By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – Real estate heir Robert Durst said in a Los Angeles courtroom on Tuesday that he would lie under oath rather than admit killing someone, but that he had not lied during five days of testimony while on trial for the murder of his friend Susan Berman.
“‘Did you kill Susan Berman?’ is strictly a hypothetical,” Durst, 78, testified from a wheelchair, wearing a county jail uniform. “I did not kill Susan Berman. But if I had, I would lie about it.”
Durst, part of a prominent New York real estate family, is formally charged in Los Angeles County Superior Court with killing Berman, his long-time confidante, in 2000 in her Beverly Hills home.
Los Angeles prosecutors are also arguing Durst killed Berman to help cover up the murder of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, who went missing without a trace nearly 40 years ago in New York. Durst has never been formally charged in relation to his wife’s disappearance.
The Durst story gained fame after he was caught on a hot microphone seemingly admitting that he “killed them all, of course” during the shooting of the 2015 HBO documentary series “The Jinx.”
Prosecutors also contend Durst in 2001 murdered Morris Black, a neighbor during a period of residence in Galveston, because Black had discovered Durst was hiding out there after New York authorities had reopened the probe into his wife’s disappearance. A Texas jury acquitted Durst of murder after Durst testified he killed the man in self-defense.
On Tuesday Durst came under cross-examination from prosecutors for the first time after his defense team had taken the unusual step of having him testify in his own defense.
Defense lawyers on Monday led Durst through testimony in which he admitted chopping up Black’s body and to abandoning Berman’s body after discovering her dead in her home.
Durst said he had left both crime scenes, each time making an initial attempt to call the 911 emergency number before deciding against it.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin opened his cross-examination in a neutral tone, asking Durst how he wished to be addressed. Durst replied, “How about ‘sir’?”
But then Lewin homed in on Durst’s comment under questioning from his own defense lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, that he had lied or changed his story multiple times throughout investigations of the cases involving Berman, Black and his missing wife.
Lewin asked Durst if he would lie under oath to help his own case.
“Yes,” Durst said.
The prosecutor then asked Durst whether he would admit it if he had killed Berman.
“No,” Durst said.
The cross-examination of Durst continues on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)