Robert Durst’s trial, frozen by pandemic, will move to Inglewood – Daily News



New York real estate scion Robert Durst’s murder trial — on hold for more than two months due to the coronavirus pandemic — is being moved to the Inglewood courthouse, a few miles away from the courthouse where jurors initially began hearing the case, a court spokeswoman said.

Jurors are being instructed to plan on returning to court July 27, but that depends on how Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Windham rules at a hearing set for June 23 on the defense’s motion for a mistrial in the case, according to court spokeswoman Mary Hearn.

In their court filing, Durst’s attorneys contend that a lengthy delay caused by the pandemic has “made it impossible” for Durst to get a fair trial. They wrote that there has been a “prejudicial mid-trial delay” and it is “unrealistic” given the length of the break in the trial to expect jurors to remember the evidence they heard about Susan Berman’s December 2000 shooting death at her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.

The jury had been hearing the case in a courtroom at the Airport courthouse, near Los Angeles International Airport, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced court officials to close the county’s courthouses to all but time-sensitive, essential matters in March.

Moving the trial from the courtroom where it was being heard to a larger one at the Inglewood courthouse will better enable the court to implement social-distancing protocols, according to Hearn.

Prosecutors in Durst’s trial have asked the judge to allow some witnesses to testify through a two-way video conferencing system such as Zoom or Skype to “avoid potential contagion or spread of contagion during air travel” in light of the global pandemic.

“It is our position that given the advanced age of nearly all of the out-of-state witnesses in the case, the directives from the local and federal authorities that such individuals avoid any air travel unless absolutely necessary, as well as for the health and welfare of the jurors, court staff, attorneys, spectators, etc., that the only prudent step is to allow for the contemporaneous two-way video testimony from these older out-of-state witnesses,” prosecutors wrote in their motion.

In a separate motion, prosecutors asked that jurors be allowed to hear the videotaped testimony of the government’s star witness, Nathan “Nick” Chavin, and three other people who live outside of California.

In their court papers, prosecutors wrote that the four are all over 65 years old and are “at higher risk of severe illness or death due to COVID-19” and asked the judge to find that they are unavailable to travel to Southern California to appear before the jury in Durst’s trial.

In their court filing, Durst’s attorneys wrote that “convening a new trial when it is safe to do so” may result in the prosecution’s witnesses being able to travel to Los Angeles to testify in court.

“More specifically, the People’s repeated suggestion that the court resume trial via Zoom video conferencing should be rejected as violative of defendant’s Constitutional rights and utterly impractical,” the defense attorneys wrote in their motion.

Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman after she told him she was going to talk to investigators looking into the still-unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathie.

Durst was acquitted of murder in Texas after testifying that he killed his neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense in September 2001. Los Angeles County prosecutors alleged that Durst was in Galveston, Texas, while posing as a mute woman after authorities launched a new investigation into what had happened to Kathie Durst.

In his opening statement in Durst’s Los Angeles murder trial, the defendant’s lead attorney told jurors that Durst panicked after finding the woman’s body in her home while coming to visit her for the holidays. Durst wrote an anonymous “cadaver note” that was subsequently mailed to Beverly Hills police so her body would be found, attorney Dick DeGuerin said, noting that Durst would testify in his own defense during the trial.

Durst was profiled in a six-part HBO television series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was later recorded saying “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course.”

Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined Kathie’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.

Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers — including an investment in the World Trade Center. He split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle.

According to various media reports, Durst ultimately reached a settlement under which the family paid him $60 million to $65 million.