18th Update: The Life, Times and Crimes of Robert Durst Aug 8, 2017 5:01:30 GMT -5
Post by Graveyardbride on Aug 8, 2017 5:01:30 GMT -5
Friends’ Testimony Unfavorable to Durst
LOS ANGELES – One by one, the prosecutor in the murder case against Robert A. Durst has brought reluctant witnesses to court to obtain testimony in a case that spans the country, 36 years and at least two deaths. But Emily Altman, a longtime friend of Durst’s who took the stand for the second day Wednesday, July 26, was the first who had waged a fierce legal battle to avoid testifying.
The now frail Durst, 74, is charged with shooting a close friend in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home 17 years ago. Prosecutors contend that he shot Susan Berman (above with Durst) to prevent her revealing to the authorities the role she played in helping him cover up the disappearance and murder of his first wife, Kathleen “Kathie” McCormack Durst, in 1982.
Under two days of relentless questioning by Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, Mrs. Altman often could not recall the particulars of what Durst said or did decades ago with respect to either Berman or his former wife. But late Wednesday afternoon, she made a startling revelation: Durst had told her that he was in Los Angeles around the time Berman was murdered in her Benedict Canyon home.
The authorities have long known that Durst flew to San Francisco four days before Berman was killed, however, Durst, who insists he knows nothing about Berman’s murder or what happened to his first wife, has never acknowledged to investigators that he had gone to Los Angeles before returning to New York. According to Mrs. Altman, Durst told her that while he was in Los Angeles, he stayed at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, which was less than three miles from Berman’s home.
The day Berman was murdered, December 23, 2000, the Beverly Hills police were sent an anonymous note alerting them to the presence of a “cadaver” at Berman’s home. Asked whether Durst’s admission that he was in Los Angeles had prompted any suspicions in her mind, Mrs. Altman replied, “No, because she was his best friend.”
Emily Altman is married to Stewart Altman, who grew up with Durst in Scarsdale, a New York suburb. The three have been close friends for decades. Mr. Altman, who is expected to testify August 28, introduced Durst to his first wife (who is presumed dead) and he is godfather to the Altmans’ son, Howard. Mr. Altman, a lawyer, has represented Durst on real estate and civil matters, as well as criminal matters ranging from trespassing to murder. Mrs. Altman is the sole employee of her husband’s Long Island law firm. In an attempt to avoid testifying at what is called a conditional examination in California, the Altmans had argued their conversations with Durst were protected by lawyer-client privilege.
On Dec. 24, 2000, Susan Berman was found dead in her house. Initially, suspicion fell on both her elderly landlady, Delia “Dee” Baskin Schiffer, and manager, Nyle Brenner, But it wasn’t long before the authorities began looking at Durst.
Nevertheless, Durst participated in the making of a 2015 six-part HBO documentary, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. At the end of the final episode, he uttered the words, “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Just hours before the broadcast, Durst was arrested in New Orleans on a murder warrant issued in Los Angeles for killing Susan Berman.
Under California law, a prosecutor can examine witnesses age 65 and older before trial, and the prosecution has brought a series of witnesses to the stand. They also face cross-examination by Durst’s formidable defense team, though it is by no means certain that all, or any, of the testimony will be admissible at trial.
At times, Mrs. Altman wept on the stand and accused Lewin of bullying her. But the questioning continued. On Wednesday, Lewin questioned her extensively concerning conversations she had with Jaclyn Cosgrove about Durst during the past 17 years and attempted to extract from her what she may have revealed in confidence. Repeatedly, the witness said she did not recall what she had said.
In a 2001 article cited by Lewin, Mrs. Altman was quoted as describing Durst as someone incapable of violence: “He’s the most kindhearted person I’ve ever met in my life.” But when Lewin asked whether this was still her opinion, she answered, “Not quite so much.”
But this wasn’t all Emily Altman revealed. She testified that Kathie Durst told her about an affair with a “blues musician.” Mrs. Altman subsequently discussed the matter with Bob Durst, with whom she had been friends for 45 years. She recalled telling Durst, “I think Kathie has been seeing this guy” and suggesting the possibility that Mrs. Durst left her husband to be with the boyfriend.
Durst has denied having anything to do with the disappearance of his wife, whose body has never been located and he has never been charged in her death.
In April, Miriam Barnes, a close friend of Susan Berman’s, testified that one night Berman said, “I’m going to tell you something, but I need you not to ask me any questions. I did something today.” According to Barnes, Berman did not elaborate, but added, “If anything ever happens to me, Bobby did it.”
On the same day Ms. Barnes testified, James Varian, a retired New York police detective, read a report he and his former partner completed after interviewing Anne Doyle – a neighbor who lived near the Dursts in a New York apartment building – concerning the disappearance of Kathie Durst. Mrs. Doyle told the officers that in late 1981, Mrs. Durst, wearing pajamas, climbed out of her own window onto a balcony and knocked at her window, explaining that Durst “beat her and wanted to kill her.”
In February, advertising executive Nick Chavin took the stand and testified that Durst admitted killing his wife and intimated he killed Susan Berman. Chavin was a close friend of both Durst’s and Berman’s and recalled that following a dinner in 2014, he questioned Durst about Susan’s murder and Durst allegedly replied, “It was her or me.” Chavin also claimed that after Kathie Durst’s disappearance, Berman told him, “Bob killed Kathie,” claiming Durst confessed to her and explained his wife’s death had been accidental.
Sources: Jaclyn Cosgrove, Reuters, July 26, 2017; Charles V. Bagli, The New York Times, July 26, 2017; Christine Pelisek, People, April 26, 2017; and Andrew Blankstein and Tracy Connor, NBC, April 25, 2017.