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Judge orders Robert Durst to stand trial in murder of friend Susan Berman

Prosecutors claim the real estate heir was worried the victim would implicate him in the death of his first wife, who disappeared in 1982.
Image: Robert Durst
Real estate heir Robert Durst appears in a Los Angeles Superior Court Airport Branch for a pre-trial motions hearing in Los Angeles on Jan. 6, 2017.Mark Boster / AP file

A Los Angeles judge on Thursday ordered real estate heir Robert Durst to stand trial in the 2000 murder of his friend Susan Berman.

Durst, 75, has denied killing Berman, who was found dead at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 2000 with a single gunshot wound to the back of her head. Prosecutors believe she was killed a day earlier.

Prosecutors claim Durst was worried that Berman would implicate him in the death of his first wife, Kathie, who vanished in 1982. Her body has never been found, and Durst has never been charged in her disappearance.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark E. WIndham issued his ruling after a two-week proceeding, in which he heard testimony from two friends of Kathie Durst, two former New York Post reporters who interviewed Durst after his wife went missing, and interviews conducted by "Jinx" filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling, as well as evidence from prosecutors and police.

Durst was arrested in New Orleans in 2015 on a murder warrant in connection with the investigation into Berman’s death.

Durst is charged with one count of murder and has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, he faces a possible maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

Durst's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said in a phone interview Thursday evening that the ruling was not a surprise and that Durst maintains his innocence.

“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he doesn’t know who did,” DeGuerin said. "She was his best friend.”

“This was a case that was generated by a television series,” DeGuerin added.

Durst famously went on trial in 2003 for the 2001 killing of neighbor Morris Black, whose body was found dismembered in a Galveston, Texas, bay.

Durst was acquitted by a jury, even though he admitted chopping up the victim's body, carefully triple-wrapping the body parts in plastic and throwing them into Galveston Bay. Durst and his attorneys argued the killing was in self-defense and that Durst disposed of the body because he was worried police would railroad him after suspicions arose regarding Berman’s killing and the disappearance of his wife.

In the finale of an HBO documentary, "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," Durst appears to confess not only to Berman's killing but to at least two others.

A microphone he was wearing while being interviewed was live while he went to the bathroom. It recorded him whispering to himself: "What a disaster. ... I'm having difficulty with the question. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

Thursday’s ruling comes after a request by prosecutors to use "adoptive admissions" by Durst as evidence in the proceedings over whether Durst should stand trial. They wanted to use comments Durst made to the director of the 2010 film “All Good Things,” which was inspired by the story of the disappearance of Durst’s wife.

In commentary for the DVD of the movie, when Durst “was asked on camera about his feelings about a film which had alleged that he had murdered three people and a dog, he responded, not with denials, but by stating, "I felt the movie was very, very, very close in much of the ways about what, pretty much, happened,'" Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin wrote in a court filing this week.

That commentary would ultimately lead to production of the six-part series “The Jinx,” prosecutors said. DeGuerin called "All Good Things" a fiction and said Durst liked the film, in part, because the character based on him was played by Ryan Gosling.

Durst is being held without bail at the Twin Towers Jail in Los Angeles, according to jail records.