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Crime Judge denies mistrial motion in Robert Durst case

16:17  24 june  2020
16:17  24 june  2020 Source:   cnn.com

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Elizabeth Espinosa et al. sitting at a table: robert durst trial orig mg_00000000.jpg © Provided by CNN robert durst trial orig mg_00000000.jpg

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge denied a motion for a mistrial Tuesday in the case of Robert Durst, the subject of HBO's "The Jinx" who is accused of murdering his confidante Susan Berman.

Durst's trial was suspended on March 16 after only a few days of witness testimony because of concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Mark Windham, wearing a black face mask to match his black robe, pointed out the defense, asked for the adjournment in March and said, "The motion for a mistrial is denied."

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The trial will resume July 27 in an Inglewood courtroom refurbished to accommodate social distancing requirements.

In a broadcast of the proceedings, Durst lawyer David Chesnoff appeared remotely, and could be heard pleading, "the defendant is not asking for a do-over your honor, just a plain and fresh start."

Chesnoff argued a new panel should be picked citing concerns over the jury accurately recalling prior testimony, jurors being exposed to outside influences during the trial break and coronavirus health concerns for lawyers, the judge, and jurors.

"No amount of precautions can stop a disease without a cure," he later added.

Prosecutor John Lewin, who was in court, replied that the defense's motion "is a do over" and that a "wealthy" Durst and his team will repeatedly file for mistrials.

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"When the pandemic is over, guaranteed we'll get more mistrial motions because they want to start from scratch," Lewin said.

Durst, 77, is confined to a cell in the Twin Towers jail medical unit according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Photos released last summer by the sheriff's department show magazine pages, advertisements and photographs taped to the wall of his cell. There are stacks of books and magazines, with titles ranging from "War and Peace" to The New Yorker.

The unit protects Durst from contact with other inmates and defense attorney Dick DeGuerin says Durst left the cell to go to the hospital at least twice since the recess to address "bowel problems."

Durst's clipboard full of medical procedures includes removal of part of his esophagus as well as a stent placed in his head to drain fluid from his brain. He also had his cervical spine fused.

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He is accused of shooting his close friend, Susan Berman, in the head at her Beverly Hills home on December 23, 2000. He has pleaded not guilty, and he has repeatedly denied killing his best friend.

Berman had been scheduled to speak with police hours after she was killed about the 1982 disappearance of Durst's wife. Berman's body was found one day after she was fatally shot.

Attorneys have said the trial could last four months and the frail defendant will take the witness stand for at least two weeks.

The trial will center on largely circumstantial evidence, including Durst's infamous muttering on the HBO documentary "The Jinx" that he had "killed them all." Jurors are also expected to hear potentially incriminating statements he made during a three-hour interview with Lewin after his arrest in New Orleans.

There is little physical evidence in Berman's nearly 20-year-old unsolved death. There are no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon. One key piece of evidence is the so-called "cadaver" note, a cryptic letter sent to police with Berman's address and the word "cadaver" in caps that led detectives to her body.

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In "The Jinx," Durst said the letter could have been sent only by Berman's killer. Defense lawyers previously denied Durst wrote the note, and they tried to exclude from trial handwriting evidence about it.

But in a court filing late last year, attorneys for the real estate mogul reversed course and acknowledged that Durst penned the anonymous note.

"This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman," Durst's attorney DeGuerin said at the time.

In 2018, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled admissible statements Berman made about allegedly helping Durst build an alibi for the death of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, according to prosecutors.

Susan Berman standing in front of a palm tree: Susan Berman and Robert Durst photographed in the mid-to-late 1990s. © Courtesy Sareb Kaufman/HBO Susan Berman and Robert Durst photographed in the mid-to-late 1990s. Durst has long said he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance in 1982. She was legally declared dead in 2017. Her body has not been found and no one has been charged in that case.

Berman's death is not the first in which Durst has faced trial. In 2003, Durst told police he killed and dismembered a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, two years earlier. He said he shot the man and cut him up in a panic. Prosecutors said he wanted to steal the man's identity and escape the investigation of his wife's disappearance.

Durst testified the killing was in self-defense, that he panicked and decided to cut up Morris Black's body and throw away the pieces. He was acquitted.

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This is interesting!