LOS ANGELES (AP) – Attorneys for real estate heir Robert Durst asked a Los Angeles judge to declare a mistrial Thursday in the murder case against him, arguing that he cannot get a fair trial with the long pause in the proceedings brought on by coronavirus court closures.
Durst’s defense team filed a motion with the court calling the mid-trial break “prejudicial,” saying that the stoppage that will last months even in the best case scenario makes it unrealistic that the jury will be able to perform its functions.
“The risk that jurors will not be accurately able to recall the evidence introduced prior to adjournment is heightened here,” the motion says.
Prosecutors had no comment on the move.
The trial had been expected to last some five months and had been under way for just six days when it was put on hold, like all other Los Angeles County trials, because of the coronavirus. The district attorney’s office announced later Thursday that Durst’s long-awaited trial in the killing of his best friend Susan Berman is scheduled to resume June 23. That means a break of more than three months, with more delays still possible.
Durst’s motion argues that “the adjournment caused by COVID-19 has made it impossible for defendant to receive a fair trial. The Constitution therefore demands a mistrial, even if it results in some moderate amount of judicial inefficiency.”
Judge Mark E. Windham has not weighed in on the motion, and may hold a hearing on it when the trial is scheduled to resume.
The 77-year-old scion of one of New York’s wealthiest real estate dynasties is on trial in the killing of Berman in her home in Beverly Hills in December 2000. Prosecutors argued in opening statements that Durst shot Berman because she knew Durst had killed his wife, who disappeared in 1982. Durst has never been charged in his wife’s killing, and denied having any role in either death.
The trial had been in the works for five years, since Durst’s arrest on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” The HBO documentary included interviews with Durst that helped lead to the charges against him.