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Robert Durst Found Guilty Of Murdering Susan Berman In California Court

The scion of a real estate empire took the stand for 60-plus hours during his Los Angeles trial, in which he discussed three killings to which he's been linked over nearly 40 years. He now faces life in prison.

By Gina Tron
Robert Durst Ap

Robert Durst has been found guilty of killing his friend and confidante, Susan Berman, more than two decades after her death, by a California jury as his long-delayed trial concluded on Friday afternoon.

It took the jury, made up of nine women and three men, just over seven hours to come to their verdict. The jury's decision was read aloud to a packed Los Angeles courtroom on Friday. Jurors found Durst guilty on all counts, including first-degree murder.

Superior Court Judge Mark Windham told the jury that he's proud of them, citing the trial's length and its many challenges, particularly during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The 15-week trial resumed in May after an unprecedented 14-month delay.

"I am amazed and so proud of you for all coming back and then sticking with it. You all have made such sacrifices," he told the jury.

Prosecutors spent the trial arguing to the jury that Durst shot Berman, daughter of organized crime figure David Berman, execution-style because she had information about the 1982 disappearance of Durst's wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack. Before resting their case, prosecutors said Durst needs to be held accountable.

“Do not let this narcissistic psychopath get away with what he has done,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors in his closing arguments. 

On Friday, the McCormack family released a statement celebrating the decision and calling on prosecutors in New York to bring the real estate heir to trial for Kathie McCormack's 1982 death.

“The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family and charge Durst for the murder of his wife, Kathie, which occurred almost 40 years ago. They have had interviews, statements and documents for months,” the statement reads. “The closing arguments by the Los Angeles deputy district attorneys should remove any doubt. It’s bizarre and unacceptable that Durst was tried for killing an accomplice before being held accountable for Kathie’s murder.”

The presumed murder of McCormack remained a pivotal part of the case in Los Angeles. Prosecutors pointed to her 1982 killing at the home she shared with Durst in Westchester County as the catalyst for two other deaths to which Durst has been linked.

In 2000, months after Berman's death, Durst was hiding out in Galveston, Texas, posing as a mute woman. He ended up killing his neighbor, Morris Black; prosecutors alleged it was because Black had discovered Durst's true identity. While he admitted to killing and dismembering Black then discarding his remains, Durst claimed he shot him in self-defense. He was acquitted of that murder in 2003. During the trial for Berman’s death, Durst giggled while testifying about dismembering Black.

The disgraced real estate heir spent 60-plus hours on the stand during this trial, during which he testified that he regretted his decision to participate in “The Jinx,” a popular HBO documentary that has become central to both the trial and the public’s perception of the real estate heir.

It was in 2015 that Durst was arrested at a New Orleans hotel in connection with Berman's death — just one day before the finale of "The Jinx" aired. The docuseries captured Durst on a hot mic while using the bathroom after a contentious interview with the filmmaker.

At that moment, Durst seems to have mumbled to himself that he was “caught” and that he was having difficulty with the questions. He seems to have said the phrases “Killed them all, of course” and "What the hell did I do?” While the filmmakers edited his mumblings, they provided the full clip to the police. That audio played in its entirety for jurors in 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown postponed his trial.

On the stand, Durst admitted that he lied to police in 1982 about his wife calling him from her Manhattan apartment the night she was last seen alive. He told the court that the lie was meant to get detectives off his back.

Furthermore, Durst admitted on the stand to other past lies about the so-called "cadaver note" which was written to the police to alert them to the presence of Berman’s dead body. He also discussed the various disguises he wore while he was hiding out.

Durst is scheduled for sentencing on October 18. He is expected to receive the mandatory sentence of life in prison.