A judge has denied a request by lawyers for elderly real estate multimillionaire Robert Durst that his trial be indefinitely halted on the grounds that he is very ill.
Durst, 78, is charged with the murder in 2000 of his best friend Susan Berman.
He is accused of shooting the writer because of what she might have known about the unsolved disappearance and presumed killing of his wife two decades earlier.
Prosecutors in Los Angeles have said Durst’s 2015 arrest in the Berman case was hastened by his apparent confession to multiple killings in the award-winning HBO television series The Jinx.
Durst was arrested on suspicion of Berman’s murder one day before the airing of the final episode, in which he seemed to incriminate himself.
After being confronted with a key piece of evidence, a microphone captured Durst muttering to himself: “There it is, you’re caught,” and “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
On Monday Durst’s lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, argued that his client’s health has grown “much worse” in the 14 months since the trial was suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions imposed shortly after testimony began.
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The emergency defence motion for indefinite postponement cited numerous life-threatening medical issues that Durst’s lawyers say he faces, including bladder cancer and a recurrence of oesophageal cancer.
The length of the stoppage is unprecedented and it’s the highest-profile US case postponed because of the pandemic, Durst’s lawyers said.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin called the motion a ploy to make “this trial go away”.
Superior Court Judge Mark Windham sided with prosecutors, ruling that a physical disorder does not necessarily impair
one’s competence to stand trial.
The defence also requested Durst be released on bail and placed under electronic monitoring in a private hospital to
obtain necessary medical treatment at his own expense.
“The doctor said he is in need of urgent hospitalisation,” Mr DeGuerin told the judge. “The question is not whether he can endure the rigours of the trial, the question is whether he can survive at all.”
Durst, who was not present for the proceedings, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Berman, 55, was found dead in her Beverly Hills home a couple of months after police in New York were reported to have reopened an investigation into the fate of Durst’s spouse, Kathleen, who was a medical student when she vanished in 1982.
Durst, the multimillionaire grandson of a Manhattan real estate magnate, has been questioned by investigators about his
wife but insists he had nothing to do with her disappearance. He was never prosecuted.
The circumstances surrounding both cases, and Durst’s 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a neighbour in Texas, where he had been living in the guise of a woman, gained wide attention in The Jinx.