Robert A. Durst’s legal problems did not end with his acquittal Tuesday in Galveston, Tex., on charges of killing a 71-year-old retired merchant seaman. But the verdict did seem to fuel the fears of people who know him, including his brothers and the woman he was dating in 1982 when his first wife mysteriously vanished.
The prosecutor who Mr. Durst’s lawyers claim is responsible for hounding the real estate heir out of New York three years ago, Jeanine F. Pirro, said yesterday that she was pursuing the investigation into the disappearance of Mr. Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, 21 years ago and Mr. Durst’s role in that case.
For three years, Mrs. Pirro has had a team of investigators interviewing witnesses, combing through records and uncovering what investigators say are discrepancies in Mr. Durst’s account of his last moments with his wife.
”We continue to remain interested in the mysterious disappearance of Kathleen Durst, a fourth-year medical student who had every reason to live,” Mrs. Pirro said yesterday.
”We accept the verdict,” she said. ”It certainly is a surprise.”
Mr. Durst, 60, testified that he moved to Galveston because he feared Mrs. Pirro would indict him to advance her political career.
For now, he remains in jail in Galveston, where he still faces charges of bail jumping, a felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison if he is found guilty.
While Mr. Durst’s lawyers believe they can work out a deal that would put their client back on the street, detectives involved in murder investigations in both New York and California want to interview him. And his brothers, a former lover and friends of his missing first wife fear that he may seek revenge.
According to people who know them, Mr. Durst’s brothers remain concerned about Robert’s intentions toward them. His brother Douglas, who runs the family’s real estate empire, hired security guards to protect his Westchester home in November 2001, after Robert jumped bail in Galveston and became a fugitive. It did not help matters that while he was on the run he pulled into the driveway of Douglas Durst’s estate with two loaded handguns in his car.
His youngest brother, Thomas, who lives in California, asked the local police for around-the-clock protection while his brother was the subject of a nationwide manhunt, according to one person who knows him. Thomas Durst was also on the witness list for the prosecution in Galveston, though he never testified.
Prudence Farrow, who had been dating Mr. Durst when his first wife disappeared, is also said to be nervous that Mr. Durst may come looking for her. She has told investigators he grew furious with her when she tried to break off their relationship, only days before she discovered that Kathleen Durst had vanished, according to a friend who also spoke with investigators. Ms. Farrow, the sister of the actress Mia Farrow, is the inspiration for the Beatles’ song, ”Dear Prudence.”
Detectives in Los Angeles still want to interview Mr. Durst in the slaying of his longtime friend Susan Berman. New York investigators had hoped to talk to Ms. Berman, who served as an informal spokeswoman for her friend when Kathleen Durst disappeared.
Los Angeles detectives have run a ballistics test on one of Mr. Durst’s handguns, a 9-millimeter pistol, the same caliber weapon used to shoot Ms. Berman in the back of the head in December 2000. The test proved inconclusive, according to a law enforcement official, but detectives also obtained a handwriting sample from Mr. Durst last summer, which, the official said, matched a note sent to the Beverly Hills police alerting them to a ”cadaver” at Ms. Berman’s home. The police have not released results of either test, although the note was written in green ink, the color favored by Mr. Durst, who they believe was in Los Angeles at the time of Ms. Berman’s death.
But it is the unsolved disappearance of Kathleen Durst that is so close to the surface for many of her friends and family. Eleanor Joy Schwank, a friend and former classmate of Kathleen Durst, said she was feeling both angry and helpless about what happened in Galveston and New York.
”I would love to see Jeanine Pirro pick it up at this time and go forth with any possible indictment she might have against Bob,” she said.
Tucker Graves, a Houston defense lawyer who has been following the Durst case, said that Mr. Durst was still in legal danger in New York, Los Angeles and Galveston. ”I don’t think Durst is out of the woods,” he said, ”The guy has a history of people around him disappearing. I think any prosecutor may take a look at that with a more critical eye.”
Mr. Graves also said that the bail-jumping case was ”a slam-dunk for the prosecution” because the prosecution simply has to prove that the defendant did not show up in court.
”The question,” he said, ”is whether they’ll take it to trial or not. I highly doubt it. I expect they’ll work some sort of plea bargain.”
Dick DeGuerin, one of Mr. Durst’s lawyers, said: ”It’s too soon to approach that question without a lot of emotion. But Bob understands he faces that charge. He’s not going to run away anymore.”
Another one of his lawyers, Mike Ramsey, described the plan for the near future: ”to let the fever get out of the wound, then go down and see if we can negotiate some settlement acceptable to both sides.”
By Charles V. Bagli & Tina Kelley (NY Times)