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Court lowers $3 billion bail for Durst

Robert Durst reacts to the news of his November acquittal

(Court TV) -- At $3 billion, Robert Durst's bail was the highest ever set in Texas. Now it's just a memory.

On Tuesday, a Texas appeals court lowered the bail to $450,000, or $150,000 for each of three felony counts he faces in connection with the death of his elderly Galveston neighbor in September 2001.

Although the New York real estate heir was acquitted last year of murdering 71-year-old Morris Black, he has been in custody since February 2004 on one charge of bond jumping and two of tampering with evidence.

The evidence in question was Black's body, which Durst admitted dismembering and dumping in Galveston Bay in a panicked haze after what he claimed was a self-defensive shooting. Jurors found no evidence that the killing was intentional.

The bail jumping charge stems from his flight from Texas after posting a $300,000 bail when he was first arrested for murder.

After his acquittal in November 2003, the trial judge, State District Judge Susan Criss, set his bail on that charge at $1 billion, saying he was a "flight risk." Prosecutors subsequently charged him with evidence tampering, and Criss added an additional $2 billion bond.

The 14th Court of Appeals in Galveston overturned the amounts Tuesday.

"These amounts were so excessive, no one could meet them, not Durst and not any of the bail companies," Justice Wanda Fowler wrote in the majority decision. "This is an example of bail being used as an instrument of oppression."

In their decision to lower bail, the justices noted that "although one of the felonies is based on Durst's attempt to dispose of the body of a man Durst admitted killing in self-defense, Durst is not charged with a violent crime. The offenses involved here are, in essence, victimless crimes."

Even so, the justices said certain conditions justified setting Durst's bail at an amount higher than usual for these types of charges, which tend to range from $25,000 to $100,000.

"Evidence indicates that a bail of approximately $300,000 was not enough to keep Durst in Texas for his trial for murder," Fowler wrote, referring to Durst's 2001 cross-country flight, which ended once police caught him trying to steal a hoagie and bandages from a roadside store in Pennsylvania.

"He is also willing to disguise himself to evade authorities, having done so in the past. These factors support an extremely high bail."

Galveston authorities had no idea just who they were looking for after they linked forensic evidence in Black's apartment to Durst in September 2001.

The eccentric millionaire had been living across the hall from Black in a $300-a-month apartment with no phone or TV, posing as a mute woman.

Durst's family owns the Durst Organization, which possesses skyscrapers and other real estate in New York worth billions.

Durst's name has come up in connection with the mysterious disappearance of his wife, Kathleen, in 1982, and more recently, with the execution-style killing of Los Angeles writer Susan Berman, a longtime friend.

He has not been charged in either case.

Durst's bail conditions also require that he pay for round-the-clock police supervision and that he surrender his passport. He may not leave Galveston or Harris counties or stay out past 7 p.m. without the court's permission.

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