US tycoon Robert Durst pleads not guilty in LA murder

2016-11-08 14:23
Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during a long-awaited appearance in a courtroom in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian, AP)

Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during a long-awaited appearance in a courtroom in Los Angeles. (Kevork Djansezian, AP)

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Los Angeles - New York real estate tycoon Robert Durst, who was the focus of an acclaimed HBO series, appeared in a Los Angeles court on Monday and pleaded not guilty to killing a friend 16 years ago.

"I did not kill Susan Berman," Durst, 73, who was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair and wearing a neck brace, told the judge.

The real estate scion is charged with the execution-style killing of Berman in December 2000, a day before she was due to be questioned by police who had reopened an investigation into the 1982 disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathie Durst, in New York.

Berman, a Las Vegas mobster's daughter, had acted as a spokesperson for Durst after he became a suspect in the disappearance of his wife, who was in the process of divorcing him.

She was shot in the back of the head at her Benedict Canyon home near Los Angeles on December 23.

‘Confession’

According to the charge sheet, two handwriting experts believe Durst is behind an anonymous letter sent to authorities to alert them to a "cadaver" at Berman's home.

Durst appeared to make an unwitting confession to a number of killings during filming of the six-part HBO television documentary The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.

The series focused on the deaths of Berman and a Texas neighbour, as well as the disappearance of Durst's first wife.

In the final episode Durst was heard muttering to himself, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course," apparently unaware that a wireless microphone remained switched on while he used the bathroom.

"There is it, you're caught," he said at another point. "What a disaster."

Authorities in Los Angeles said the documentary had played a role in their decision to seek the multimillionaire's arrest for Berman's murder.

He was arrested in March 2015, a day before the finale of The Jinx aired, when police found a .38 calibre revolver and dagga in his New Orleans hotel room.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison on a weapons charge and, as part of a plea deal, was transferred last week to Los Angeles from a prison in Louisiana.

Durst's lawyers said they want to go to trial as soon as possible to clear their client of the murder charge, which they said was driven by TV ratings.

The trial, likely to receive widespread coverage, isn't expected to begin for at least a year.

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