Which Robert Durst will show up in court?
Will Durst, 60, cross-dress for the occasion, appearing as mute, flat-chested “Dorothy Ciner,” in a frumpy frock and cheap wig, the lenses of his eyeglasses taped in place?
That’s the identity he adopted when he moved into a $300-a-month Galveston, Texas, apartment across the hall from Morris Black, the volatile, 71-year-old loner he’s accused of butchering and beheading in September 2001.
Or will Durst assume the persona of the wandering weirdo – eyebrows and head shaven clean, features hidden under a wig and fake mustache – who was picked up in November 2001 trying to slip out of a Bethlehem, Pa. grocery store with a filched newspaper, a $5.49 sandwich and a Band-Aid?
That’s how he appeared when he was on the lam – six weeks after posting $300,000 bail and fleeing Texas, where he faced charges for Black’s grisly murder.
Of course, Durst could opt to come to court as a mild-mannered multi-millionaire, sporting a new pair of glasses, a beard and neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper hair, wearing a charcoal-gray sports jacket, dark slacks, and black-and-white Converse basketball sneakers.
That’s how he was turned out in February 2002, when he waived extradition to Texas.
Whatever his look, the oddball New York real-estate heir is certain to surprise at his trial in Galveston this week – especially if he takes the stand in his own defense.
Many legal experts believe his savvy defense team will try to keep him out the witness box because of his history of bizarre, erratic behavior.
But others argue that he has to testify if he’s to convince a jury that he killed Black accidentally and in self-defense – and provide a plausible reason for shooting his neighbor in the head.
That was the scenario that has been acknowledged in open court by his lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin.
Durst is not expected in court today when Judge Susan Criss rules on a defense motion to suppress evidence found in his car and motel room after his arrest in Galveston. But he is scheduled to be on hand tomorrow when jury selection begins.
Galveston police believe Durst killed Black, cut him into pieces and stuffed his body parts in trash bags on Sept. 30, 2001.
That same day, garbage bags containing Black’s torso and arms and legs were found floating in Galveston Bay. His head has not yet been recovered.
Items found in the trash bags led police to the apartment of “Dorothy Ciner,” and a trail of blood led them across the hall to Morris Black’s apartment.
Prosecutors have not yet established a motive for the savage slaying. But a lawyer representing Black’s family suggests that the elderly loner was killed because he was “a cranky old guy who aggravated the wrong psychopath.”
If convicted, Durst faces up to 99 years in prison. And once his trial is over, he could face charges both in New York, where he’s a suspect in the 1982 disappearance of his wife, Kathie, and in Los Angeles, where police are investigating the Christmas Eve 2002 shooting death of his close friend and confidante Susan Berman.
Susan Criss, former prosecutor in Galveston County Criminal District Attorney’s Office; elected to District Court in 1999; daughter of Lloyd Criss, prominent labor lawyer and former Texas legislator.
Dick DeGuerin, flamboyant Houston-based criminal lawyer; early in his 33-year career was associated with famed defense attorney Percy Foreman; former clients include Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh and killer mom Andrea Yates.
Mike Ramsey, high-profile Houston-based criminal lawyer; represents Enron ex-CEO Ken Lay.
Chip Lewis, former Harris County (Houston) assistant district attorney; in private practice as criminal lawyer since 2000.
Robert Hirschhorn, renowned jury selection expert; past cases include 1991 rape trial of Kennedy relative William Kennedy Smith; 1994 murder trial of Branch Davidian sect members; and 1997 Oklahoma City bomb conspiracy trial of Terry Nichols.
Kurt Sistrunk, chief prosecutor in Galveston County’s Criminal District Attorney’s Office, is overseeing the case.
Joel Bennett, one of Sistrunk’s chief assistants, has been handing the prosecution in court.
The evidence against Robert Durst:
- Items found in the trash bags that contained the murder victim Morris Black’s hacked up body – including a drop cloth, a hardware store receipt for trash bags and drop cloth, a newspaper with a mailing label containing Durst’s address, and packaging for a four-inch paring knife.
A bloody four-inch paring knife and a pair of blood-encrusted boots found in Durst’s apartment, traces of blood on his kitchen floor, carpet and apartment door; drops of blood in the hallway leading from Durst’s apartment to Black’s apartment, and evidence that blood had been washed away in Black’s apartment.
A neighbor who reported seeing Durst loading bags into his car earlier on the same day that five trash bags containing Black’s body parts were found floating in Galveston Bay.
A woman who lived near the spot where the trash bags were found who told police a man she believes Durst was the man who asked her if the area was good for night fishing.
Several handguns seized from Durst. Police believe he used one of them to shoot Black in the head.
An ammunition clip – missing one bullet – found in a trash can behind Durst’s four-unit apartment building along with a spent shell casing.