Attorneys for Robert Durst filed an emergency motion Thursday asking a judge to postpone his murder trial indefinitely and release him on a “high bail amount,” citing the 78-year-old real estate scion's “serious health conditions.”
The court papers were filed less than a week before jurors in Durst's trial are set to return to court Monday following a delay of more than a year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Jurors heard opening statements and two days of testimony about the December 2000 shooting death of Durst's longtime friend, Susan Berman at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles, before the case was put on hold in mid-March of last year due to concerns about COVID-19. The pandemic forced court officials to close the county's courthouses to all but time-sensitive, essential matters.
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In the defense's motion, Durst's attorneys say a criminal trial is “mentally, physically and emotionally draining.”
“It is grueling for a healthy individual, let alone a 78-year-old man with serious health conditions, including bladder cancer, prior esophageal cancer, malnutrition, coronary artery disease with drug eluting stents, atrial fibrillation and chronic kidney disease,” attorneys Dick DeGuerin, David Z. Chesnoff, Chip B. Lewis and Donald M. Re wrote in the filing. “Here, if Mr. Durst is forced to undergo the rigors of trial (and trial preparation), he faces serious risks to his health, and possibly to his life.”
The defense attorneys – who have repeatedly asked for a mistrial – wrote in the motion that Durst is incarcerated with “extremely limited medical care” and that medical records show that his condition has worsened.
“Here, while the charge at issue is serious, the requested conditions of GPS monitoring, release to a medical facility with security, and a high bail amount, will ensure that Mr. Durst is not a risk of flight, and he is not a danger to the community,'' the attorneys wrote, adding that Durst would “pay for and provide his own security.”
It was not immediately clear whether prosecutors will file a written response to the defense's motion or wait to respond at a court hearing Monday morning, just before jurors are due back in court for a one-to two-day orientation.
The judge said earlier this year that he will allow attorneys to give abbreviated opening statements anew due to the lengthy disruption of the trial, which has been moved from the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles to a larger courtroom at the nearby courthouse in Inglewood because of concerns about social distancing.
In opening statements last year, Deputy District Attorney John Lewin alleged that Durst killed Berman after she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie.
Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities launched a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.
In his opening statement last year, DeGuerin told jurors that Durst panicked after finding Berman's body in her home while coming to visit her for the holidays. Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note” that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police, so her body would be found, Durst's lead attorney said, noting that Durst would testify in his own defense.
Durst's attorneys have argued that evidence about what happened to Black in Galveston would inflame the jury and should not be allowed at his trial. The judge has repeatedly denied the defense's motions for a mistrial.
At a hearing earlier this year, the judge said evidence of Black's dismemberment and Kathie Durst's disappearance could be introduced at trial to support a special circumstance allegation that Berman was killed because she was a witness, rather than to prove Berman's murder.
The judge said the prosecution could also use that evidence from Galveston to rebut the claim that Durst's wife had merely disappeared rather than been killed.
Durst was profiled in a six-part HBO television series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was later recorded saying “There it is, you're caught” and “killed them all, of course.”
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined Kathie's disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers – including an investment in the World Trade Center. He split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle, and ultimately reached a settlement under which they reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.