Robert Durst ‘absolutely dominated’ first wife, buried her body in NJ Pine Barrens before 2 more murders, prosecutor claims
LOS ANGELES — Robert Durst wielded his silver spoon with an iron first, dominating his “working class” wife, Kathie Durst, until he killed her in a “violent confrontation” in 1982, setting the stage for two more slayings, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
“We’ve got to go way back in time to Kathie, because everything the defendant did in this case stems from covering up his part in her death,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Habib Balian said as he started his closing argument at Durst’s California trial for the murder of his best friend Susan Berman in 2000.
Balian showed the jury a vintage photo of Kathie in a white dress, standing next to Durst on their wedding day in 1973. She likely thought she was marrying her “prince charming” and “life partner,” he said.
He then played a clip showing Durst, the scion of a Manhattan skyscraper fortune, discussing the marriage for the HBO documentary series, “The Jinx.”
“I had oodles of education. She had zilch. Girl from a small town,” Durst said in the clip. “For me, I guess you would say I was marrying beneath me.”
Balian said Durst “absolutely dominated” Kathie, dictating what she could eat in restaurants, forcing her to use food stamps, compelling her to get an abortion under threat of divorce when she became pregnant in 1976, taking credit for her acceptance to medical school and physically abusing her.
“This isn’t a partnership. This is someone who’s marrying someone over 10 years younger...from a working-class family, who’s ‘beneath’ him,” Balian said, describing Durst’s alleged mindset after meeting Kathie when she was still a teen.
Durst, 78, is on trial for the first-degree murder of Berman. He has not been charged with any crimes related to Kathie’s disappearance, but Balian said the fate of the two women is inextricably linked.
He argued Durst killed his 29-year-old medical student wife in their South Salem, N.Y., home as she started to assert her independence weeks before graduating from medical school. Durst then “chopped” Kathie up and “disposed of her body” in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, “a vast wilderness area with soft, sandy soil,” Balian said.
The prosecutor said Durst also quickly drafted Berman to help with his alibi. He had Berman pose as Kathie and call in sick to her outpatient pediatric rotation at Bronx Memorial Hospital, he said.
“If Kathie Durst made that call, where’s Kathie?” he said. “Kathie couldn’t make that call because she was already dead.”
Decades later, amid a reinvestigation of Kathie’s case, Durst executed Berman from behind to guarantee her silence, Balian said.
The prosecutor said investigators had compiled “overwhelming” evidence in the Berman murder case thanks to the reinvestigation.
Overall, he said Durst’s motive for Berman’s murder “can be summed up in nine simple words.”
“It was her or me, I had no choice,” Balian said, quoting Durst’s alleged confession outside a Harlem restaurant in 2014.
“She was gonna go to authorities with what she knew,” Balian argued.
In prerecorded testimony played for jurors in July, Durst’s longtime friend Nick Chavin claimed Durst uttered the upper Manhattan mea culpa when asked about Berman’s death after they finished a meal together.
“We walk out the door and on the sidewalk, I said, ‘You wanted to talk about Susan?’” Chavin recalled during his 2017 videotaped exam.
“Bob said, ‘I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice,’” Chavin testified.
Balian argued Wednesday that Durst was not a reliable defense witness in the case by showing clips of the millionaire’s recent testimony.
In one exchange with Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, Durst admitted he lied under oath during his Texas trial involving the 2001 death of his neighbor Morris Black.
Durst was acquitted of Black’s murder on self-defense grounds but admitted he dismembered up Black’s body and dumped the limbs and torso in Galveston Bay.
While testifying in Texas, Durst told that jury he spent the December 2000 Christmas holiday with his new wife Debrah Lee Charatan in Bridgehampton, New York.
“That was a lie…That is perjury,” Durst admitted to Lewin in a clip of his cross-examination played by Balian.
Durst testified last month that he actually was in Los Angeles on Dec. 24, 2000. He claimed he walked into Berman’s Benedict Canyon home and found her already dead, lying in a pool of blood. He also admitted he wrote the “cadaver note” that alerted police to her body.
“Robert Durst wants you to believe that he would only lie to one jury,” Balian said. “He would lie to any jury he ever appears before.”
According to Balian, Durst killed Black because the neighbor had figured out his true identity while he was hiding out in Texas in the aftermath of Susan’s slaying.
Durst followed Balian’s presentation while seated in a wheelchair at the defense table in custody. He claims he has no idea who killed Berman or what happened to Kathie after he allegedly dropped her off at a train station in Katonah, New York, on Jan. 31, 1982, the night she was last seen alive.
“He’s gotten away with murder for a long time. It’s time for that to end,” Balian argued Wednesday.