Robert Durst testifies about happy life before wife’s disappearance

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INGLEWOOD, CA – AUGUST 09: Robert Durst, 78, New York real estate scion, takes the stand and testifies in his murder trial answering questions from defense attorney Dick DeGuerin, left, at the Inglewood Courthouse on August 9, 2021 in Inglewood, California. Durst is charged with the 2000 murder of Susan Berman inside her Benedict Canyon home. He testified Monday that he did not kill his best friend Berman. (Photo by Gary Coronado-Pool/Getty Images)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Real estate heir Robert Durst took the stand again at his Los Angeles murder trial to reflect on happy moments in his life in New York with two women prosecutors allege he would later kill.

The jury on Wednesday was shown a 1980 photo of Durst in his late 30s, smiling, with one arm around his wife, Kathie, and another around his best friend Susan Berman. It was taken at a party he threw for the release of Berman’s memoir about her life as a mobster’s daughter in Las Vegas.

Durst, now 78, told the jury that the trio had gotten along famously in the 1970s, at a time when Durst was trying to accept his role in his family’s New York business, his wife was a medical student and Berman was a journalist and fledgling author. But the night of the party didn’t end well.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen Kathie drink so much that she lost control of herself. She fell down and bashed her head,” said Durst, who appeared frail and strained to speak as he sat in a wheelchair instead of the witness chair.

Durst took her to a hospital to get stitches.

“She wanted to go back to the party, with her head half-shaven,” Durst said. “I took her home, and I went back to the party.”

Two years later, Kathie Durst would disappear and later be declared dead, though her body was never found. Prosecutors allege Robert Durst fatally shot Berman in the back of the head in her Beverly Hills home in 2000 because she was about to tell authorities what she knew about his wife’s disappearance.

Durst has never been charged in connection with his wife’s disappearance and has denied having any role in it, but the judge at his trial is allowing prosecutors to present evidence that he killed her as they try to establish his motive in Berman’s slaying.

Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, made the rare and risky move of calling a defendant in a murder trial to the stand on Monday.

His first questions to Durst were: “Did you kill Susan Berman?” and “Do you know who did?” with Durst answering “no” to both.

DeGuerin then took Durst on a long, slow journey through his life story that continued into a second day of testimony Wednesday after a day off Tuesday.

Durst said his marriage was happy in the 1970s except for his firm refusal to become a father.

“I was very, very much against having children,” Durst said. “I did not want to be a daddy. My childhood had been a disaster. I did not want the same thing to happen to my child.”

He said bigger troubles began emerging a few years into the marriage, though he was still happy in the relationship. He said Kathie Durst began using cocaine excessively and that he learned she had been paying a “matrimonial lawyer” from their joint checking account, though they had not talked about divorce.

Durst was arrested on a warrant in Berman’s killing in New Orleans in 2015 on the eve before the final episode of the HBO documentary series “The Jinx” aired. In the series about Durst, he made several seemingly damning statements.

Prosecutors also have been allowed to present evidence from a 2003 Texas case, where DeGuerin first put Durst on the stand. Durst had testified that his Galveston neighbor Morris Black was killed in a struggle after entering his home with a gun.

In that trial, Durst described chopping up and disposing of Black’s body, and the jury acquitted him of murder.

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