Federal prosecutors want to a judge to end attempts by Robert Durst’s lawyers to question FBI agents who found a loaded gun and drugs during a search of the millionaire’s New Orleans hotel room last month, according documents filed Wednesday (April 15).
The motion by the U.S. Attorney’s office comes after contempt of court hearings involving the two FBI agents and a state trooper on a federal task force were transferred from state court into federal court by prosecutors two weeks ago. Durst’s lawyers had been trying to have an Orleans Parish judge throw out the evidence recovered in the search, which led to Durst’s arrest on gun charges.
The move by the government to end those hearings was widely anticipated after the jurisdiction change, and Durst’s lawyers are unlikely to see any law enforcement officer testify about the subpoenas, said New Orleans lawyer Joe Raspanti, a former Orleans Parish prosecutor.
“It is very difficult to for anybody to call an FBI agent on the stand in federal court,” Raspanti said. “I don’t think you’ll see it here.”
Durst has pleaded not guilty in both Orleans Parish and federal court to gun charges filed in connection with the search, and faces murder charges in California in the 2000 execution-style shooting of his close friend, Susan Berman.
Durst’s lawyers had subpoenaed the agents, who arrested the 72-year-old after they recovered marijuana and a loaded .38-caliber revolver in a March 14 search of Durst’s room at the J.W. Marriott hotel.
Durst’s arrest came the night before the final episode of an HBO documentary was set to air. Agents had tracked Durst to the Canal Street hotel at the request of authorities in Los Angeles who believed Durst was preparing to flee the country.
Durst’s lawyers have claimed his arrest and the search of his room were illegal. When the agents didn’t show for a hearing on the search in Orleans Parish Criminal Court two weeks ago, Durst’s lawyers asked the judge to hold them in contempt of court.
The next week, Durst was formally charged with gun possession charges in both Orleans Parish and federal court, and federal prosecutors had hearings on the contempt of court motion and subpoenas transferred out out Orleans Parish into federal court.
On Wednesday, in move that was widely anticipated once the case moved into federal court, prosecutors filed a motion to quash all further proceedings on the subpoenas, in state or federal court.
The motion claims the subpoenas issued by the state court are not valid in federal proceedings, and lists at least eight other cases decided in federal district court in New Orleans in which state subpoenas against federal officers had been dismissed.
Durst faces a 10-year sentence if convicted of the federal charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Durst in 2004 was convicted of evidence tampering and bail jumping charges after he was acquitted of murder charges after fatally shooting, then dismembering, his elderly neighbor in 2003. Those felony convictions, prosecutors say, make it illegal for Durst to have a handgun, such as the loaded pistol the agents found in his hotel room on March 14.
“If (Durst’s lawyers) can’t win the motion to suppress the evidence found in that search, it puts them in a much worse position to be successful beat the charges,” Raspanti said.
By Andy Grimm (NOLA.com)