Lawyers for Robert Durst plan to challenge handwriting analysis that links the millionaire murder suspect to the so-called “cadaver” note that alerted police to the death of a friend of Durst in 2000, records in federal court in New Orleans indicate.
The two-line note, addressed to police in “[Beverley] Hills” (sic) and postmarked the day Susan Berman was shot dead in her home, has been trouble for Durst: the block-letter script looks like the scrawl Durst used in a note to Berman and other correspondence.
At least that was the conclusion of police handwriting experts, as well as the producers of “The Jinx,” a six-part HBO documentary about the eccentric Durst and his connections to Berman’s death, the disappearance of his wife and the killing of his neighbor in Texas.
Durst was arrested in New Orleans the night before the episode aired, and a search of his room turned up a .38 revolver, cash and marijuana. Durst, who has been charged in Los Angeles with Berman’s murder, has remained in jail in Louisiana on a federal gun charge.
Durst has been barred from owning a handgun since he pleaded guilty to felony charges in connection with the fatal shooting of his neighbor, Morris Black. Durst was acquitted of murdering Black, but pleaded guilty to bail-jumping. His legal team has been trying to have evidence turned up in the search of his hotel room, including the loaded .38 pistol, thrown out.
His lawyers Tuesday filed a motion to get copies of several reports, including one from a California handwriting expert, who said in 2001 that the note was written by Berman’s friend and manager, Nyle Brenner. Two years later, the same handwriting analyst compared the note with Durst’s penmanship, and said it was “probable” that Durst was the note’s author.
“These shifting results highlight the highly subjective nature of handwriting analysis,” Durst’s lawyers wrote, claiming that showing the “inherent subjectivity and unreliability” of handwriting analysis undermines the probable cause for the warrants that authorized Durst’s arrest and the search of his hotel room.
The cadaver note provided much of the dramatic tension in the “Jinx” finale. Producer Andrew Jarecki confronted Durst with copies of a note he wrote to Berman and the anonymous letter sent to police, alerting them to the presence of a “cadaver” at Berman’s address.
Asked to compare the handwriting, and the misspelling of Beverly Hills– “Beverely” — on both envelopes, Durst noted the similarities but denied writing the cadaver note.
“What I see as the similarity is, really, the misspelling in the ‘Beverly.’ Other than that, the block letters are block letters,” Durst said. “I mean, it’s almost like a typed thing. With two typewriters, it’s going to look the same.”
The exchange lead up to the final episode’s climactic scene. The interview ends with Durst heading to the bathroom while still wearing a microphone. Talking to himself on the live microphone, Durst voiced what sounded to some like a confession, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course” — a statement that also was noted in several warrants.
Durst’s attorneys New Orleans-based attorney, Billy Gibbens, declined comment Wednesday.
By Andy Grimm (nola.com)