Two of Robert Durst's longtime friends are fighting in a New York court to avoid being sent to testify at a pretrial hearing in the millionaire's murder case in California next month.
Stewart Altman, who graduated from high school with Durst nearly 60 years ago, and his wife, Emily, appeared Wednesday in a Long Island courtroom, where their attorneys said a request by the Los Angeles district attorney to testify at a July 24 pretrial hearing was unnecessary because the case has yet to come to trial.
Durst, an eccentric millionaire who was featured in the HBO documentary "The Jinx," is facing murder charges in Los Angeles in the 2000 killing of his longtime friend, Susan Berman. Prosecutors suspect Durst shot Berman because he feared she might divulge incriminating information regarding the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen.
U.S. & World
News from around the country and around the globe
Durst, 74, was never charged in Kathleen Durst's disappearance and has denied killing either Berman or his first wife.
In the HBO documentary "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," he is heard muttering that he "killed them all." He was arrested in New Orleans in 2015 just before the final episode aired.
Attorneys for the Altmans argued that their testimony is not necessary at a pretrial hearing. "It's just something they want to have," attorney Lawrence Goldman said of the prosecutors.
Los Angeles prosecutors say they want to question them about their friendship with Durst, including his state of mind when the millionaire fled to Galveston, Texas, in 2000, amid questions about Kathleen Durst's disappearance.
In 2001, Durst was charged with killing a 71-year-old neighbor in Galveston, where Durst was living disguised as a mute woman. While conceding he chopped up neighbor Morris Black's body and tossed it in the sea, Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying that he was defending himself.
Stewart Altman's attorney also contends his client, who is a labor attorney, may be entitled to claim attorney-client privilege about conversations he had with Durst. An assistant Nassau County district attorney, arguing on behalf of colleagues in Los Angeles, said Altman would have to make those claims once at the pretrial hearing.
Prosecutors also want to question Emily Altman about a 33-page document Durst prepared for his Galveston trial. At Durst's request, she turned the document over to the filmmakers who produced the HBO documentary, according to court papers.
Veronica Guariglia, the Nassau prosecutor, countered, "This is a criminal proceeding. It's not for us to say this is not necessary."
Goldman and another attorney for the Altmans declined to answer on the record at the end of the court proceeding when Guariglia asked whether Durst was paying their legal fees.
The judge said he will rule before July 5.