Real estate heir Robert Durst takes a stand in his trial, denies killing his friend Susan Berman

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LOS ANGELES – Robert Durst testified during his murder trial in California on Monday and immediately denied killing his best friend, who prosecutors said was about to reveal to investigators his involvement in his wife’s disappearance in 1982 .

“Bob, did you kill Susan Berman?” Durst’s attorney Dick DeGuerin said open the testimony of the 78-year-old New York real estate heir.

“No,” Durst replied.

“Do you know who did it?” Asked DeGuérin.

“No, I don’t,” replied Durst, who had difficulty hearing, struggled to speak and appeared extremely frail as he sat in a wheelchair instead of a witness chair.

Robert Durst, 78, testifies in his murder trial Monday at the Inglewood courthouse. [ GARY CORONADO | Los Angeles Times ]

Berman was shot in the back of the neck and killed in 2000 in her Los Angeles home. She had been Durst’s best friend for decades and acted as his de facto spokesperson following the disappearance of his wife, Kathie, who was later pronounced dead, although no body was found.

Durst was arrested on a warrant for the murder of Berman in New Orleans in 2015 on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary series about him in which Durst made. several seemingly damning statements.

As he said he would when the trial began in Los Angeles Superior Court over a year ago – before the coronavirus forced a long delay – DeGuerin made the risky decision to call a murder accused to testify. He did the same during Durst’s trial in Texas in 2003, when the wealthy heir was acquitted.

Robert Durst, 78, a New York real estate scion, speaks and testifies in his murder trial by answering questions from defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, left, at the Inglewood courthouse on Monday in Inglewood, in California.  Durst is charged with the 2000 murder of Susan Berman at her home in Benedict Canyon.  He testified on Monday that he did not kill Berman, his best friend.
Robert Durst, 78, a New York real estate scion, speaks and testifies in his murder trial by answering questions from defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin, left, at the Inglewood courthouse on Monday in Inglewood, in California. Durst is charged with the 2000 murder of Susan Berman at her home in Benedict Canyon. He testified on Monday that he did not kill Berman, his best friend.

After asking him bluntly if he had killed Berman, DeGuerin returned to the beginning of Durst’s life.

Durst’s mother died when he was 7, jumping or falling from the top of their house.

Durst said his grandfather had woken him up in the middle of the night to watch “mum on the roof” just before he died.

Durst said his father, real estate mogul Seymour Durst, was determined to stay in the family home, regardless of the trauma it caused him.

“I kept begging my dad to move out,” said Durst, “but he never sold the house where his wife died.”

Durst said he did all he could to get away after this.

“I ran away from everywhere. ”

While he’s only charged with one murder, prosecutors have been allowed to present evidence from the Texas case. There, Durst said his Galveston neighbor Morris Black was killed in a scuffle after entering his home with a gun. At the stand, Durst described the cutting up and disposal of the body, but the jury found him not guilty of murder.

Prosecutors were also allowed to present evidence that Durst killed his wife. He was never charged in her disappearance and has denied having anything to do with it.

He devoted much of Monday’s testimony to describing the first happy years of their marriage after meeting her while working in a dental office after graduating from high school.

“Kathie was thrilled. I was ecstatic. We were both very much in love,” Durst said of their wedding, her 30th birthday, in 1973, calling a light brown suit shown in a photo “my hippie uniform. “.

Avoiding the family business, he and Kathie instead opened a small general store in Vermont that sold health foods and other supplies.

“You could have any type of toothpaste you wanted, as long as it was Colgate,” Durst said.

The store was called, he testified, “All the good things.” The name was used as the title of a film based on the couple’s life, with Ryan Gosling playing Durst and Kirsten Dunst playing Kathie. Excerpts from the 2010 film were shown during the trial.

Durst also described meeting Berman, the daughter of a gangster who grew up in Las Vegas, while they were both studying at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1960s. He said the two had formed a close friendship of several decades.

“We both had trust funds,” Durst said.

The questioning had yet to address the disappearance of Kathie Durst or the details of Berman’s death at the end of the day. Durst is back at the helm on Wednesday.

Durst, who suffers from bladder cancer and several other illnesses he has listed on the stand, wore the brown prison outfit he wore in court during the final weeks of the trial. His lawyers said he was unable to get up to put on a suit.

He struggled to hear both the clerk when he took the oath and DeGuerin when he asked questions, using a tablet that showed a live transcript to help him understand.

By ANDREW DALTON, AP Entertainment Writer.


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