Robert Durst, who told prosecutors last year that he has only five years left to live, was wheeled into a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday for a battle over whether his personal papers can be used at trial.
The real-estate scion's apparent frailty became the focus of the hearing when prosecutors tried to expedite questioning of two witnesses — an elderly Manhattan doctor and an unnamed person — citing concerns for their safety.
Defense attorney David Chesnoff objected, referencing his client's poor health.
"Suggesting somehow that a man in a wheelchair is somehow a threat to an 85-year old man in New York ... is just hyperbole," Chesnoff said.
Durst, 73, is charged with killing his confidant, Susan Berman, in 2000, allegedly because she knew too much about the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathie, who is presumed dead. Durst was acquitted of murder in 2003 for the death of Texas neighbor Morris Black after he claimed he killed him and dismembered him in self-defense.
Durst, who was the subject of the HBO documentary "The Jinx," appeared weak in court but did stand for the judge twice during the hearing. A large scar could be seen on the scalp of the millionaire, a cancer survivor who suffers from fluid on the brain and other ailments.
As he sat in court, the two sides hashed out a series of pre-trial issues, including a motion by prosecutors that a special master be appointed to determine whether any papers seized by authorities are subject to attorney-client privilege.
Prosecutors argued that Durst waived that privilege when he allowed "The Jinx" team to see those papers, and they have pointed to a videotaped interrogation of Durst in which he talks about why he wanted the filmmakers to see that material.
Defense lawyers vociferously objected to the release of interrogation, in which Durst talks about using meth, cutting up a body, being the world's "worst fugitive," and his five-year life expectancy.
Judge Mark Windham ultimately ruled that a special master will examine the papers.
The most intriguing part of the hearing, however, came during a discussion of when two witnesses should be scheduled for pre-trial questioning.
One of them is Dr. Albert Kuperman, an 86-year-old retired physician who was the dean of the medical school Kathie Durst attended before her disappearance. He is believed to be one of the last people to speak to her and can help prosecutors establish a timeline.
Prosecutors also said they want to call a secret witness but provided no further details.
The judge said the matter of the witnesses will be discussed at a new hearing Jan. 6.
Outside court, Durst's lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, described his client as "pretty strong."
"He’s had a lot of health challenges and he’s fought them all successfully," DeGuerin said. "Everyone related to him has had long lives and I’m hoping he’s going to be the same."