Nearly four decades after his wife’s abrupt disappearance sparked a cloud of suspicion that would make his case one of the most infamous in the country, Robert A. Durst was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for the 2000 execution-style murder of a close confidante.
Durst, 78, whose life story inspired a Hollywood film and an HBO documentary, is not eligible for parole. The jury that convicted him last month of first-degree murder in Los Angeles found that the prosecution had proved extraordinary circumstances: namely, that Mr. Durst shot Susan Berman, a journalist and screenwriter, because he feared she would tell investigators what she was doing. had learned as his liaison with the news media after the disappearance of his first wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, in 1982.
For the first time since the trial resumed in May, the courtroom was packed with most of the jurors in attendance on Thursday.
Mr. Durst, slumped in a wheelchair, wore a brown prison sweater and a surgical mask. He did not address the judge, and because of his hearing problems, he followed a tablet with the words spoken in court.
“I was robbed, and my beautiful son was robbed, of an absolutely extraordinarily brilliant person whose life was brutally taken,” said Deni Marcus, one of Mrs. Berman’s cousins, during the four victim statements presented to the judge.
Another of Mrs. Berman’s cousins, Dave Berman, fought back tears as he said, “I visited her and told her to rest assured that justice has been done.” He added that Mr Durst should say where Ms Durst’s body is so her family can get some closure.
Before issuing the verdict, Judge Mark E. Windham turned down a defense request for a retrial, citing “overwhelming evidence of guilt.” The defense is expected to appeal.
Since his wife disappeared without a trace, Mr. Durst, born into a family whose Manhattan real estate empire is now valued at approximately $8 billion, has been living an itinerant existence. He moved between New York, California and Texas, where he was on trial in 2003 for the murder and mutilation of Morris Black, a man who lived across from him in a room in Galveston where Mr. Durst pretended to be a stupid woman.
mr. Durst claimed self-defense, and a jury acquitted him despite his testimony about sitting in a pool of blood as he found Mr. Morris cut out.
Mrs. Berman, who has been Mr. Durst was found dead on Christmas Eve in 2000 at her home on the outskirts of Beverly Hills. After neighbors saw her two dogs running loose, the police were called and found her back door open. Mrs. Berman had been shot in the back of the head; there were no signs of burglary and her wallet was untouched.
“I think she was a little bit in love with Bobby,” Dave Berman said in a pre-conviction interview, adding that Ms. Berman had met Mr. Durst when she was in journalism school in California. “She had him give her away at her wedding. There are more pictures of her hugging Bobby than of her and her husband.”
Even after Mr. Durst was sentenced on Thursday, the investigation into his wife’s disappearance continued.
Miriam E. Rocah, the district attorney in Westchester County, NY, where the couple lived in 1982, announced this year that her office had reopened the case. Prosecutors are questioning witnesses and are expected to seek a first-degree murder charge from a grand jury in the coming week.
That can be a challenge, as there are no witnesses, weapon, fingerprints or a body.
mr. Durst has admitted to being a “bad husband” in the past, but has always insisted that he didn’t kill his wife. He also continued to deny that he was involved in Mrs Berman’s death.
He would still be a free man if he hadn’t, against all the advice of his lawyers, talked and talked about both cases, leaving investigators a trail of breadcrumbs. He gave 20 hours of interviews with many damaging confessions to the producers of the 2015 HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst”. (The documentary’s creator had previously directed a movie, “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as a character based on Mr. Durst.)
After being arrested in New Orleans in 2015 and charged with the murder of Ms. Berman, Mr. Durst gave a nearly three-hour interview to Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney John Lewin. The chatty Mr. Durst has also been included in hundreds of prison calls, making not-so-guarded statements that prosecutors used against him in court.
The trial began in March 2020, just before the coronavirus pandemic brought life across America to a standstill. When the testimony was set to resume in May, defense attorneys called the 14-month postponement the longest suspension with the same jury in US history.
After weeks of testimony, the jury deliberated for about seven and a half hours before finding Mr Durst guilty last month. He was not in court for the verdict; he was in quarantine, officials said, after being exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
After the verdict, his wife’s family issued a statement calling for Mr Durst to also be prosecuted for her disappearance. “Kathie,” they wrote, “still waiting for justice.”