Robert Durst found guilty of first-degree murder

By Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 8:48 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021
5 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:48 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021

Robert Durst was found guilty of first-degree murder today. Here's what happened in court.

From CNN's Alexandra Meeks and Paul Vercammen

The judge addresses the jury after the verdict was read.
The judge addresses the jury after the verdict was read. (Pool)

A Los Angeles jury found Robert Durst, the notorious subject of the HBO series “The Jinx,” guilty of first-degree murder today for the execution-style killing of his best friend, Susan Berman, more than 20 years ago.

According to the verdict, Durst "intentionally discharged a handgun" and "caused great bodily injury and death to Susan Berman." Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations that Durst killed Berman because she was a witness of a crime and he used a firearm in the murder.

“The jury’s decision demonstrates how our legal system can work to hold accountable people regardless of their wealth and status in life,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “I want to commend our prosecution team and investigators for their diligent work to ultimately bring justice for those who have been waiting more than 20 years.”

Durst was charged with the first-degree murder of Berman in 2000 at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who was last seen in 1982.

McCormack Durst was declared legally dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in the case.

Durst, 78, was not in court to hear the verdict due to recent exposure to Covid-19. He currently remains in isolation after one of his drivers tested positive for the virus, Durst's attorney said.

After the verdict was read in court, jurors were polled individually and asked if they agreed with the verdict. They did.

The judge ordered that jurors' personal identifying information be sealed for privacy and safety. It is up to the jurors if they choose to discuss any deliberations or the verdict.

Judge Mark Windham later thanked the jury for their service, saying, "I'll miss you."

"I am so proud of this group," he told jurors. "This is a group that had no idea — no one had an idea that there would be a pandemic. You knew you were in for long service. No one knew that you would be in for, not only a trial as long as we anticipated, but a 14-month delay before we really got off the ground, so I am amazed and so proud of you for all coming back and then sticking with it."

The 15-week trial resumed last May after an unprecedented 14-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Durst's sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 18.

7:39 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021

Here's what we know about Susan Berman's death and the mysterious murder letter to police

Real estate heir Robert Durst was just found guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of his longtime friend and crime writer Susan Berman.

If you're just reading in, here's what you need to know about the case:

The murder:

  • In December 2000, police found Berman dead in the living room of her Beverly Hills home. Berman had been shot in the head "execution-style," CNN’s Jean Casarez reported.
  • Berman's murder came just days before prosecutors had planned to meet with her about the 1982 disappearance of Robert Durst's wife, Kathleen McCormack. Berman was a longtime friend of Durst and helped him handle his public relations after his wife’s disappearance.
  • Berman had family mafia ties and wrote about them in her books. She was also struggling financially. Although Durst was known for being cheap, prosecutors said he gave Berman large amounts of money in exchange for covering up the disappearance of his wife. They also claimed Durst shot Berman in hopes of silencing her in regard to his wife's case.
  • However, Durst remained adamant that he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance and pled not guilty to the first-degree murder charge for Berman's case.

The letter:

  • Partly due to HBO documentary series "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst," Durst was arrested in 2015 after new evidence surfaced in Berman's case.
  • Police did not find Berman's body on their own in 2000. Instead, they received an anonymous letter on Christmas Eve, one day after Berman's murder, with an address and the word "cadaver" written in capital letters. In the 2015 documentary, Durst said the letter could only have been sent by Berman's killer.
  • Although defense lawyers have previously denied Durst wrote the note and tried to exclude from trial handwriting evidence about it, police handwriting analysis said the writing on that card looked like Durst’s. “You look at the letter, and the handwriting is astonishingly similar,” said Michael Daly, a special correspondent for The Daily Beast.
  • In the documentary, filmmakers confronted Durst with another letter he once mailed Berman, with nearly identical handwriting to the "cadaver" note. In both, Beverly Hills was misspelled as "BEVERLEY." Therefore, in a court filing in late 2019, lawyers for the real estate mogul reversed course and acknowledged that Durst penned the anonymous note. "This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman," attorney Dick DeGuerin said.

Confessions:

  • In a 2017 pretrial hearing, Nathan "Nick" Chavin told the court that Berman told him Durst killed his wife. He also told the court that Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman to keep her quiet. "I had to. It was her or me," Durst said, according to Chavin, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. "I had no choice."
  • One of Berman's friends, Hollywood producer Lynda Obst, said Berman told her that she had played a role in covering up Durst's wife's disappearance, according to cold-case specialist John Lewin. In 1982, when his wife was supposed to arrive at Albert Einstein Medical School, a school official received a call from a woman saying she was McCormack and that she was sick. "Susan Berman disclosed she made the call," Lewin said.

7:34 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021

Robert Durst found guilty of first-degree murder

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

(Pool)
(Pool)

A Los Angeles jury found Robert Durst, the notorious subject of the HBO series “The Jinx,” guilty of first-degree murder for the execution-style killing of his best friend, Susan Berman, more than 20 years ago.

