Robert Durst’s state weapons case was dropped Thursday (April 23), as Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office decided not to prosecute charges that had been pursued for more than a month.
Assistant District Attorneys Laura Rodrigue and Robert Freeman filed the decision in Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich’s section. Rodrigue told the judge the decision was made in deference to a federal gun case in New Orleans against Durst, but declined further comment.
The state reserved the right to reinstitute the case anytime within the six-year statute of limitations on the charges, but Rodrigue told the judge, “The case is now closed, as far as the state charges are concerned.”
Durst, the wealthy New York real estate heir suspected in a 15-year-old California murder, has been jailed in Louisiana since his March 14 arrest at the Canal Street J.W. Marriott. Federal agents who detained Durst at the behest of Los Angeles homicide detectives said they found a loaded gun and more than 5 ounces of marijuana in Durst’s hotel room, which led to New Orleans grand jury indictments in both state and federal court.
The federal case, charging Durst with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon, remains intact. The 72-year-old Durst faces a 10-year sentence in that case, scheduled to go to trial on Sept. 22. Durst was indicted April 10 in federal court and pleaded not guilty April 14.
But the state case, in which Durst was charged with illegal possession of a firearm by a felon and illegal possession of a firearm in the presence of a controlled dangerous substance, is over before its next scheduled hearing on May 7. Durst was indicted by the Orleans Parish grand jury on April 8.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman, spokesman for Cannizzaro’s office, said the decision was reached in concert with the office of U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite.
“It has always been a priority of District Attorney Cannizzaro to maintain a close working relationship with our federal law enforcement partners,” Bowman said. “Working in conjunction with the United States Attorney’s Office, it was determined that the Durst matter would be prosecuted in federal court. Accordingly, this morning, the district attorney’s office dismissed the pending state charges.”
But he said the office “specifically reserved our right to look at those charges again upon conclusion of Durst’s case in federal court.”
Durst’s lead defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said by telephone from his Houston office that he welcomed the decision.
“It means we’re not fighting on two fronts,” DeGuerin said. “It makes sense that the federal prosecutors are taking the lead in this. After all, it was the FBI that arrested him in the first place.”
Durst is prohibited from possessing a firearm since two federal felony convictions in Pennsylvania were recorded on Oct. 25, 2004. Durst was found guilty in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on charges of possessing a firearm while under indictment and possessing a firearm while a fugitive from justice. At the time of his Pennsylvania arrest, authorities said Durst was on the run after jumping bail in a Texas murder case for which he was acquitted in 2003.
Durst, painted as a flight risk by prosecutors because of his $100 million fortune and history of bail-jumping, has been held without bond on the Louisiana gun charges. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon said earlier this month in federal court that the government would seek to have Durst detained if the state charges were dismissed.
“We’re looking forward to our day in federal court in New Orleans,” DeGuerin said Thursday.
Zibilich ordered that all evidence in the case under the district attorney’s custody be secured. Durst’s attorneys had a motion pending in state court to examine the evidence, which now will be transferred to federal authorities. DeGuerin said he could not comment on that matter until receiving a copy of Zibilich’s court order.
The federal gun case has put an indefinite hold on Durst’s extradition to California, where Los Angeles police are waiting to book him with first-degree murder in the 2000 shooting death of writer Susan Berman.
Durst’s links to three suspected murders most recently were outlined in the HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.” Through DeGuerin, Durst has denied responsibility for Berman’s death.
In 2003, DeGuerin helped Durst win acquittal by a Texas jury on a charge that he murdered his Galveston neighbor, Morris Black, two years earlier.
Durst admitted to shooting Black and dismembering his body, most of which later washed up inside trash bags in Galveston Bay. Durst was acquitted after asserting that he shot Black in self-defense. Black’s head never was recovered.
Durst also has been suspected in the still-unsolved disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen Durst, who vanished from the couple’s New York estate in 1982.
By Ken Daley (NOLA.com)