Wealthy US heir cleared of murder

Millionaire US property magnate Robert Durst has been found not guilty of killing and dismembering a neighbour.

Robert Durst, 60, admitted shooting Morris Black dead in 2001, but said he killed the man in self-defence, then panicked and disposed of the body.

Parts of Black’s corpse were later found in Galveston Bay, Texas, but his head was never recovered.

Mr Durst’s family is well known for owning some of New York City’s most prestigious buildings.

Unusual lifestyle

Mr Durst had moved to Galveston in 2000, posing as a mute woman and renting a small apartment in the town.

He had been suspected in the disappearance of his former wife Kathleen more than 20 years ago and had been linked in the press to the execution-style shooting of a friend in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 2000, allegations he has strongly denied.

Following Black’s death in September 2001 Mr Durst jumped bail, but was later apprehended in Pennsylvania after allegedly trying to steal a sandwich, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The prosecution alleged Mr Durst killed Black to steal his identity and use it to evade authorities.

But during his six-week trial, Mr Durst testified in his own defence that he cut up Black’s body with two saws and an axe and threw it into the bay because he feared police would not believe it was an accident.

‘Big struggle’

The jury of eight women and four men took five days to reach the not guilty verdict.

They told journalists that prosecutors had not provided enough firm evidence to dispute Mr Durst’s story that the killing was accidental.

“Based on the evidence that was presented to us there was reasonable doubt,” juror Joanne Gongora said.

“From the very beginning of this trial the defence told us a story and they stuck to their guns all the way through,” juror Chris Lovell added.

“I did not believe everything they said, but every time they told us a story they were consistent in what was said.”

Mr Durst – son of the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst whose company helped redevelop New York’s Times Square – could have served up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

However he is to remain in jail to face charges of jumping bail, for which he could still face 10 years in prison.

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