By Rachel Parsons
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Ailing New York real estate scion Robert Durst will testify in his own defense at his trial over a two-decade-old murder, his lawyer said on Tuesday, calling a 2015 television documentary at the center of the case “deviously misleading.”
Durst, 76, makes poor decisions and struggles with reading social cues because of Asperger’s syndrome, attorney Dick DeGuerin told jurors during his opening statement in the trial, but did not kill his close friend Susan Berman in December 2000.
“You haven’t heard the whole story yet,” DeGuerin told the jury of eight women and four men in Los Angeles Superior Court, calling the six-part HBO film “The Jinx” heavily edited and “deviously misleading.”
Prosecutors say Durst unwittingly confessed to killing Berman, his wife Kathleen and a former neighbor during filming of “The Jinx”, leading to his arrest in Berman’s murder one day before the final episode was broadcast in March 2015.
Prosecutors played clips from “The Jinx” as well as a feature film, “All Good Things”, about Durst’s marriage during their opening remarks last week. The trial is expected to last up to five months.
Berman, 55, was found slain execution-style in her Beverly Hills home a couple of months after New York police were said to have reopened an investigation into the fate of Kathleen Durst, who was a medical student when she vanished in 1982.
Durst, the multimillionaire grandson of a Manhattan real estate magnate, has never been prosecuted in connection with his wife’s disappearance and presumed slaying. He was acquitted in the 2001 death and dismemberment of Morris Black, his neighbor at the time in Galveston, Texas.
During his opening statement DeGuerin said that Durst found Berman’s body, “shortly after someone shot her in the head,” then panicked, wrote an anonymous note to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found, and fled.
The attorney also conceded Durst cut up Black’s body, a tableau he conceded jurors might find disturbing, but reminded them he was found not guilty in that case.
“Bob doesn’t make good decisions. It’s part of his makeup,” DeGuerin said, saying Durst had throughout his life “run away from trouble rather than face it.”
Prosecutors in the Texas case claimed Durst, who was in hiding disguised as a mute woman at the time, killed Black, 71, because his neighbor had learned his real identity.
Durst testified at that trial Black was killed while the two men wrestled over a gun that Black had brandished at him.
(Reporting by Rachel Parsons; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Alistair Bell)