Robert Durst, the eldest son of a billionaire New York real estate family, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the murder of his best friend, journalist Susan Berman, whom he shot at close range at her home in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago.
Real estate heir Robert Durst looks over during his murder trial on March 10, 2020 in Los Angeles, … [+] California.
The court sentenced Durst, 78, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for first-degree murder.
Durst was convicted with a special circumstance that Berman was killed because she was witness to a crime, which under California law carries a mandatory sentence of either life in prison or the death penalty.
Prosecutors said Durst killed Berman because he feared she would tell police that she gave a fake alibi to help Durst cover up the alleged murder of his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst, who mysteriously disappeared in 1982 and was declared dead in 2017.
Judge Mark Windham denied a motion for a new trial from Durst’s legal team, who say they intend to appeal.
Berman, who was 55 when she died, was the daughter of David “Davie” Berman, the Jewish-American mobster who helped pioneer gambling in Las Vegas, and his former dancer wife Betty. She wrote about her experience growing up connected to the Mafia. During victim impact statements at the sentencing, Berman’s cousin Denny Marcus called Berman “an absolutely extraordinary, unforgettable, brilliant person.” Berman’s surrogate son Sareb Kaufman called on Durst to reveal where his late wife’s body is, to bring her family closure.
$8.1 billion. That’s how much Forbes estimates the Durst family as a whole is worth, though Durst sold his stake in the company to relatives for $65 million in 2006. The Durst Organization portfolio includes iconic New York buildings like The Bank of America Tower and One World Trade Center. Durst was expected to take over for his father, the late real estate tycoon Seymour Durst, but was passed over in favor of his young brother, Douglas, when Seymour stepped down in 1994. Durst reportedly displayed eccentric behavior in the Durst Organization office. During the trial, Douglas testified he was “frightened” by his older brother, telling the court “he’d like to murder me.”
Durst pleaded not guilty and denied killing both Berman and his wife, stating in court he found Berman’s body after she was murdered by someone else, claiming he fled the scene to avoid suspicion and later lied to officers about sending an eerie note reading “cadaver” and Berman’s address to anonymously alert them to her body. Durst had been linked for decades to murders and disappearances which were chronicled in a hit HBO documentary miniseries in 2015 called The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. Its maker Andrew Jarecki, was present for the sentencing, according to local media. Durst’s wife Kathie went missing as she reportedly mulled divorcing him. Her relatives have said Durst abused her and suspect he was involved in her disappearance. Durst was tried for the 2013 murder of his elderly neighbor Morris Black in Texas. Durst’s legal team successfully argued he killed Black in self-defense after struggling over a gun. Durst was sentenced to five years after he pled guilty to dismembering Black’s body and skipping bail. The incident took place in Galveston, Texas, a port city where Durst fled to in 2000 to avoid being questioned about his wife’s 1982 disappearance after authorities reopened the case.