LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Durst took the stand at his California murder trial Monday and immediately denied killing his best friend.
“Bob, did you kill Susan Berman?” Durst’s attorney Dick DeGuerin said to open the testimony of the 78-year-old New York real estate heir.
“No,” Durst answered.
“Do you know who did?” DeGuerin asked.
“No, I do not,” answered Durst, who sat in a wheelchair instead of the witness chair.
Durst was arrested on a warrant in Berman’s killing in New Orleans in 2015 on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” the HBO documentary series about him in which Durst made several seemingly damning statements.
His trial finally began in early 2020, but the coronavirus forced a pause of more than a year before it resumed in May.
As he said he would when the trial began in Los Angeles Superior Court more than a year ago, DeGuerin went through with the risky move of calling a murder defendant to testify, just as he did with Durst at his 2003 Texas trial, when the wealthy heir was acquitted.
After asking him bluntly whether he had killed Berman, DeGuerin backtracked to the beginning of Durst’s life.
Durst’s mother died when he was 7 years old, either jumping or falling from the top of their home.
Durst testified that his grandfather woke him in the middle of the night to look at “mommy on the roof” just before her death.
Durst said his father, real estate magnate Seymour Durst, was determined to remain in the family home, no matter the trauma it caused him.
“I kept begging my father to move,” Durst said, “but he never sold the house where his wife died.”
Durst said he did all he could to get away after that.
“I ran away from everywhere.”
While he is charged with just one killing in California, prosecutors have been allowed to present evidence from the Texas case. There, Durst testified that his Galveston neighbor Morris Black was killed in a struggle after entering his home with a gun. From the stand, Durst described chopping up and disposing of the body, but the jury found him not guilty of murder.
Prosecutors have also been allowed to present evidence that Durst killed his wife, who disappeared in New York in 1982. Kathie Durst’s body was never found, but she has been declared legally dead. Durst has never been charged in connection with her disappearance, and has denied having anything to do with it.
In the Berman killing, prosecutors allege that she was about to talk to police about Durst’s involvement in his wife’s disappearance. Durst’s attorneys have said that he found her body, panicked, and fled to Texas, sending a letter to police that read “CADAVER” with Berman’s address.
On Monday, Durst described meeting Berman, a mobster’s daughter who grew up in Las Vegas, when both were in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles in the 1960s, and striking up a close, decadeslong friendship.
“We both had trust funds,” Durst said.
Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other ailments that he listed from the stand, wore the brown jail attire he’s had on in court for the past few weeks of the trial. His attorneys said he’s been unable to stand to put on a suit.
Durst struggled to hear both the clerk when he was sworn in and DeGuerin as he asked questions, using a tablet that showed a live transcription to help him understand.
Durst also struggled to hear the prosecution’s objections and the judge’s rulings on them, frequently speaking after he was told to stop.