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Cryptic note key in murder trial of millionaire Robert Durst

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Prosecutors intend to use a mysterious note and a web of circumstantial evidence to put Robert Durst behind bars for three killings he’s suspected of committing.

There is almost no physical evidence connecting New York real estate heir Robert Durst to the slaying of his best friend in Los Angeles 20 years ago.

What does link him to the killing of Susan Berman, though, is a cryptic note sent to police with her address and one word: CADAVER.

The slip of paper intended to lead authorities to her lifeless body in December 2000 was penned by Mr Durst.

Kathleen Durst's body was never found, though she's officially been declared dead.

His lawyers have admitted as much. Mr Durst himself has said more than once that only the killer or someone involved in the shooting could have written it.

Prosecutors intend to use the note and a web of circumstantial evidence to put Mr Durst behind bars for three killings he's suspected of committing over nearly four decades.

They will be up against a legal team that won Mr Durst's acquittal in one of those deaths.

"Our defence is, one, he didn't do it, and, two, they can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he did it," defence lawyer David Chesnoff said.

"It is a highly circumstantial case and we will have strong responses to explain the circumstances."

Jury selection begins Wednesday (local time) in a case built around a story so sensational it inspired a feature film starring Ryan Gosling as Mr Durst and a six-part HBO documentary on his life that helped lead to his arrest.

Mr Durst, 76, the eccentric son of a late prominent New York real estate developer, has pleaded not guilty. Said to be worth A$148 million, and having jumped bail before, Mr Durst has been awaiting trial in a California jail.

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Suspicion has dogged Mr Durst since his wife vanished in a New York suburb in 1982, a mystery that brought not only attention from the city's tabloids, but The New York Times.

Ms Berman was Mr Durst's unofficial spokeswoman at the time and prosecutors said she helped him cover his tracks. No has ever been charged in the wife's disappearance and presumed killing.

Mr Durst was back in the news following his arrest in October 2001 on charges he murdered his elderly neighbour in a A$440-a-month rooming house Galveston, Texas.

Prosecutors say he fled New York and disguised himself as a mute woman to elude possible arrest in his wife's suspected killing.

In this 2016 photo, millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst sits in a courtroom in Los Angeles relating to an investigation into the execution-style shooting of his best friend years ago in Los Angeles. Robert Durst and Susan Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster who was found face down in an LA pool.

Dismembered body in garbage bags

While Mr Durst is only charged with one count of murder in Ms Berman's killing, prosecutors plan to show he knocked her off December 23, 2000, to keep her from telling police what she knew about the disappearance of Kathleen "Kathie" Durst.

They will introduce evidence that he killed and dismembered Morris Black in Galveston because the elderly neighbour had discovered his true identity and Mr Durst feared he would inform police of his whereabouts.

"Kathie's death was the impetus for all of the tragic events that happened afterward,'' prosecutors said in court papers.

They said Mr Durst "devised and carried out a diabolical plan to cover up the killing of his wife which ultimately cost two other people their lives.''

Kathleen Durst's body was never found, though she's officially been declared dead.

Mr Black's dismembered remains were cast out to sea in garbage bags by Mr Durst, who was cleared in the killing after testifying he shot the man in self-defence.

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Ms Berman, 55, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was found face down in her Los Angeles home in a pool of blood. She had been shot point-blank in the back of the head.

Robert Durst is transported from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to the Orleans Parish Prison after his arraignment in New Orleans,  2015Multi-millionaire murder defendant Robert Durst and his attorney Dick DeGuerin demonstrate how Durst struggled with Morris Black during 2003 testimony in Galveston, Texas.

TV gotcha moment

Mr Durst's arrest in Ms Berman's killing came five years ago in New Orleans on the eve of the final instalment of The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst documentary on HBO.

The finale contained a made-for-TV gotcha when filmmakers confronted Mr Durst with a letter they unearthed that he had once written to Ms Berman that contained nearly identical block-letter writing as the so-called cadaver note.

Beverly Hills was misspelled the same way in both: "BEVERLEY."

Mr Durst had denied penning the cadaver note, which he acknowledged "only the killer could have written," but couldn't distinguish between the two.

He blinked, burped and put his head in his hands before denying being the killer.

After the interview, he went to use a toilet unaware he was still wearing a microphone.

Filmmakers didn't realise until two years later as they were editing the film that they captured audio of him in the bathroom.

The film ends with Mr Durst's voice: "You're caught! What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

But what sounds like a confession was actually a result of editing.

Mr Durst said all three of those sentences, but not in that order and interspersed with seemingly unintelligible or unrelated remarks, according to court records.

Placed in their proper context, as jurors are likely to hear, will make them less of the bombshell that struck viewers.

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Defence lawyers have said the filmmakers deceived Mr Durst and were acting as government agents, providing evidence they unearthed to police.

Prosecutors also will be relying on former friends of both Mr Durst and Ms Berman, who have provided damaging accounts in pretrial testimony of Mr Durst's alleged abuse of his wife.

Some have said Ms Berman confided in them that Mr Durst had killed Kathleen.

Ms Berman said that if anything happened to her, they should suspect Mr Durst.

Robert Durst set to stand trial over killing of woman in 2018

'It was her or me. I had no choice'

His lawyers are likely to focus on why some of those accounts were not shared with police and only surfaced recently after years of silence.

A star witness for the prosecution, New York ad executive Nathan "Nick" Chavin, who was best friends with both Mr Durst and Ms Berman, acknowledged that he lied to and misled prosecutors for months before coming clean about what he knew of the killing.

Mr Chavin testified that in 2014 Mr Durst confessed to Ms Berman's killing on a New York sidewalk.

"I had to," Mr Durst said, according to Mr Chavin.

"It was her or me, I had no choice."

Mr Chavin, who became emotional during the pretrial testimony because of his deep friendship with Mr Durst, said his loyalties were torn and ultimately he sided with Ms Berman.

With AP

Source: 9News

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