Following a six-week flight from authorities and nearly two years in jail, a cross-dressing New York real estate heir is going before a jury to face charges that he killed and dismembered a neighbor.
Opening statements in Robert Durst’s murder trial were scheduled for Monday.
Durst, 60, is accused of killing his 71-year-old neighbor, Morris Black, then dismembering the body and throwing it into Galveston Bay in September 2001.
Durst, who lived in Galveston as a mute woman, was arrested after parts of Black’s body washed ashore. He posted $300,000 bond, then fled. Six weeks later, he was arrested trying to shoplift a $5.99 sandwich and bandages from a grocery store near Bethlehem, Pa. He had $500 in his pocket.
Durst has pleaded innocent by reason of self-defense and accident. If convicted, Durst could face from five to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
A gag order has prevented any of the trial participants from commenting on the case.
Before opening statements, the prosecution and defense discussed 36 hours of recorded telephone calls Durst made from a Pennsylvania prison after his shoplifting arrest.
State District Judge Susan Criss ruled Monday morning that prosecutors may review recordings of telephone calls between Durst and his wife, Deborah Charatan, while he was awaiting extradition to Texas from Pennsylvania.
However, the judge did not immediately clear those recordings for use as evidence. She excluded recordings involving conversations with attorneys. Defense attorneys wanted all the recordings suppressed.
The question is what portion of the recordings could be introduced into evidence.
Opening statements were delayed last week to give attorneys time to review the recordings, which were only received last week by prosecutors.
Galveston authorities didn’t discover Durst’s true identity until he jumped bail in Texas. They also learned he was wanted for questioning in the unsolved disappearance of his former wife, Kathleen, 21 years ago in New York and the unsolved Christmas Eve 2000 shooting death of a friend in Los Angeles, who was set to be questioned about his missing wife.
Durst is the son of New York skyscraper tycoon Seymour Durst.