New York real estate heir Robert Durst pleaded guilty Wednesday to bond-jumping and evidence-tampering in connection with the death and dismemberment of his elderly neighbor.
The plea bargain was accepted hours after an appellate judge removed District Judge Susan Criss from the case amid defense arguments that she was biased. Criss, who had previously rejected a plea deal, presided over Durst’s murder trial in which he was acquitted of intentionally killing 71-year-old Morris Black.
Criss told 11 News afterwards that if she was still on the case, Durst would be going to trial next month.
Durst was sentenced to five years for the two bond-jumping charges and one evidence- tampering charge. Durst, who has been in jail since late 2001, will receive credit for time served.
“That 1,035 days,” said Jackson Smith Jr., a retired Houston appellate judge.
“Yes,” said Durst. “I’ve already done the arithmetic.”
Defense attorneys had argued that state District Judge Susan Criss was biased against Durst. .“This is a fair resolution to this case,” Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said. “Bob Durst is greatly relieved to have this behind him.”
Galveston County District Attorney Kirk Sistrunk said he thought the plea agreement was best for all parties involved and the victim’s sister agreed with it.
“I know it is not a decision that everyone in the county will approve of, but we have to make tough decisions,” he said.
Sistrunk said technically Durst is eligible for parole as of Wednesday, but DeGuerin said he believes the state board of pardons and paroles will force his client to serve out the remainder of the sentence which should amount to about two years. But it’s possible that, with good time, he could be out next spring.
Durst, 61, was found not guilty in November of intentionally killing Black. He has remained jailed in Galveston, however, because he fled the island city shortly after his 2001 arrest.
Durst testified during his trial he accidentally shot Black in September 2001 as they struggled for a gun in Durst’s apartment. A jury acquitted him after more than 26 hours of deliberations spread over five days. He contended he panicked, cut up the body and dumped the pieces in Galveston Bay. Black’s remains, except for his head, were recovered.
Durst left Galveston, about 50 miles southeast of Houston, but returned and was arrested in October 2001. He posted bond and ran again, then was caught a month later in Pennsylvania.
His family runs The Durst Organization, a privately held billion-dollar New York real estate company.
Criss was removed from the case after defense attorneys argued she was biased against Durst, citing her statements after the trial and her decision to set his bond at $3 billion. They said five jurors reported Criss was openly critical of their verdict.
Judge Smith granted a defense motion to remove Criss and said he would take over the case. There was no comment in his ruling, and he declined comment on his decision afterward.
At a hearing before Smith Wednesday, Durst’s attorneys also pointed Criss’ rejection of a plea deal related to the evidence-tampering and bond-jumping cases because it was “too light,” even though prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed on the five-year sentence.
Asked where Durst will live, once he’s free, DeGuerin said, “He won’t be living in Galveston.”