigation of Kathleen Durst’s disappearance. Many believe Robert Durst murdered Berman because he feared she would tell Westchester investigators that Durst had killed his wife years before.
Not long after Berman died, Durst went on the run, sometimes disguised as a mute woman. He ended up in a cheap rental unit in Galveston. There, he killed a neighbor, dismembered the body and dumped the pieces into Galveston Bay. He was charged with murder, but acquitted on self-defense grounds.
Detective Cazalas led the investigation of the death and dismemberment of Durst’s neighbor, Morris Black.
On the stand Wednesday, DePaulo said she had agreed to help Pirro write a book about the Durst case. Although the book deal would end in litigation, DePaulo said she often saw Cazalas visit Pirro at her home in New York state, where he would sleep in her bedroom.
Pirro declined to comment on the matter through a Fox News spokesperson.
Lewin said he will conduct another conditional examination Thursday, this time with mystery writer Julie Smith, who was a longtime friend of Berman and the executor of her estate.