A prosecutor argued in a Los Angeles murder trial Wednesday that her husband, Robert Durst, the estranged heir to a New York real estate fortune, killed her and her death became the basis for his “playbook” on getting away with two other killings.
“He tried to figure out, ‘How do I get away with murder?’” Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said. “What’s my go-to move?”
Durst, 78, is charged with murder in the point-blank shooting of his best friend, Susan Berman, at her Los Angeles home in December 2000. Prosecutors said Durst killed her as she planned to speak to authorities about how she provided a phony alibi when his wife went missing in New York in 1982.
Balian used the imaginary playbook to show how Durst covered up Kathie Durst’s death and how this later evolved into knocking off witnesses, such as Berman and a neighbor in Texas.
The first step was to get rid of the body. Despite a lack of forensic evidence, Balian argued Durst killed his wife in their lakeside home in Westchester County on the night she was last seen and chopped it up and buried it in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey.
Durst has always maintained he dropped his wife at a train station so she could head to the city to attend medical school the following day. He has admitted he lied when he said he spoke with her that night by phone after she reached their Manhattan apartment.
He then made it appear she was still alive.
He used Berman, the daughter of a mobster and fiercely loyal to him, to impersonate his wife the next day and phone the medical school dean to say she was sick and couldn’t report to her pediatric rotation.
“They embarked on a campaign to obscure the truth, to lead the investigation in a completely wrong direction,” Balian said.
The third move was to make it appear Kathie Durst, who was close to graduation and seeking a divorce, just walked away from her life. Durst told a New York Post reporter he thought his wife had a breakdown and ran off, though he implied she may have had a run-in with criminals because of her cocaine use.
While he offered a reward for information leading to her and said he was hopeful she would return, his actions said otherwise, Balian said. Days after her disappearance, he tossed out her textbooks and clothing.
“How long are you going to hold out hope?” Balian said. “You’re going to hold out zero hope because you know she’s never coming home. Because you killed her.”