Millionaire Robert Durst on Tuesday (April 14) pleaded not guilty to gun charges in federal court in New Orleans.
A gaunt-looking Durst struggled to stand as U.S. District Judge Lance Africk called his case. After shuffling to his place beside his attorney, Richard DeGuerin, Durst appeared disoriented during his arraignment, the latest in a flurry of court appearances for the 72-year-old millionaire in recent weeks as he has faced charges in state and federal court.
When Africk asked him for his plea to the the single federal count against him, of possession of a firearm, Durst’s tone was matter-of-fact.
“Not guilty, your honor,” Durst said.
Moments earlier, Assistant U.S Attorney Michael McMahon had read off the maximum sentence for the single count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon– 10 years– and Durst affirmed that he understood. Durst then asked McMahon, “And you are…”
“That’s the prosecutor,” DeGuerin said, prompting a slight nod from Durst.
Africk did not set bond for Durst, noting that a detention hearing on the federal charge was unnecessary because Durst has been held without bond on gun charges now pending in Orleans Parish. McMahon said the government would seek to have Durst detained if the state charges against Durst are dismissed.
Africk set a June 22 trial date for Durst before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan.
“Right now, we’ve got a hearing date in federal court and a hearing date in state court, and we’re working on both cases,” DeGuerin said outside the courthouse. “We’re glad we have dates in court, that’s where we want to be, where we’ve been trying to get.”
Durst also faces murder charges in California, where prosecutors allege he murdered his longtime friend, Susan Berman in 2000.
Durst’s lawyers say he is eager to return to California and stand trial on those charges, and at previous hearing in Louisiana, Durst has waived extradition hearings on the California case and have even offered to pay for his return trip to Los Angeles County.
Instead, Durst has remained in Louisiana since his arrest in March, when FBI agents tracked Durst to the J.W. Marriott hotel on Canal Street. The final episode of a six-part HBO documentary on Durst, and the three murders to which he has been linked over the last three decades, aired the following day.
Inside his room–in a search Durst’s lawyers have said was illegal–agents found a .38-caliber pistol, tens of thousands of dollars in cash, a latex mask and a map showing a route from Florida to Cuba.
The day after his arrest in New Orleans, authorities in Los Angeles charged Durst with the 2000 murder of his friend and occasional spokeswoman, Susan Berman.
A Texas jury in 2003 acquitted Durst of murder charges after admitting he shot and killed his neighbor, Morris Black, apparently believing Durst’s claims that the shooting was in self defense. But Durst did plead guilty to charges of bail jumping and for dismembering Black’s body, felony convictions prosecutors in federal court say made it illegal for Durst to have a firearm.
At present, Durst still faces state charges for having the gun and a small amount of marijuana in his room. Durst, who last week pleaded not guilty to those charges, is scheduled to appear in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court on May 7.
By Andy Grimm (NOLA.com)