But Los Angeles prosecutors said Tuesday (March 17) that their capital murder case against the New York real estate scion won’t be adversely affected by the delay — even as an Orleans Parish judge extended Durst’s detention in Louisiana at least into next week.
“That’s in their jurisdiction. He’s been arrested, we filed our case, and we will just wait to see the outcome of whatever he may or may not face in New Orleans,” said Jane Robison, spokeswoman for Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office.
Durst, 71, was arrested Saturday night on the California murder warrant in the front lobby of Canal Street’s J.W. Marriott hotel, where Durst had been staying as a guest.
He has been detained at Orleans Parish Prison, but an appeals court late Tuesday approved Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s request to transfer Durst to a state prison in St. Gabriel citing unspecified medical reasons. A sheriff’s spokesman said the transfer was scheduled for Tuesday night.
Agents that arrested Durst said in a state arrest warrant that they recovered a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver and approximately 5.2 ounces of marijuana from his hotel room. Durst was booked Monday night by Louisiana State Police on accusations of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of possessing the gun in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance.
Gun charges carry stiffer penalty than drug charge
Durst was not charged with marijuana possession, apparently because of the weight of the amount seized and because the potential penalty is stiffer on the gun charge in conjunction with a controlled substance. Conviction on that charge would bring a minimum 5- to 10-year sentence in Louisiana. Felons convicted of gun possession in the state can face 7½-20 years, depending upon the nature of the previous felony conviction.
Orleans Parish prosecutor Mark Burton, speaking at a hearing Tuesday morning before Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell, cited Durst’s previous felony convictions on federal charges of being a fugitive from justice and for transporting a firearm across state lines while under indictment for a felony. Burton also elicited a wry smile and small chuckle from Durst in court, when he twice mispronounced the celebrity defendant’s last name as “Hurst.”
The amount of cash seized from Durst’s hotel room has not been disclosed. But a source familiar with the investigation confirmed that Los Angeles police detectives sought to arrest Durst last weekend out of concern that he was preparing to flee New Orleans to Cuba.
Durst faces a capital murder charge – and possible death penalty – in California. That warrant accuses Durst of the special circumstances of lying in wait and murdering a witness in connection with the shooting death of his former confidante and spokeswoman, writer Susan Berman, whose body was found inside her Beverly Hills home on Dec. 24, 2000.
Attorney: “Durst didn’t kill Susan Berman”
Durst’s attorneys, Houston-based Dick DeGuerin and New Orleans’ Billy Gibbens, said their client hopes to be extradited to California as soon as possible to clear his name.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and doesn’t know who did,” DeGuerin said. “We’re going to contest that warrant here in Louisiana, because of Louisiana authorities determining to file charges against Bob here. … Our position is that we want to have a hearing as quickly as possible, here in Louisiana, to contest the original arrest and all that flowed from it.”
Cantrell already approved an extradition order for Durst on Monday. That started a 30-day clock for California authorities to transport Durst to Los Angeles. But that clock stopped Monday night when the Louisiana gun charges were filed, and remains still until at least March 23, when Durst will be back in Orleans Parish criminal court to determine if a bond will be set on those state accusations.
Burton said the delay was needed to give him time to obtain certified documentation of Durst’s previous felony convictions from other jurisdictions. He said some of those documents are held by courts in Texas, others by federal authorities.
Berman, 55, was slain more than 14 years ago, a few days before a scheduled interview with New York law enforcement officials looking into the still-unsolved disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen Durst, who vanished in 1982.
In 2003, Robert Durst was acquitted of a murder charge related to the 2001 death of a neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston. A Texas jury acquitted Durst, accepting his claim of self-defense, despite his admission that he both shot and dismembered Black, whose head never was found.
HBO documentary laid out cases
All three cases were examined in the six-part documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” which concluded Sunday night on HBO with an apparent admission from Durst. Speaking to himself in a restroom with a microphone that still was live, Durst was heard muttering, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
It remains unclear why Durst was not booked with the Louisiana state weapons charges until two days after his arrest on the California murder warrant. A Louisiana State Police spokeswoman referred that question to the office of Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro. The spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office declined to comment, citing office policy regarding open investigations. The spokesman for the FBI’s New Orleans field office also declined to comment on the case.
DeGuerin on Tuesday told both the judge and reporters outside the courthouse that the California murder warrant was “based on a television show, not on actual facts.”
Robison, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, denied that accusation.
“We don’t file cases lightly, and certainly not capital murder cases,” Robison said. “So, we believe we have enough evidence. And we’ll await for him to come to L.A. for the case.”
The ruling Tuesday allowing for Durst’s transfer out of Orleans Parish Prison wasn’t the first time Gusman sought the authorization. A source familiar with the case, who spoke anonymously because he wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the case, said Gusman first tried unsuccessfully to transfer Durst to the St. Charles Parish jail on Monday night.
The source said the sheriff had concerns about the potential fallout if the high-profile Durst was to be injured inside the notoriously dangerous OPP. The jail is under a court-supervised mandate to improve conditions and solve what federal officials have called serious constitutional violations.
Gusman’s bid Tuesday afternoon to move Durst to the Elayne Hunt Correctional Center was initially denied by Cantrell, but granted by the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal. Durst was transferred 69 miles away to the St. Gabriel prison Tuesday night, according to Gusman spokesman Phil Stelly.