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Robert Durst's recent conviction for the murder of his best friend will be vacated posthumously on a technicality, according to prosecutors.
Durst, 78, died in custody on Monday of natural causes just months after he was convicted of killing Susan Berman in 2000. Because he started the appeal process for that conviction, it will automatically be vacated following his death.
Los Angeles County Prosecutor John Lewin, who prosecuted Durst during the Berman trial, told Oxygen.com by phone that if someone dies during a pending appeal, it always results in a canceled conviction. This is due to a technically in California law that prevents convictions from being fully finalized until the Court of Appeal makes a decision. Durst's defense team filed a notice of appeal after he was found guilty, but they hadn't yet filed briefs.
But, Lewin said that the vacation should not change the public’s perception of the conviction.
“Listen, the trial lasted five months and involved dozens of witnesses, hundreds of pieces of evidence,” he told Oxygen.com. “I don’t think there’s any human being who watched this trial who has any doubt that Bob Durst is responsible for the killing of three people. The fact that he died and therefore under the law, technically his conviction is abated doesn’t change reality. It doesn’t change what we all know happened. It doesn’t change what the jury found and I think that in the court of public opinion and for any educated person who observed what went on, he’s a murderer.”
Durst’s lead lawyer Dick DeGuerin told Rolling Stone it's a matter of “basic law.”
“If your conviction is not final when you die, your conviction is never going to be final,” he said.
He expressed that his client shouldn’t have been tried for Berman's murder at all in his condition; Durst’s failing health has been a focal point of the last year. In November, it was reported that Durst’s health was suffering as a mugshot of him laying in a hospital bed made the rounds. He had bladder cancer, among other ailments, according to CNN. During the Berman trial, Durst’s defense repeatedly sought a mistrial, citing his poor health. Durst was in a wheelchair for most of the proceedings.
Durst had been given a life sentence for Berman’s murder in September. Prosecutors said he killed her after learning that prosecutors in New York wanted to reopen an investigation into his first wife Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst’s 1982 disappearance and presumed murder. Kathie's vanishing has been called the catalyst for the other killings that Durst has been connected to; prosecutors say he'd do anything to cover up that crime. They say he killed Berman because she had information that could be damaging to him.
Shortly after his conviction in Berman's death in California, Durst was indicted for Kathie's murder in New York's Westchester County, where the couple had lived.
Durst was also linked to a third death, that of a man named Morris Black in Galveston, Texas in 2001. During the Berman trial, Durst testified that he'd fled to Texas when news broke that Kathie's case was being reopened. There, he bought a wig and hid out in a cheap apartment in Galveston, disguised as a mute woman. Durst became acquainted with Black, his neighbor. Durst later shot him to death in 2001 before disposing of his dismembered remains in Galveston Bay. He claimed he shot Black in self-defense, but prosecutors contended Durst killed Black because he'd discovered his true identity; the millionaire real estate scion was acquitted of that murder at trial.
It appears that the vacation of Berman’s murder conviction is inevitable.
Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, told People that while the technicality is "very old ... there is nothing that can be done because the Court of Appeal has no discretion whatsoever. There is no exception for anything."
"Some states have abandoned it but in California this remains the rule," Rahmani told People, adding that "Bob Durst is infamous for escaping justice.”
Durst was the subject of the popular 2015 HBO docuseries “The Jinx,” which showed his connection to all three murders. He repeatedly denied killing anyone in the series before seemingly confessing to them all while alone in a bathroom and while wearing a hot mic. During the Berman trial, he admitted that he had 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.
Lewin told People that "to the end Mr. Durst was unrepentant and completely unremorseful and didn't take any responsibility for his actions to the point of repeatedly continuously perjuring himself during his testimony at trial.”
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