Durst's lawyer says prosecutors demonized 'sick, old man'

Brian Melley
Associated Press

Los Angeles — Robert Durst is a sick, old, defenseless man who has been beaten up and demonized by prosecutors to cover up a lack of evidence against him, his lawyer said Thursday in closing arguments at the New York real estate heir's murder trial.

Attorney Dick DeGuerin told jurors not to be swayed by ghastly images of the body Durst dismembered in Texas and tossed out to sea, saying it was only meant to make them hate him.

DeGuerin conceded his client did look bad after nearly three weeks of testimony, including nine days of punishing cross-examination that exposed several lies. He accused the prosecutor of “beating up on a sick, old man who can’t defend himself.”

Deputy District Attorney Habib A. Balian holds a rubber latex mask, worn by Robert Durst when police arrested him, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Inglewood, Calif.

“I wouldn't blame you after hearing what you’ve heard if you hate Bob Durst and believe he’s a liar,” DeGuerin said in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Making Bob Durst a liar does not make him a killer.”

DeGuerin said he wasn't aiming for sympathy, but he was seriously concerned about the health of his client and wasn't sure he would live through the trial.

Durst, 78, who sat hunched in a wheelchair as his lawyer spoke, has pleaded not guilty to murder in the point-blank shooting of Susan Berman in December 2000 at her Los Angeles home.

Prosecutors said Durst killed her as she planned to speak to authorities about how she provided a phony alibi for him when his wife went missing in New York in 1982.

DeGuerin said prosecutors had failed to prove how, when and where Kathie Durst was killed, though he said circumstantial evidence indicates she's probably dead. Her body's never been found, and no one has been charged with a crime in connection with her disappearance.

Robert Durst said he put his wife on a train bound for Manhattan after a weekend at their lakeside home in Westchester County and never saw or heard from her again. He has admitted he lied about several things he told investigators after reporting her missing.

DeGuerin said there is no credible evidence to support the prosecution theory that Berman had impersonated Kathie Durst the next day to phone the medical school she attended to say she was sick. Prosecutors said the call made it appear Kathie Durst was alive after she was last seen by her husband.

Although Durst is only on trial in Berman's killing, prosecutors were able to present evidence that he killed his wife because it provides the motive for killing Berman, who they said was a key witness. Several of Berman's friends testified that she either told them Durst had admitted killing his wife or that she helped him cover his tracks.

Prosecutors have also been able to introduce evidence from a Galveston, Texas, trial in which Durst was acquitted of murder.

DeGuerin successfully defended Durst in the 2001 killing of Morris Black. Durst testified that Black pulled a gun on him and was shot during a struggle for the weapon. He was convicted of disposing of evidence for chopping up Black’s body and dumping it in Galveston Bay.

DeGuerin accused prosecutors of trying to inflame the jury by dredging up the Texas case and displaying the gruesome images of Black's body parts that washed ashore.

“What’s happened here is the prosecution is trying to get a do over of that trial,” DeGuerin said.

Prosecutors said Durst killed Black because the man discovered his identity after he disguised himself as a mute woman hiding out in Texas because he expected he was going to be indicted in New York on charges he killed his wife.

DeGuerin said that under the prosecution theory it made no sense he would kill Black to keep him from exposing him. Berman was the witness who could connect him to Kathie Durst's death, and she was killed nine months earlier.

“The theory of the prosecution is that Morris Black found out that Bob Durst was Bob Durst,” DeGeurin said. “But Bob Durst didn’t have anything to worry about anymore if you accept the prosecution theory that Bob Durst’s motive for killing Susan Berman was to shut her up.”