Durst is charged with the first-degree murder of his close friend and confidante Susan Berman in 2000 at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she was supposed to speak to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst.
Durst has long denied killing Berman, instead his lawyer said he panicked and ran away after finding her body. He pleaded not guilty.
The trial was initially suspended in March 2020 after several days of testimony due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was originally scheduled to resume in July, but was postponed again until 2021.
Earlier this week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham rejected the latest motion from Durst’s lawyers to postpone or discontinue his trial due to his deteriorating health.
“I’m worried about his health,” said his longtime lawyer, Dick DeGerin. “I am concerned about his ability to survive and his ability to understand complex issues, both direct and cross-cutting.”
What to expect from his testimony
Durst’s testimony is expected to last for several days, and legal analysts warn that he needs to be careful with his words.
His “testimony can open the door to all types of prior misconduct that he may be questioned about,” said CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. “If the jury thinks he is lying, evading or not sympathetic, a conviction is guaranteed.”
Durst looks and sounds frail in court. This is a lean, bent 78-year-old accused in a wheelchair who speaks in a whisper.
“There is still a small chance of drawing sympathy from one of the jury members,” said Stan Goldman, professor at Loyola Law School.
But Jackson believes Durst needs to be careful with the jury’s perception of his medical problems. “If he testifies and feigns illness or disability, the jury will see right through it,” Jackson joked.
In addition, Judge Windham could postpone the trial due to Durst’s ill health, Goldman said.
“That’s if the judge changes his mind and decides that Durst’s condition makes him unfit to testify now or for the foreseeable future,” Goldman said.
How did we get here
They say Durst confessed to Berman that he killed Kathleen and that she helped cover his tracks.
Durst will likely be cross-examined by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Levin, who relentlessly pursued Durst for Berman’s murder.
“My life expectancy is about five years,” the eccentric millionaire said in a 2015 interview.
There is no physical evidence of Berman’s undisclosed death nearly 20 years ago. There are no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon.
One of the key pieces of evidence is the so-called “corpse” note, a cryptic letter sent to the police with Berman’s address and the word “corpse” in caps that led the detectives to her body.
In Jinx, Durst said the letter could only have been sent by Berman’s killer. Defense lawyers had previously denied that Durst had written the note and tried to exclude handwritten evidence about it from the trial.
In the HBO documentary, the filmmakers confronted Durst with another letter he once sent to Berman, with much the same handwriting as the “corpse” note. Both Beverly Hills were mis-spelled as “Beverly.”
Levin in an interview with Durst asked him: “Why do you think that the killer left a note?”
“I’m going to stay away from this,” Durst replied.
Immediately after the last shot of the Jinx finale, Durst went to the bathroom, seemingly not realizing that his microphone was still on.
“Here it is. You’ve been caught, ”he said. Before saying, “He was right. I was wrong, ”he muttered a series of seemingly unrelated sentences.
Then he muttered, “What the hell have I done? Of course I killed them all. “
The defense said Durst’s statements were heavily edited and delivered in a different order than they appeared in the documentary.
Berman’s death is not the first time that Durst has appeared in court. In 2003, the much more animated Durst testified that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense, and confessed to cutting his body with surgical precision and throwing it into Galveston Bay. He said that in a panic he shot a man and stabbed him to death. Prosecutors said he wanted to steal the man’s identity and avoid an investigation into his wife’s disappearance.
Durst testified that the murder was committed in self-defense, that he panicked and decided to cut open Morris Black’s body and discard the shards.
A Texas murder trial revealed more about Durst’s often eccentric behavior, including how he posed as a dumb woman while hiding in Galveston.
Augie Martin and Ray Sanchez of CNN contributed to this report.