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Robert Durst trial resumes without defendant after 14-month delay

Durst, 78, an heir to a New York commercial real estate empire, has pleaded not guilty in the killing of his best friend in 2000.
Real estate heir Robert Durst looks over during his murder trial in Los Angeles on March 10, 2020.
Real estate heir Robert Durst looks over during his murder trial in Los Angeles on March 10, 2020.Alex Gallardo / Pool via Reuters file
/ Source: Associated Press

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The murder trial of multimillionaire Robert Durst resumed Monday after a 14-month recess without the defendant present and with arguments about whether the case should continue at all.

Judge Mark Windham said that Durst had refused to leave his Los Angeles County jail cell, though his lawyer disputed that account.

Windham denied a defense request to continue the case because Durst has bladder cancer and myriad other health problems that require hospitalization.

“The question isn't whether he can endure the rigors of the trial," attorney Dick DeGuerin said. "It’s whether he can survive at all.”

Durst, 78, an heir to a New York commercial real estate empire, has pleaded not guilty in the killing of his best friend in 2000.

The judge planned to spend the first day on trial since March 2020 questioning jurors to make sure they can still serve on the case expected to take four to five more months. The panel had 12 jurors and 10 alternates, one fewer than when the case was recessed.

DeGuerin said measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus would harm Durst’s defense by keeping his lawyers scattered throughout the courtroom and unable to confer. Windham said the measures were required to keep everyone safe, though he and all the lawyers have been vaccinated.

The lead lawyers were seated alone in the front of the courtroom and their co-counsel were spread throughout jury boxes on both sides of the courtroom. Plexiglas panels were placed between the lawyers and a court stenographer.

Jurors were seated in the gallery. They were handed zip-lock bags with note pads, a mask and tissues as they entered the courtroom.

Windham moved the case to a larger courtroom in Inglewood to accommodate the distancing needed to resume.