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The Curious Case of Robert Durst

It seems like a scenario out of a movie:

A millionaire. A filmmaker. A camera crew. An interview. A possible confession.

“What the hell did I do?”

“Killed them all, of course.”

The producers of the HBO documentary short-series The Jinx had no idea what they stumbled upon when they asked Robert Durst to be the focus of their story. Durst is the estranged son of a New York real estate tycoon Seymour Durst. His past is riddled with arrests for numerous misdemeanors, from traffic arrests to minor shoplifting. However, he became known to the public in the 1980’s when his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, went missing without a trace. At the time, Robert Durst was dating another woman and living in a separate home, but was not divorced. The disappearance remained unsolved. Durst was brought back into the media’s fold when on Christmas Eve 2000, his long-time friend Susan Berman was found murdered in her California home. She was believed to have knowledge of Kathleen’s disappearance.

Durst was never formally charged for either crime. He did his best to hide from the public after Berman’s death by moving to Texas. Just shy of a year later, on October 9, 2001, Durst was arrested and held for a $300,000 bail bond in the murder of his elderly neighbor, Morris Black. The body’s remains were discovered in Galveston Bay. Durst also became known as the first “billion-dollar fugitive” after missing his court hearing on October 16 that year. He was later caught in Pennsylvania and extradited back to Texas, throwing in an attempted theft and robbery charge onto the table.

In the trial that followed, Durst claimed self-defense, in conjunction with his recent diagnosis of Asperser’s Syndrome as an explanation into his actions. The defense was able to convince the jury, as they acquitted him of murder. After serving time for jumping bail and violating parole, he was a free man in early 2006.

The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst began as an examination into Durst’s life and how he has been able to remain a reclusive millionaire, given his unfortunate luck with the legal system. He has maintained his innocence for over three decades as suspicion remained. The documentary was a chance for Durst to give his side of the story without any barriers, and allow the audience to come to the own conclusions. It included interviews from the families of Kathleen McCormack and Susan Berman, as well as the legal teams involved in the Morris Black murder.

What ended up occurring was something else entirely different.

In one of the interviews with director Andrew Jarecki, thinking he was alone and the tapes had stopped recording, Durst began talking to himself. “Killed them all, of course,” he whispered. The interview was originally recorded in 2013, but the documentary production team did not find the audio piece until the final edits in early 2015. The information was turned over to the Los Angeles police, who had re-opened the case of Susan Berman’s death when they were initially informed of the interview years ago. They in turn involved the FBI, and began to piece together their case. Durst was arrested in New Orleans on May 15, 2015 before the final episode of The Jinx aired. The episode included the audio confession as well as a handwriting analysis by a forensic expert of an anonymous note sent to police in 200 regarding Berman’s death, and Mr. Durst’s writing.

It makes for great television, but what are the legal implications? Will that video and audio hold up in court? Why did it take so long for the filmmakers to turn over the footage and can they be prosecuted? Right now, everything is sitting in grey territory for the courts to review. Durst’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin, who helped in the acquittal from the Morris murder, will be at his side again in support of the man’s innocence. According to legal experts, the video should be allowed as evidence as long as they prove that it has not been tampered with.

Whatever the outcome, this is sure to be a trial to watch.

 

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/16/nyregion/robert-durst-subject-of-hbo-documentary-on-unsolved-killings-is-arrested.html

 

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