The panel of nine women and three men spent over seven hours deliberating Durst's fate.

About the case: Durst, 78, took the stand in his defense during the sensational trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court. He denied killing Berman and said he found her on the floor of her bedroom with a fatal gunshot to the back of the head.

6:57 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021

Verdict reached in Robert Durst trial

From CNN’s Cheri Mossburg

A Los Angeles County jury deliberating the fate of millionaire Robert Durst, who is accused of killing his best friend Susan Berman more than 20 years ago, has reached a verdict in the case. 

The panel of nine women and three men spent over seven hours deliberating whether Durst is guilty of first- or second-degree murder in Berman's death. 

The 15-week trial resumed last May after an unprecedented 14-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

The verdict will be read shortly.

7:05 p.m. ET, September 17, 2021

Here's a recap of what you need to know about Robert Durst's case

From CNN's Alyssa Kraus

Robert Durst appears in an Inglewood courtroom with his attorneys for closing arguments presented by the prosecution in the murder trial on September 8, in Inglewood, California.
Robert Durst appears in an Inglewood courtroom with his attorneys for closing arguments presented by the prosecution in the murder trial on September 8, in Inglewood, California. (Al Seib/Pool/Getty Images/FILE)

Millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst, the subject of the HBO crime documentary "The Jinx, is on trial for allegedly killing his best friend to stop her from incriminating him in the disappearance of his wife.

Here's everything you need to know about his case:

  • His wife's disappearance: Durst's first wife, Kathleen McCormack, was on her way to medical school in New York when she vanished in 1982. Before her disappearance, McCormack had told her close relatives and friends that her husband had abused her physically during their marriage. However, in a case over a decade later, Durst testified that he "put her on the train in Westchester to go into the city that evening" and never saw her again. Despite a cloud of suspicion over the years, Durst has never been arrested for her disappearance.
  • His friend's death: Susan Berman, a crime writer, was a longtime friend of Durst. Berman, who had helped handle Durst's public relations after his wife's disappearance, had written books about her family's mafia ties and had faced financial troubles. Prosecutors say Durst gave Berman money for covering his wife's disappearance. In 2000, investigators reopened the 1982 disappearance case of Durst's wife and wanted to speak with Berman about it in Los Angeles. Days before the meeting, Berman was found dead in her living room. However, police did not find Berman on their own. An anonymous letter was sent to police with Berman's address and the word "cadaver." A police handwriting analysis said the writing on that card looked like Durst’s, but police didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him at the time. However, in 2015, Durst was eventually accused of killing Berman and was arrested due to evidence from an HBO documentary series. In 2019, Durst's attorneys confirmed he is indeed the author of the anonymous note but still maintained his innocence.
  • His neighbor's murder: In 2001, after the deaths of McCormack and Berman, Durst said he was facing scrutiny. Thus, the millionaire moved to the coastal Texas city of Galveston. There, Durst had gotten into a scuffle with his neighbor, Morris Black, and admitted to shooting and killing him in 2003. While prosecutors said Durst planned Black’s killing to steal his identity, defense attorneys said Black snuck into Durst’s apartment. According to the attorneys, Durst accidentally shot him as both men struggled for a gun. Then, Durst testified that he panicked and decided to cut up Black’s body and throw away the pieces. Though acquitted of murder for self-defense, Durst later served nine months in prison on felony weapons charges stemming from the Texas case.
  • The documentary's impact: Following the last shot for the finale of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx," Durst went into the bathroom, apparently not realizing his microphone was still on. “There it is. You’re caught,” he said. He then rambled a series of seemingly unrelated sentences before saying, “He was right. I was wrong.” Then, he added: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” According to Susan Criss, a former Texas District Court judge, this was the third time Durst had accidentally revealed incriminating information while wearing a microphone. Moreover, Durst's attorney said he believed his client's arrest was deliberately timed to the HBO documentary's finale. Cold-case specialist John Lewin asked Durst why he hadn't fled before the documentary aired, especially after filmmakers confronted him with incriminating evidence. "I guess inertia," Durst replied. "l just didn't really, really, really think that (I) was gonna end up arrested."
  • Recent evidence: Nathan "Nick" Chavin told the court at the 2017 pretrial hearing for Berman's case that Durst was the best man at his wedding. Chavin said Berman admitted to him that Durst killed his wife. He also told the court that Durst confessed to him in 2014 that he killed Berman to keep her quiet. Furthermore, one of Berman's friends, Hollywood producer Lynda Obst, said that Berman told her that she had played a role in covering up Durst's wife's disappearance. In 1982, when Durst's wife went missing, a school official received a call from a woman saying she was McCormack, according to Lewin. The caller said she was sick and wouldn't make it that day. "Susan Berman disclosed she made the call," Lewin said.