Robert Durst: how a murderer’s death keeps his victims from finding closure
California law mandates that his conviction will be vacated and the charges over the murder of his missing first wife will be dismissed
In the final months of Robert Durst’s life, it seemed as if the walls were at last closing in on the disgraced multimillionaire and real estate heir. He was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a longtime friend in September, and shortly after, New York officials charged him with the murder of his missing first wife.
But his death in a California hospital on Monday has upended the cases against the 78-year-old. The murder case over the death of his ex-wife Kathleen McCormack Durst will come to a halt and, thanks to a legal technicality, the murder conviction for the killing of his friend Susan Berman will soon be voided.
Authorities believe Durst was behind three killings in three states over four decades, as highlighted in the 2015 HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst.
But despite a jury finding Durst guilty last fall of murdering Berman, a friend and confidante, California law mandates that if a defendant dies while a case is under appeal, as is the situation with Durst’s case, then the conviction is vacated, said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor not involved with the case.
“As the law is right now, Durst’s conviction will be vacated and it’s like it never happened,” Rahmani said. “This is such a unique case. It’s really unprecedented that someone can be involved in three different murders in three states and escape justice.”
Meanwhile, the case against Durst over his wife’s death can no longer proceed, because officials cannot prosecute a dead man. That means those charges against Durst will have to be dismissed, Rahmani said.
“After 40 years spent seeking justice for her death, I know how upsetting this news must be for Kathleen Durst’s family,” the Westchester county district attorney, Mimi Rocah, said in a statement. “We had hoped to allow them the opportunity to see Mr Durst finally face charges for Kathleen’s murder because we know that all families never stop wanting closure, justice and accountability.”
Durst was convicted of murdering Berman in September 2020. Prosecutors say he shot her at point-blank range in her home to prevent her from telling police what she knew about McCormack’s disappearance. At the trial Berman, a journalist, was described as an “an extraordinary human being” and loyal friend who cared deeply for others.
“It’s a shame when anybody loses their life, however, it’s important to keep in mind that Bob Durst lived to be 78 years old, decades longer than two of his victims,” said John Lewin, the LA county deputy district attorney who prosecuted Durst for Berman’s murder, in a statement. “To the end he was hostile, unrepentant, and unremorseful. My thoughts and sympathies lie with his victims.”
At the time of his death, New York prosecutors were preparing to request Durst be transferred to the state to face charges in the death of his ex-wife McCormack, who disappeared in 1982 and whose body was never found.
The DA’s office plans to share more information about theMcCormack case at a press conference in the coming days, Rocah said.
Until last year, Durst, who denied killing McCormack, had never been charged in connection with her disappearance despite multiple efforts to close the case over the decades. Authorities reopened the case in 1999, searching a lake and the couple’s home. McCormack’s family has been critical of officials for not acting sooner.
A lawyer for McCormack’s family has said the investigation into the case is ongoing.
“Although Robert Durst has died, the ongoing investigation into those who helped him cover up her murder continues. On January 31, 2022, the 40th anniversary of Kathie’s murder, we will provide a further update. In the interim, please say a prayer for Kathie and his other victims,” said Robert Abrams.
At the time she disappeared, McCormack was a medical student, who was preparing to become a pediatrician. Her family says Durst was abusive, and that McCormack had previously required treatment in a hospital for injuries he caused.
Authorities sought to put Durst behind bars for years for his role in crimes that officials believe date back to the disappearance and probable murder of McCormack.
Rocah reopened the case in May, shortly after she took office as the district attorney. But the Westchester county district attorney’s office has long faced criticism for waiting so long to file charges against Durst for McCormack’s killing, Rahmani added.
“No one was willing to prosecute and try the case. Unfortunately, because of this long delay Kathie Durst and her family will never receive the criminal justice that she deserves,” Rahmani said.
The Jinx, which thrust the multimillionaire into the spotlight, chronicled McCormack’s disappearance, Berman’s murder and the 2001 death of Durst’s neighbor, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, where Durst was hiding out while disguised as a deaf-mute woman. He was arrested for Berman’s murder on the eve of the airing of the last episode of the series, in which Durst appeared to confess to the killings, saying to himself, “What the hell did I do? … Killed them all, of course.”
Durst avoided a murder conviction for the death of Black, but spent three years in prison for related charges, including evidence tampering for dismembering Black’s body.
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