Robert Durst held without bond as lawyers argue FBI search was illegal

A Louisiana judge declared Robert Durst a substantial flight risk on Monday, ordering that the millionaire be held without bond to face a weapons charge in New Orleans before being extradited to Los Angeles on a murder charge related to the 2000 death of a longtime friend.

11133736_1571618816451776_6502240551690594726_nDurst was found with a gun, a mask, an ID that listed the name of an alias, Everett Ward, and tens of thousands of dollars on 14 March when FBI agents confronted him in New Orleans at the request of the Los Angeles police department. Durst will now have to wait in a Louisiana prison until 2 April for a preliminary hearing on local weapons and drug charges.

Louisiana prosecutor Mark Burton told Orleans criminal district court judge Harry Cantrell on Monday that Durst, the subject of the HBO documentary series The Jinx, was a flight risk because his fortune allowed him to “ignore the social contract that a reasonable bond would be”.

Because Durst has fled during several prior court cases, even his attorneys recognized that getting the judge to set bail would be unlikely.

“I cannot in good conscience say to the court that the court could, should or would grant bail given the history of this case and the history of Mr Durst,” lead attorney Dick DeGuerin said.

Still, DeGuerin was able to shed significant doubt on the timeline of Durst’s arrest at the Marriot hotel, which may hobble Los Angeles’s case against Durst in the future.

“This was a very good day for us,” DeGuerin said after the hearing.

Durst, 71, has been the subject of the HBO documentary The Jinx, which aired its explosive finale on 15 March, in which Durst can be heard appearing to confess to the murder of his friend, Susan Berman.

FBI agents, at the request of the Los Angeles police department, had gone to the JW Marriott hotel on Canal Street the night before, on 14 March, to arrest Durst in connection with Berman’s murder.

On Monday, Burton said the FBI spotted Durst in the lobby of the hotel and asked for his identification. When Durst was unable to provide it, the agents escorted him to his room and began an inventory of items, eventually finding a gun and several bags of marijuana. He was also found with $44,000 in cash, and a UPS tracking number for a package that contained an additional $117,000 in cash.

The FBI has said it arrested Durst on the fear that he was a flight risk; he was officially charged with murder the next day. His lawyers, led by Texas-based DeGuerin, contented that because Durst’s room was searched prior to a warrant being issued by Los Angeles police, his arrest was illegitimate.

There has long been speculation about Durst’s involvement in the murder or disappearance of at least three people. But it wasn’t until 14 March that Durst was charged in California in connection with the murder of Berman in 2000. Berman was one of Durst’s best friends and became his spokeswoman after investigators began examining Durst’s connection to the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen.

Durst’s court cases have for decades sparked media spectacle, but this came to a high point this year as HBO aired The Jinx, a six-part documentary series on Durst. In the final episode, Durst is interviewed by director Andrew Jarecki, and after leaving the interview can be heard muttering – to himself, in a bathroom into a still-live microphone – what some say amounts to a confession to the murders of his wife, Berman and a 71-year-old man who was Durst’s neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001.

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“What a disaster,” he said. “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst had waived his right to contest his extradition to California to face charges there, but his departure has been delayed as New Orleans authorities pursue their own lesser charges against Durst.

Durst’s lawyers argued last week that he was illegally arrested. DeGuerin said at a press conference that his client’s arrest was “not based on facts. It’s based on ratings”. DeGuerin claims that Durst was interviewed without his lawyers present, despite requesting them, by Los Angeles authorities for hours. And, DeGuerin claims, Louisiana authorities did not issue a warrant for his arrest on weapons and drug charges until hours after Los Angeles authorities issued their warrant.

While Los Angeles police department officials have said that Durst’s arrest had nothing to do with The Jinx, it is unclear what new evidence, if any, has been made available to law enforcement authorities. That has led some to speculate that The Jinx’s producers had delayed showing Durst’s alleged confession to authorities until right before the series finale.

There has also been speculation that Jarecki delayed turning in an envelope with Durst’s handwriting, found in the process of filming The Jinx, that seems to match handwriting from a note written by Berman’s killer. Jarecki last week canceled a series of press interviews, saying it wasn’t appropriate to speak to media as they may be called to testify in court.

It’s unclear how strong a case Los Angeles prosecutors have against Durst. Experts have said Durst’s team of lawyers could argue that Durst’s supposed confession on The Jinx was a joke, or a “reckless statement”. It’s not clear if there’s any new evidence, besides what has been shown in the HBO documentary.

Before appearing in court on Monday, Durst was held in a special medical prison 70 miles from New Orleans, over fears that he might kill himself.

If Durst is tried and convicted on weapons charges here, he could have to serve a full sentence in Louisiana prison before facing extradition to California. Because of Durst’s advanced age, Burton said, those charges amount to a “death sentence”.

(Source)

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