Robert Durst‘s preliminary hearing on a state gun arrest ground to a halt Thursday (April 2), after two New Orleans FBI agents and a Louisiana state trooper who were called under subpoena to testify did not appear in court.
Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell ordered the hearing continued until April 9, when the U.S. attorney representing the federal agents must show cause for why they did not appear. Dick DeGuerin, the defense attorney for the multimillionaire real estate heir accused of murder in Los Angeles, said the agents had been served Wednesday with subpoenas to explain the timeline of their arrest and search of Durst’s hotel room March 14 in New Orleans.
“We’re not trying to put these agents in jail,” DeGuerin told the judge. “We just want them here to testify.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Duane Evans said the agents and state trooper assigned to their federal task force were told to disregard the subpoenas until government lawyers had more time to examine the requests.
“Yes, the government instructed these agents not to appear today,” Evans told the judge. “We’re not saying we are not going to honor or will deny the subpoena, but we needed more time to go through the documents. … It may be we say no, but we’re not there yet.”
State prosecutors still have not decided whether to pursue the charges upon which Durst was booked last month by Louisiana State Police. The FBI agents, acting on the behest of Los Angeles police homicide detectives, found Durst in the lobby of the J.W. Marriott on Canal Street, where he had registered under an assumed name. They escorted Durst to his room, where the agents conducted an “inventory” of his belongings, according to testimony last week from Jim O’Hern, an investigator with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office.
That inventory, and a later search authorized by a search warrant, found Durst to be in possession of a loaded .38-caliber revolver, more than 5 ounces of marijuana, a professional-quality latex mask, false identity documents, and a box and envelopes containing more than $161,000, according to police. Los Angeles authorities have said they believed Durst was going on the run after being indicted in California on a capital murder charge in connection with the December 2000 shooting death of his friend, writer Susan Berman.
DeGuerin has argued there was no probable cause for Durst’s arrest at the hotel, nor for what he called the “illegal search” that led to his state arrest. The Louisiana State Police booked Durst with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon, and with possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance. The latter charge carries a mandatory five- to 10-year prison sentence upon conviction, while the felon with a firearm charge could bring a sentence of up to 20 years.
Durst has waived extradition to California, where he could face the death penalty if convicted of killing Berman under special circumstances of lying in wait or killing a potential witness. Durst, who was acquitted of a different murder in Texas in 2003, has been linked to three suspected killings, as outlined in the recent six-part HBO documentary “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.”