Two days before Robert Durst violated parole with a trip to Galveston County last Friday, the New York millionaire had a close, strange encounter with the judge who presided over his sensational murder trial two years ago.

State officials say Houston’s Galleria wasn’t on parolee Durst’s list of approved stops Dec. 14, when he ran across state District Judge Susan Criss of Galveston.

Criss said she was Christmas shopping when she saw a familiar figure coming toward her, a man talking on a cell phone.

“I saw him and thought ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Criss said.

As the two met in the mall, Durst was trying to place her, Criss said.

 
“I know you, I know you,” Criss quoted Durst as saying. “And then he realized who I was, and he dropped his phone and it fell apart.”

In November 2003, a jury in Criss’ court acquitted Durst of murder, even though he admitted cutting up the body of neighbor Morris Black, 71, and tossing the parts into Galveston Bay in garbage bags.

Criss later ordered that Durst be held on a $2 billion bond on bail-jumping and evidence-tam-pering charges. Durst pleaded guilty to those crimes, received a five-year sentence but was credited for time served.

He remains under “superintensive supervision” by a parole officer.

Criss said she didn’t know what to say to Durst, so she said the obvious.

“How ya doing, Bob?” she said. “He said he was doing fine.”

The two then discussed the current activities of attorneys Dick DeGuerin, Mike Ramsey and Chip Lewis, who represented Durst in his murder trial. DeGuerin now represents U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and Ramsey and Lewis are preparing the defense of former Enron Chairman Ken Lay.

“I can’t believe you stopped to talk to me,” Criss quoted Durst as saying.

“What was I going to do?” Criss said. “Run away and scream?”

As the awkward conversation ended, Criss said she started walking away and found herself saying: “Take care of yourself and have a happy holiday.”

Criss said she was not aware of the terms of Durst’s parole.

Word of the encounter filtered through journalists to parole officials who already had arrested Durst on Tuesday on a parole violation for his trip to Galveston. Durst visited the office of a lawyer, a physician’s home and the house in which a struggle between Durst and Black over a pistol resulted in Black’s death in 2001.

Mike Viesca, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said Thursday that Durst was supposed to go only to places to which he had permission from his parole officer to visit. The Galleria was not on Durst’s Dec. 14 list, he said.

Durst remained in the Harris County Jail on Thursday pending a parole revocation hearing expected to be held in January.

Criss said she expects to be subpoenaed to testify at the hearing in Houston.

By Kevin Moran (Houston Chronicle)

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