By Caroline Anderson and Alex Dobuzinskis
LOSANGELES (Reuters) – Robert Durst, a real estate scion charged with murder who was profiled in the HBO television documentary “The Jinx,” struck fear in his wife in the early 1980s before she disappeared, a witness testified in court on Monday in Los Angeles.
Durst, a 75-year-old multimillionaire, was arrested in 2015 and charged with murder in the 2000 shooting death of his longtime friend and confidante Susan Berman.
Durst was in court on Monday for the first day of what is expected to be a two-week preliminary hearing that is to determine if the prosecution has presented enough evidence to require him to stand trial in Berman’s murder.
Berman, 55, was found dead at her home in Los Angeles shortly after it was revealed that police had reopened an investigation into the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife, Kathleen Durst. Prosecutors have said that Durst shot Berman because of what she knew about the fate of his spouse, whom authorities have said they presume was slain by Durst.
Durst, a grandson of New York real estate titan Joseph Durst, has pleaded not guilty to Berman’s murder.
Durst has never been charged and has denied having anything to do with the disappearance of his wife. Her body has never been found.
The first witness to testify at Monday’s hearing was Peter Halperin, who attended medical school with Kathleen Durst in the early 1980s, when the Dursts lived in New York. Halperin said he spoke to Kathleen Durst by phone in December 1981, a few weeks before her disappearance.
“Kathie said she was very frightened because she thought her husband might hurt her,” Halperin, 66, testified. “She said that there were problems in her marriage and that things had escalated to the point she felt unsafe.”
Durst’s ties to Berman’s death, his wife’s disappearance and a Texas slaying for which he was acquitted by a jury were explored in “The Jinx.” In the series’ dramatic finale, which aired in 2015, Durst was caught on microphone muttering to himself, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
The evidence presented to date in Los Angeles includes the pre-trial testimony of witnesses at a series of court hearings in 2017 and earlier this year.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, who is overseeing the preliminary hearing, invoked a rare judicial procedure to allow them to testify in case they die or become incapacitated before a trial.
(Reporting by Caroline Anderson and Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)