Robert Durst, the notorious subject of the HBO docuseries “The Jinx” who was found guilty last month of first-degree murder, was sentenced to life in prison without parole at his sentencing in a Los Angeles courtroom Thursday.
The hearing began with the prosecution making arguments after the defense team filed a motion for a new trial. Judge Mark Windham denied the motion. The defense later said they would appeal the decision.
Durst, who has bladder cancer and other physical ailments, did not appear at the verdict but was in court Thursday slumped in a wheelchair, wearing a mask. He stared ahead at a tablet computer showing the judge’s words as the sentence was read and had no visible reaction.
Durst did not speak after several people gave witness impact statements but did answer yes when asked whether he would waive his right to appear at the next court hearing.
At the hearing, the victim’s son, Sareb Kaufman, described his mother as “eccentric, vivacious and generous to a fault. Often needy and phobic, a force of nature, but extremely smart and witty.”
Deni Marcus, a lifelong friend of Berman’s, said she was an “absolutely extraordinary, unforgettable, brilliant person whose life was tragically taken from her.”
Durst, 78, was convicted by a jury September 17 of shooting his best friend Susan Berman in 2000 at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who was last seen in 1982.
McCormack Durst was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in the case.
“By telling where Kathie is, perhaps you can find some small redemption in an act of humanity,” Berman’s son urged Durst. “You didn’t just murder Kathie, or Morris (Black, a neighbor), or Susan, you also murdered me and murdered the person I was — all his dreams and all his hopes, gone.”
A few jurors attended the sentencing, with one telling CNN, “It’s been a long two years.” They declined to comment further.
The eccentric heir to a New York real estate empire, Durst took the stand in his months-long trial and denied killing McCormack Durst and Berman. He said he found Berman on the floor of her bedroom with a fatal gunshot to the back of the head.
But under cross-examination, Durst testified he would perjure himself if he had killed them. Prosecutors’ questions also prompted Durst to admit he perjured himself five times during the trial.
In addition, a longtime friend of both Durst and Berman, Nick Chavin, testified the defendant had told him, “It was her or me,” referring to Berman. “I had no choice.”
“Those nine words sum up the entire case,” prosecutor Habib Balian said during closing arguments.
As part of their verdict, jurors agreed the crime met “special circumstances” in California law, which allows for Durst to be sentenced to life without parole, for the murder of a witness to a crime, lying in wait and using a firearm in the murder. California has a moratorium on the death penalty.
Durst’s health has deteriorated significantly over the past few years. He has undergone multiple surgeries, including the insertion of a shunt in his head to relieve pressure on his brain.
He was in coronavirus quarantine in jail at the time the jury announced the guilty verdicts, his attorney said.
The sentencing comes years after Durst’s infamous role in the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx.” In the final moments of the show, Durst went into the bathroom, apparently not realizing his mic was still on, and made a series of comments that appeared to be a confession.
“There it is. You’re caught,” he said in a series of seemingly unrelated sentences. “He was right. I was wrong.”
“What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course,” he said.
However, transcripts of the audio recording in court revealed that the quotes were spliced and edited to be in a different order and context, The New York Times has reported. Durst has said he was “high on meth” during the taping of the documentary.
Berman’s death is not the first in which Durst has faced trial. In 2003, Durst told police he killed and dismembered a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, two years earlier. He said he shot the man and cut him up in a panic. Prosecutors said he wanted to steal the man’s identity and escape the investigation of his wife’s disappearance.
Durst testified the killing was in self-defense, that he panicked and decided to cut up Morris Black’s body and throw away the pieces. He was acquitted.
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