Robert Durst, the murder suspect and subject of HBO series “The Jinx,”has been moved to a jail where he can be treated for mental illness. The New Orleans Sheriff’s Office said the move to a facility an hour outside of the city came after officials determined the New York real estate heir needed to be placed on suicide watch.
But Durst’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin denied that his client is suicidal Wednesday.
“I just spoke to him and he is in good spirits,” DeGuerin said in a phone interview with the Washington Post. “He believes he’s going to be taken off suicide watch very soon.”
The 71-year-old’s story has dominated the news cycle since Sunday, when less than 24 hours before HBO aired the finale of a documentary series about his life, he was arrested for the 2000 murder of a longtime friend. Susan Berman was shot in the head just before authorities could interview her about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife. Durst has long been a suspect in both women’s deaths, but was never formerly charged until Monday.
The long and steady process of bringing Durst in front of a jury has begun, under the eager watch of a public enamored by the drama of a TV show’s role in bringing about his arrest. His home in Houston, Texas was searched by police Tuesday. Officers were seen removing two large boxes from the 17-story condominium building where he lived. A warrant obtained by the Los Angeles Times said investigators were looking for financial documents, evidence that Durst might have been trying to flee the country or obtain a false identity, and most telling: samples of his handwriting, a key element in his arrest.
A letter Durst wrote to Susan Berman (discovered by “The Jinx”) was in the same handwriting and included the same misspelling of the word “Beverly” as one the assumed killer sent to alert police of Berman’s “cadaver.” The warrant stated that independent forensic examiners working with the Los Angeles Police Department identified Durst as the author of this cadaver note.
The Houston home authorities searched Tuesday is about an hour away from Galveston, Texas, where Durst was acquitted of murder charges in 2003. Durst testified he shot and killed his neighbor Morris Black in self defense, then dismembered the body with a bow saw and dumped it into the bay.
Although his trial in the Berman case will take place in Los Angeles, the jail Durst was moved to late Tuesday is still in Louisiana, the state where the FBI arrested him Saturday. His extradition is being delayed because of local charges against him for a handgun and stash of marijuana found in the New Orleans hotel room where he was staying under a fake name.
Officials who have investigated Durst in the past seem to also be tuned in to what becomes of the man born into one of the richest families in New York.
In California, there has been renewed interest in a possible Durst connection to disappearance of two teenagers — Karen Mitchell, who went missing from Eureka in 1997, and Kristen Modafferi, who vanished while visiting San Francisco that same year, reports the New York Daily News. Durst reportedly lived in the area at the time, and investigators explored a possible connection at the time of his 2003 trial. (Update, March 18: Oakland police have dismissed any Durst connection to the Modafferi case.)
In Galveston, the judge who tried Durst’s first murder trial is repeating to media outlets how relieved she is that Durst is behind bars. “I hope that everyone’s got their act together and nobody drops the ball this time,” Susan Criss told People Magazine.
Meanwhile, Durst is in a cell at Elayn Hunt Correctional Facility in Louisiana, charged with first-degree murder. Although his lawyer believes he does not need to be on suicide watch, DeGuerin said it was “fortuitous” that Durst was moved to the facility. He said the 71-year-old does have some health problems related to recent surgeries, and the jail he is currently residing in has better medical care.
“Now having seen it myself,” DeGuerin said, “It seems like a pretty nice place.”