NEW ORLEANS – Wealthy eccentric Robert Durst agreed Monday to face a murder charge in Los Angeles in the shooting 15 years ago of a mobster’s daughter who vouched for him after his wife disappeared. But one of his lawyers said the trip may be delayed by new charges in Louisiana.
The heir to a New York real estate fortune was arrested at a New Orleans hotel over the weekend and had a revolver on him, according to a police report. On Monday, he shuffled into a courtroom with his hands shackled at his waist, wearing sandals and an orange jumpsuit. He appeared to fall asleep before the hearing, and later turned to the gallery and smiled. He answered “yes” to a judge’s questions about waiving extradition.
Magistrate Harry Cantrell said Durst could now be taken to California, and that he could get pain medication meanwhile after attorney Dick DeGuerin said Durst has had “neurosurgery.”
But DeGuerin later said outside court that the trip to California may be delayed because New Orleans prosecutors are considering other unspecified charges against him.
He wouldn’t elaborate, and spokesman Christopher Bowman said the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office won’t comment.
Louisiana law requires a permit to carry a concealed weapon. It was not immediately clear whether Durst had one to carry the revolver.
The hearing came only hours after Sunday’s finale of an HBO documentary detailing his life of privilege and links to three deaths: his friend in Los Angeles, Susan Berman; his wife in New York, Kathleen Durst; and Morris Black, an elderly neighbor in Texas.
Durst is heard muttering that he “killed them all, of course,” at the end of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”
Authorities were hoping Monday that this and other evidence will finally lead to a conviction.
Durst was arrested without incident by FBI agents on Saturday at a Marriott hotel in New Orleans. That’s where he had been laying low to avoid the growing attention from the documentary, his longtime lawyer, Chip Lewis, told The Associated Press.
It was, by far, not the first time in handcuffs for Durst, who still has millions of dollars despite his estrangement from one of America’s wealthiest families, with assets of about $4 billion, made from a New York real estate empire that includes the World Trade Center 1 building.
Just last year, he was fined for urinating on the candy racks at a CVS pharmacy in Houston, where he keeps a townhouse. Lewis called that an “unfortunate medical mishap” caused in part by Durst’s Asperger’s syndrome.
Former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro believes it was her reopening of the cold case into Kathleen Durst’s disappearance that provoked the murder of Berman, who had been Durst’s confidante. And she said Durst’s own words can now be used against him.
In the documentary, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki and Durst discuss an anonymous letter that alerted police to a “cadaver” at Berman’s address. Durst says only the killer could have sent it. Then Jarecki shows him another letter that Durst had sent to Berman, which one of the slain woman’s relatives had recovered and given to the filmmakers. Durst acknowledges the similar handwriting and misspellings in both letters.
Then he went to the bathroom, still wearing his live microphone.
“There it is. You’re caught,” he tells himself. “What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course.”
Jarecki and his co-writer and cinematographer Marc Smerling answered some of the many questions raised by Durst’s audiotaped comments in a New York Times interview published Monday.
They said they never confronted Durst about what he said in the bathroom, but that they did share what they found with authorities last year as they were preparing the film to be aired.
Durst’s longtime lawyer, Chip Lewis, smelled a setup, calling Jarecki “duplicitous” for not making it clear to Durst that he would be sharing information with police.
Lewis also suspects the timing of Durst’s arrest was coordinated between the authorities and HBO for maximum impact.
“It’s all about Hollywood now,” Lewis said.
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Kirk Albanese scoffed at that.
“The HBO series had nothing to do with his arrest. We do police work based on the facts and evidence, not based on the HBO series. I know there’s lots of speculation about that. It had nothing to do with the show,” Albanese told The AP on Monday.
As for the timing of the arrest, Albanese said police were “definitely” concerned about the possibility he would flee the country.
Jarecki also spoke with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, saying he had no idea the arrest was coming.
Durst was already acquitted of one murder but suspected in two others when he willingly talked with Jarecki on camera. They met after the filmmaker told a fictionalized account of Durst’s story in “All Good Things,” a 2010 film starring Ryan Gosling.
The making of the documentary took three years, and the bathroom audio was discovered by an editing crew only last June, Jarecki said.
For the filmmakers, the audiotape tipped the scales – they not only believe he’s responsible for the murders, but that he’s capable of more violence. Jarecki told the Times that they hired security and were relieved when Durst was finally arrested.
Pirro, the former Westchester County District Attorney and current Fox-TV personality who had been gathering evidence against Durst in the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen when Berman was killed in 2000, said Durst’s own words can clearly be used against him in court.
“It was a spontaneous statement, a classical exception to the hearsay rule,” Pirro said Monday on Fox-TV’s “Good Day New York.”
“I don’t hear it as a muttering. I hear it as a clear, unequivocal ‘I killed them.’ That means he killed his wife, he killed Susan Berman and he killed Morris Black.”
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the current Westchester DA, said only that that Kathleen Durst’s disappearance “remains an open homicide investigation and as such any new information that’s developed is investigated, both by the state police and by us if we’re involved.”
Robert Durst has been estranged from his family since their father chose his brother Douglas to run the family business. In recent years, they took out restraining orders against him, but he was acquitted of trespassing outside their homes.
“We hope he will finally be held accountable for all he has done,” Douglas Durst said in a statement Sunday.
Berman was the daughter of an associate of Las Vegas mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky who spoke out on Durst’s behalf after his wife disappeared. She was killed at her home near Beverly Hills with a bullet to the back of her head.
Durst then lived as a mute woman in a Texas boarding house until 2001, when dismembered parts of Black’s body were found floating in Galveston Bay. He fled house arrest, then turned up shoplifting a chicken sandwich with Pennsylvania with $37,000 and a pair of guns in his rental car.
Lewis told that jury that Durst shot Black in self-defense, and he was acquitted of murder, despite admitting that he used a paring knife, two saws and an ax to dismember Black’s body before dumping the remains. With time served, Durst became a free man after serving a single year for bond jumping and evidence tampering.
“The story is so operatic,” Jarecki told the AP before his documentary aired. “That’s what’s so fascinating to me.”