After coming to suspect Robert Durst in the execution-style slaying of writer Susan Berman, the Los Angeles Police Department was forced to make a swift arrest of the real estate scion because of an HBO miniseries, prosecutors said in court filings on Monday.
Durst was nabbed one day before the final episode of the six-part HBO documentary, “The Jinx,” revealed the eccentric millionaire muttering to himself: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Many interpreted it as a confession to killing his long-vanished wife, a Texas neighbor and Berman, his confidant.
In a court filing, Los Angeles County prosecutors spelled out how the finale of “The Jinx” warranted action. Durst had wealth and a history of fleeing law enforcement, which “made the need to arrest him in New Orleans all the more urgent,” according to court papers filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
“The Jinx’s final episode…was about to become public and [Durst] was about to hear for the first time this extremely damning evidence,” prosecutors wrote of the recording. “Preventing defendant’s flight, holding him accountable for his past actions, and protecting society from the danger he posed, were of the utmost importance.”
The court filing does not say how prosecutors or investigators knew the contents of the final episode before it was aired. “The Jinx” director Andrew Jarecki has previously said his team was “in contact” with police for two years before Durst’s arrest on March 14, 2015.
The justification for apprehending Durst was one of several arguments prosecutors made in response to allegations levied by defense attorneys in court papers filed last week. Durst’s lawyers contend that the heir to a Manhattan real estate fortune was improperly arrested, that his hotel room was unlawfully searched, and that L.A. County Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin conducted an inappropriate jailhouse interview of their client, according to court papers.
They said Durst, now 73, was “frail, afraid and quite disoriented” at the time of the questioning, according to the court papers.
Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin also told The Times he disliked how prosecutors released on Friday the full transcript of the questioning.
“I don’t think it was proper for the prosecution to publicly file evidence, meaning the transcript from Bob’s illegal interrogation, before the judge rules on whether it should be made public,” DeGuerin said in an e-mail.
Prosecutors rejected each of those assertions in Monday’s court filing, noting that a federal judge in Louisiana previously ruled that the search and arrest were lawful. Prosecutors also say the jailhouse interview was proper because Durst had not been formally charged with murder at the time and that he “voluntarily” waived his rights to having an attorney present.
Durst “was lucid, had no trouble processing information, and in no way appeared disoriented,” prosecutors wrote.
The wrangling over Durst’s arrest and subsequent interview is one of many disputes in the case. Durst is charged with murder in the December 2000 execution-style slaying of Berman, his confidant. He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment last month and remains in custody in L.A. County jail.
A court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Los Angeles, where attorneys are expected to spar over whether an independent monitor should be appointed to sift through some of Durst’s property seized last year and separate materials restricted by attorney-client privilege.
Investigators want to examine roughly 60 boxes of personal papers that were stored in the Hudson Valley basement of Durst’s friend Susan Giordano. Some of those papers contain information about litigation involving Durst.
Prosecutors contend that he allowed the film crew of “The Jinx” to riffle through the material to find a deposition of Douglas Durst, his estranged brother, and scan various documents, thus waiving any claim to attorney-client privilege.
Defense lawyers say “The Jinx” filmmakers were authorized only to locate a DVD showing Durst’s brother in a deposition, not to read the entire contents of the papers.
Other disputed evidence that prosecutors want examined by an independent monitor comes from Durst’s New Orleans hotel room and his Houston home.