Robert A. Durst, the eccentric member of a New York real estate family whose life has taken a bizarre and twisted path, found himself in a courtroom again this week. After a two-day bench trial, he was found not guilty of trespassing on Thursday at the residences of his brother and other relatives on West 43rd Street.
“I felt like kissing my lawyers,” a small, frail-looking Mr. Durst, 71, said as he left the courtroom. “The judge made the only decision I thought was fair.”
Judge Ann E. Scherzer, in Manhattan Criminal Court, also vacated 13 orders of protection obtained by members of his family, although she noted that Mr. Durst now “on notice” to steer clear of his family’s property.
The charge was relatively minor, but the trial lifted a curtain on a bitter and painful dispute that has roiled one of the city’s most prominent real estate families for nearly a quarter-century.
Members of the Durst family, which owns over a dozen commercial and residential towers on the city’s skyline, are clearly fearful of Robert Durst, instructing security guards at their buildings to be on the lookout for their long-estranged relative.
For Mr. Durst, the charges represented yet another legal challenge for a man whose first wife disappeared in 1982. In 2003, a jury in Texas acquitted him of murder charges in the shooting death of a neighbor, whose body he carved up into pieces he tossed into Galveston Bay.
Mr. Durst has served time in prison for bail-jumping, a parole violation and gun charges. But he said the verdict on Thursday was a vindication.
“I’m not spending my time running around 43rd Street wanting to shoot my brother,” he said outside the courtroom after the verdict, as his lawyers cringed.
His brother Douglas Durst is not so sure.
Although the two brothers have been at odds their entire lives, Douglas became more fearful of his brother in 2001, when Robert was on the run from murder charges in Galveston.
Douglas learned that Robert, while eluding a nationwide search for 45 days, had pulled into the driveway of Douglas’s estate in Katonah, N.Y., with two loaded handguns in his car.
There was no confrontation, and Robert Durst later insisted he was contemplating suicide, not shooting his brother.
During the same period, their younger brother, Thomas, who lives in California, sought round-the-clock protection from Robert.
Robert Durst is the eldest son of Seymour B. Durst, who turned the family’s real estate business into an empire. But before his death in 1995, Seymour Durst turned the company over to Douglas. Robert Durst largely cut off contact with his family and subsequently took $65 million to settle a claim for his share of the family fortune.
The trespassing charges arose from episodes in 2012 and 2013 when Robert Durst walked along 43rd Street, in front of townhouses owned by Douglas and other relatives. No Durst family members testified.
Security guards from the Durst Organization quickly arrived, asking Robert Durst to move away. At one point, he struggled to mount the steps of one of the townhouses and peer through the windows, all of which was captured on security cameras.
Some of Mr. Durst’s friends had insisted that he negotiate a plea on the trespassing charge, rather than risk a maximum of 15 days in jail. He, however, wanted a trial and considered testifying in the case. His lawyers, he said, advised against testifying.
Mr. Durst’s lawyer, Steven M. Rabinowitz, argued in court that the security guards never gave Mr. Durst a clear and specific order to stay away from the Durst homes, including the steps.
His client’s actions were “more consistent with someone just taking a stroll,” Mr. Rabinowitz said, than a deliberate act taken by someone who knows he is not supposed to be there.
He did not say why Mr. Durst chose to “stroll” so far from his home in Harlem, about five miles to the north.
Contrary to statements by his lawyer, Mr. Durst acknowledged in an interview that he knew exactly which houses on 43rd Street were owned by the Durst family. His father, he said, had once put him in charge of those buildings. “I was a disaster doing big deals,” he said. “So Seymour gave me all those buildings to manage.”
Next week, he will be court in Texas to answer charges that he urinated on a cash register and candy stand after picking up a prescription at a local CVS. He said the episode was related to a medical condition. He expects to pay a $500 fine and $147 in restitution to the drugstore.