PACIFIC PALISADES—The defense of Robert Durst, a California millionaire being tried for the murder of his close friend Susan Berman, has contended a mistrial on Friday, May 1. What was intended to be a four to five month trial was suspended after just six days as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
In the case’s most recent motion, the defense asserted it was “unrealistic” to assume the jury would be able to remember the evidence produced in the first six days of the trial, given the length of time between court dates. The last day the jury heard evidence was March 12, making it at least three months between dates. They’ve asked that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham hear their mistrial request.
Defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin, David Chesnoff, Chip Lewis and Donald Re motioned that “The spread of the virus has impacted every imaginable facet of American life, including our criminal justice system. In the present case, the adjournment caused by COVID-19 has made it impossible for the defendant to receive a fair trial. The Constitution therefore demands a mistrial, even if it results in some moderate amount of judicial inefficiency.”
The prosecution filed a motion requesting the judge allow the presentation of videotaped testimonies. The testimonies would come from Nathan “Nick” Chavin, Steven Silverman, Charles Lachman, and retired New York Police Department detective Michael Struk. The four are “at higher risk of severe illness or death due to COVID- 19,” read the motion.
Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman over her knowledge of the truth behind the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathie. Kathie went missing after she asked Berman for a divorce settlement and the case remains unsolved.
In 2001, Durst testified that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense. After parts of Black’s body were found floating in Galveston Bay, Texas, Durst admitted to dismembering the body. He was not charged with dismemberment and acquitted of murder on the basis of self-defense.
In his 2020 trial, DeGuerin, Durst’s lead attorney, said to the jurors that Durst had panicked upon discovery of Berman’s body in her home. He was allegedly visiting her for the holidays. He wrote an anonymous “cadaver note,” then mailed it to the Beverly Hills Police Department. His intent was to have the body found, the defense claimed. “Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did. He did find her body shortly after someone had shot her in the head.”