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Toobin: Durst 'had a pretty good day'

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin

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Robert Durst reacts as a not guilty verdict is read Tuesday. (November 11)
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Robert Durst testifies a struggle for a gun caused Morris Black's death. (October 27)
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(CNN) -- A jury in Galveston, Texas, on Tuesday acquitted eccentric New York millionaire Robert Durst in the killing of his 71-year-old neighbor, Morris Black.

Prosecutors had portrayed Durst, 60, as a cold-blooded killer who planned Black's murder in an attempt to steal his identity. Durst testified he accidentally shot Black in self-defense. He said he panicked and decided to cut up the body, dispose of it and leave Galveston. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin discussed the verdict with CNN's Daryn Kagan.

TOOBIN: Well, count me among those shocked, astonished, absolutely bamboozled by this verdict. I thought this was a very strong case. And you know, he had some very good legal help. But, boy, this is a total surprise to me.

KAGAN: Some of the things that others have pointed out -- that he did testify in his own defense and that this is an area of Texas that doesn't usually go with the prosecution, as the Houston area.

TOOBIN: That's right. This is not Harris County, which is Houston, where they send more people to death row than any other county in Texas. But it's still Texas, and there are people on death row from Galveston. And you know, it is true, that with middle-class and upper-middle-class defendants, jurors are said to expect them to testify, and he did testify, and apparently, the jury believed him.

But there is so much evidence in this case of what lawyers call consciousness of guilt and flight, the issue of him jumping bail, the issue of him trying to escape is just so damaging to most defendants. Plus, remember, the whole reason he came to Texas was that he was under suspicion for murdering his wife in New York, and then decided to dress up as a deaf, mute woman to escape the scrutiny. I mean, this thing sounds like a bad novel.

KAGAN: You couldn't sell it.

TOOBIN: Well, you may be able to sell it now. He may be able to sell it now. And the jury apparently thought, notwithstanding, all that circumstantial evidence of a guilty conscience, that this victim was such a bad guy that Durst really did kill him in self-defense.

This is, yet again, a demonstration of the fact that it is better to be rich than poor. How is that for a blinding insight?

And in the legal system, if you can afford extremely competent defense attorneys, you do a lot better. You could be sure that most of the people on Texas' death row did not have the kind of legal help that Mr. Durst did.

KAGAN: He's not out of the woods totally, in terms of his legal problems. For jumping bail, he faces a claim against that. And I imagine there might be some civil charges as well.

TOOBIN: Civil charges, and remember, this murder case goes back to 1982, when his wife disappeared. The whole reason people got interested in Durst again and the whole reason he said that he fled to Texas is that the Westchester Country district attorney has reopened that old murder case.

There are allegations, and I don't want to overstate them, that he may be a suspect in a murder in California. Again, his legal problems are far from over. But when you admit to a jury that you killed somebody, chopped them up, and disposed of them in Galveston Bay and get off, you've had a pretty good day. Other legal problems can be dealt with down the road.

KAGAN: And what about the possibility that prosecutors here might now file charges -- of course not murder charges because that would be double jeopardy -- but about, let's say, say tampering with evidence, because of dismembering the body?

TOOBIN: They could. The custom among prosecutors is, if you lose, you lose, and you don't find a technical way around the double jeopardy laws to essentially try the same case again. But if they do believe that they have a good case and if they do believe Durst is a genuine danger to the community, they could file charges like that.

I do think that bail jumping is very much a separate crime, and very likely to result in additional charges.

So on that, I think, they are well within their rights, and I think most people would expect there would be a prosecution there.

As for relating to the murder itself and more charges, that strikes me as unlikely, but I can't say for sure.


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