LOS ANGELES (NewsNation Now) — Robert Durst took the witness stand at his California murder trial on Monday and immediately denied killing his best friend.
“Did you kill Susan Berman?” Durst’s attorney Dick DeGuerin said to open the testimony of the 78-year-old New York real estate heir.
“No,” Durst answered.
“Do you know who did?” DeGuerin asked.
“No,” Durst answered.
Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other ailments that he listed from the stand, wore the brown jail attire he’s had on in court for the past few weeks of the trial. His attorneys said he’s been unable to stand to put on a suit. The judge has denied several requests for delays and a motion for a mistrial because of the health woes.
While sitting in a wheelchair, Durst testified and struggled to hear both the clerk when he was sworn in and DeGuerin as he asked questions, using a tablet that showed a live transcription to help him understand.
Durst also struggled to hear the prosecution’s objections and the judge’s rulings on them, frequently speaking after he was told to stop.
Durst is charged with killing his best friend Susan Berman, who was fatally shot in her home in 2000, just hours before she was supposed to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen, who was last seen in 1982.
He was arrested in 2015, on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” in which he made several seemingly damning statements about the killing.
His trial finally began in early 2020, but the coronavirus forced a pause of more than a year before it resumed in May.
Prosecutors argue Durst shot Berman execution-style to keep her from talking.
Prosecutors claim Durst had confided in Berman about Kathleen’s death, told her it was an accident, and she served as his alibi. Durst says he panicked and ran after discovering Berman’s body but says he didn’t kill her.
Durst was asked a series of questions about his deteriorating health followed then by questions about his childhood – and that’s where things began to go downhill. He rambled through the answers, often going into long narratives unrelated to what was being asked. That lead to multiple objections.
Straining to speak in a soft, frail voice, Durst described seeing “mommy on the roof” the night she fell to her death from his family home when he was 7 years old.
He said he didn’t know whether she jumped or fell. He said a miserable childhood followed.
“I kept begging my father to move,” Durst said, “but he never sold the house where his wife died.”
Asked if he ran away from camp and ran away from school, Durst answered, “I ran away from everywhere.”
His lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to end the trial because of Durst’s health, but judges rejected those requests.
Durst’s testimony is expected to last several days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.