Video: Cross-Dressing Killer & Judge

updated 1/25/2006 3:23:30 PM ET 2006-01-25T20:23:30

Remember Robert Durst, the cross-dressing billionaire, who beat a murder charge even though he admitted killing his neighbor, chopping up the body and throwing the body parts in a river?  Well, if that sounds bizarre, wait until hear why he‘s back in prison. 

In 2001, while posing as a mute woman and claiming to be his own sister-in-law, Durst killed his neighbor.  After parts of the victim‘s body were found, police arrested him.  He posted bond, went on the run.  He was eventually caught in Pennsylvania trying to steal a chicken sandwich and a Band-Aid from a grocery store. 

At his murder trial, Durst claimed self-defense, somehow the jurors bought it.  The victim‘s head was never found.  The jurors said they weren‘t convinced the murder was premeditated.  He served time for gun possession, jumping bond and evidence tampering and was released last summer. 

Now the rules of his release required Durst to stay near his home.  If he wants to travel anywhere, he needs permission.  You‘d think having beat a murder rap he‘d play it safe.

But no, no, Durst took an unauthorized trip back to the scene of the crime, the boarding house where he killed his neighbor and where some of the witnesses who testified against him still live.  He also went to a nearby mall for some holiday shopping in December and guess who he ran into?  Who‘s the last person he‘d want to see while violating his parole? 

The judge who presided over his murder case.  That judge, Susan Criss was just as shocked to see Robert Durst at the mall as he was to see her.

Hon. Susan Criss joined Dan Abrams to discuss this unusual encounter.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST 'ABRAMS REPORT':  All right, so give us a sense of where you are in the mall and when you first spot him? 

HON. SUSAN CRISS, PRESIDED OVER DURST MURDER CASE:  I was walking down the mall and I saw this man walking towards me talking on the cell phone.  As he got closer, my first thought was I know that guy and then I realized oh my God, that‘s Durst.  As I realized it, he looked up at me and he said I know you.  I know you.  Then I could tell by his face that he realized who I was.  He dropped his phone and he just kept saying you‘re Judge Criss.  You‘re Judge Criss.  I didn‘t recognize you without the robe. 

ABRAMS:  And at that moment, did you realize that he was doing something improper?  You knew he‘d been released, right? 

CRISS:  I did, but I did not know that he was violating his parole by being there.  I was shocked to see him, but I didn‘t know he was doing anything wrong.

ABRAMS:  Did you talk to him?  Did you—was there any interchange, sort of how are you doing sort of thing?

CRISS:  Yes.  In fact, he reached down to pick up his phone because it had come apart, and as he came up I said how are you doing, Bob?  I honestly didn‘t know what was going to come out of my mouth until I heard it.  And then we talked a little bit.  He talked about his lawyers.  His lawyers are trying the DeLay case, about to try the DeLay case.  One of his lawyers is representing Tom DeLay.  He talked about that and I responded and then after a while I needed to get away, didn‘t kind of know how to gracefully do that, so I just wished him happy holidays and then kept walking. 

ABRAMS:  Were you afraid at any point?  I mean he had some hostility towards you during the trial?

CRISS:  Well I was concerned a little bit about the hostility because I had given him such a high bond and I wouldn‘t go along with the plea bargain deal.  When I first saw him, it startled me, but then when I realized that he was startled, too, I wasn‘t afraid then, because we were in a public place.  I didn‘t think anything was going to happen. 

ABRAMS:  When did you realize that he was violating his parole? 

CRISS:  After he was arrested for coming to Galveston, for going to the scene of the crime where he had killed Morris Black and cut him up, the parole board contacted me to find out about if the story was true about me seeing him and they explained to me that he had violated his parole when he saw me.

ABRAMS:  Just so people understand, why would you as the judge not know what the terms were of his parole?

CRISS:  That‘s determined by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles and they‘re appointed by our governor, Rick Perry.  Judges have no say-so or control over what happens when someone‘s on parole. 

ABRAMS:  Now, were you in a store in the mall?  I mean this guy‘s a cross-dresser.  Were you like in a women‘s clothing store or something? 

CRISS:  No.  I was just walking down the hall, just right in the middle of the mall, and he was walking towards me.  If we had—literally, if one of us hadn‘t stopped, we would have literally run into each other. 

ABRAMS:  And that was the first time you‘d seen him since the trial? 

CRISS:  Other than on TV, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Did—the look in his eye, I mean did he—was there some sense on your part that he was just shocked or was he scared? 

CRISS:  No, there was—he was very, very startled when he first saw me, very, very startled.  But I didn‘t realize it was because he was caught at the time because I didn‘t know he was doing anything wrong.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know how much you can talk about the verdict, et cetera.  I mean I was stunned by the verdict in this case, that the jurors came back with a not-guilty verdict.  Can you talk at all about that? 

CRISS:  Well I could see it coming.  As the trial was progressing, I could see that that was going to happen.  I had a sense that was going to happen.  There were a few times when I thought well look the prosecutor might pull it out, but I could see that was going to happen.

ABRAMS:  And just based on the progress of the testimony, et cetera?  I mean because you know when people look at this, even people who followed this case, the fact is he admits cutting him up.  He admits killing him.  He has nothing to back up his claim of self-defense apart from the fact that he says that‘s what happened and the jurors found him not guilty.

CRISS:  I know.  I could see it as the trial was progressing.  And I could see the questions that were being asked and the way the lawyers were asking their questions.  I could see that coming. 

ABRAMS:  What did he do at the—why was he going back to the scene of the crime, do you know? 

CRISS:  That‘s a good question and that‘s what I‘d really like to know.  I don‘t know if he was coming there to revisit the crime, if he was coming there to find something that he left or he was coming there to see the witnesses.  Because that—there are people who still live in that boarding house who are witnesses.  There‘s next-door neighbors who are witnesses, and I don‘t know if he was coming to see them or what, but that‘s sort of the scariest part of all of this. 

ABRAMS:  And he was dressed in men‘s clothes, though right?  I mean...

CRISS:  He was dressed normally when I saw him and I believe when he came to the island he was dressed normally too.

ABRAMS:  All right.  All right.  Judge Susan Criss, thank you very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

CRISS:  Thank you.

Watch the 'Abrams Report' for more analysis and interviews on the top legal stories each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV.

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