A Los Angeles judge denied Robert Durst’s request for a mistrial in his murder case, setting up a jury trial to resume July 27th.
In a live streamed hearing on Tuesday, Judge Mark Windham told a sparsely populated, mask-covered courtroom that while the 77-year-old Durst’s “health and safety concerns” amid the coronavirus pandemic are matters “I’m completely sympathetic to” such concerns “are not the issues before me.”
WIndham told Durst lawyer David Chesnoff, who appeared by telephone, it would take months to select a new jury amid covid.
The judge also pointed out it was defense attorneys who originally pushed the trial back, and successfully moved to suspend the case in March.
“Redoing jury selection,” Windham said, “would take four to six months, where we would be taking risks and there would be travel and exposure.”
Durst did not appear in court, and did not speak telephonically during the two-hour long hearing.
The black sheep of the Durst Organization, a Manhattan real estate dynasty, Durst is accused of fatally shooting college friend Susan Berman at Berman’s Beverly Hills home in 2000.
Los Angeles prosecutors reopened the case after the 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx,” which chronicled the third-generation real estate empire started by Durst’s grandfather, Joseph Durst, and also three murders linked to Durst, including the disappearance of his wife, Kathie McCormack Durst, in 1982.
The documentary dramatically ended with Durst supposedly muttering “killed them all, of course” a possible reference to Berman, his ex-wife, and also Morris Black, a Galveston, Texas resident that a jury acquitted Durst of murdering. (Durst says the tape was spliced together and doctored.)
Dick DeGuerin, Durst’s defense lawyer during the Black trial, was set to represent the defendant in the Berman proceeding.However, Chesnoff warned the court Tuesday that due to Covid and pre-existing health issues, DeGuerin would not travel to L.A.
Prosecutor Mike Lewin argued that DeGuerin’s absence was immaterial, claiming Chesnoff had already agreed to move forward without the famed Texas defense attorney.
Lewin appeared in court Tuesday, along with the judge, a bailiff, court reporter, and four audience members.
The hearing seemed something of a litmus test about not just whether the Durst trial could continue, but thousands of legal matters across L.A. County at a time when coronavirus cases are spiking.
Windham provided educated guesses about a courtroom’s safety, noting “We’re frequently sanitizing our hands,” and “I think it’s important to cleanse.”
Unclear is how much real estate talk will accompany the trial: Durst has not worked for the family business since 1994.
However, Douglas Durst, Robert Durst’s younger brother and chairman of the Durst organization, is set to testify.
The FBI estimated Robert Durst’s net worth at about $100 million in 2015, mostly through an inheritance.