A Los Angeles jury on Friday found New York real estate heir Robert Durst guilty of first-degree murder in the 2000 shooting death of his friend Susan Berman. Her father was a Las Vegas mobster and casino operator.
Durst, 78, is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 18. California has a moratorium on the death penalty. He faces a mandatory life sentence in prison.
Earlier this year, Durst testified in Los Angeles Superior Court that he did not kill Berman. The trial had been delayed more than a year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Friday, Durst was not in the courtroom for the verdict. He was in quarantine after one of his drivers became infected with the coronavirus, according to news accounts.
Durst and Berman had become friends in the 1960s while attending school at UCLA. Berman later served as his media spokesperson in the 1982 disappearance in New York of his wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, known as Kathie.
Berman’s death occurred as she was prepared to speak with authorities about helping Durst cover up his wife’s killing, according to the Associated Press. Kathie Durst’s remains have never been recovered. No one has been arrested or charged in her disappearance. Durst later was acquitted in the Galveston, Texas, killing of a neighbor.
Two days before Christmas in 2000, the 55-year-old Berman had let Durst into her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles. She was shot point-blank in the back of the head.
Prosecutor Habib Balian said one key to Friday’s conviction was the testimony of Nick Chavin, a friend of Berman and Durst, according to CNN. Chavin said Durst told him, “It was her or me. I had no choice.”
“Those nine words sum up the entire case,” Balian said.
‘The Long Saga’
Author and journalist Cathy Scott told Casino.org the verdict was “a good day for justice and a good day for the family and friends of Susan Berman.”
A former Las Vegas Sun reporter, Scott wrote the 2002 book Murder of a Mafia Daughter: The Life and Tragic Death of Susan Berman.
Scott said lead prosecutor John Lewis laid out the case against Durst “with a methodical, believable scenario of how and why Susan was murdered by Durst.”
“Robert Durst’s conviction of murder against his loyal friend Susan Berman puts to bed the long saga that began with a shoddy police investigation along with an influential, powerful, wealthy Durst organization,” Scott told Casino.org.
Bugsy’s Mob Associate
Berman was the only child of David Berman, who had served time in New York’s Sing Sing Correctional Facility for kidnapping.
He moved to Las Vegas in 1944 and, with other mobsters, invested in downtown casinos such as the El Cortez.
The El Cortez established a foothold for mobsters in Las Vegas that would last 40 years,” Jeff Burbank wrote in his 2005 book Las Vegas Babylon. Burbank, a veteran Las Vegas journalist, is the content development specialist at the Mob Museum.
Another investor in the El Cortez was Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, a New York gangster who opened the Flamingo hotel-casino in late 1946 on the desert highway to Los Angeles. That highway now is the casino-packed Las Vegas Strip. Berman’s involvement in Las Vegas casinos included helping run resorts such as the Flamingo and Riviera. He died in June 1957 of a heart attack during an operation. He was 54.
Susan Berman, who wrote the 1981 memoir Easy Street: The True Story of a Gangster’s Daughter, had inherited $5.25 million, but spent the money and died penniless.
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