After a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 crisis, Robert Durst’s murder trial kicked off again Tuesday, as California prosecutors accused the kooky millionaire of executing his longtime friend to cover up his wife’s murder nearly two decades prior.
The 78-year-old real-estate heir, who looked gaunt and sat slumped in a wheelchair during the prosecution’s opening statements, is charged with killing Susan Berman at her home in suburban Los Angeles in 2000.
During his address to the jury, prosecutor John Lewin described the fatal encounter in detail and showed graphic images of Berman’s lifeless body to the panel.
“He basically blew her brains out. That’s what he did,” Lewin told the jury, describing the alleged execution-style slaying and a crime scene that showed no evidence of a burglary or robbery.
“Nothing, in fact, was taken that day other than Susan’s life,” he added.
Durst’s motive was clear, Lewin alleged — he needed to kill Berman to ensure she would not continue blabbing about the death of Durst’s first wife, Kathie, who Lewin alleged Durst killed and dismembered in 1982.
“He killed [Berman] out of survival. He believed that, ‘In the end, it was her or me. I have no choice,’” Lewin said.
The murder trial may mark the final chapter for Durst, the heir to The Durst Organization, one of the largest private real estate companies in the nation, who for decades skated by suspicions that he was responsible for a trio of murders.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mafioso, was found shot to death in her home in the Benedict Canyon neighborhood on Christmas Eve in 2000.
Prosecutors allege Durst gunned her down after she had repeatedly hit him up for money — and lied to him by saying prosecutors in New York had contacted her about Kathie’s disappearance.
The lie “sealed her fate,” Lewin told jurors on Tuesday.
Durst, fearful that Berman would tell New York investigators that he killed and dismembered Kathie, allegedly shot her to ensure her silence, the prosecutor said.
“That got her the bullet in the back of her head,” Lewin added.
The opening statement was punctuated by clips from the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which included interviews with Durst about his relationship with Kathie and his reaction to Berman’s death.
Jurors saw the clip in which Durst is caught on a hot mic muttering to himself, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” — though “The Jinx” filmmakers have been accused of editing the footage.
Prosecutors also intend to show Durst killed and dismembered a third person, a drifter he met in Galveston, Texas, while hiding out from New York investigators in the city.
The victim in that killing, Morris Black, allegedly learned of Durst’s past while watching an episode of “20/20” and planned to blackmail the real estate heir for money.
Durst admittedly shot and killed Black in 2001, but was acquitted of his murder on self-defense grounds.
He has not been charged with killing his first wife, Kathie, whose body has never been found.