Robert Durst Case Draws Attention From Expert Witnesses

Michael Samson

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— Updated on June 23, 2020

Robert Durst Case Draws Attention From Expert Witnesses

Robert Durst Expert WitnessRobert Durst, the millionaire scion of a New York real estate empire, is most famous for being implicated in three murders over the span of three decades. Durst’s first alleged crime dates back to 1982 when his first wife, Kathie,  went missing. Though her body was never found, Kathie Durst was declared legally dead in November 2001.

The second of his alleged murders occurred in December 2000. Susan Berman, a family friend of the Dursts, was found dead; shot in the back of the head. Her death came days before she planned on speaking to police regarding Kathie Durst’s disappearance. The main piece of evidence in the Berman case was an anonymously-written note to the “Beverley [sic] Hills Police,” informing them of a “cadaver” inside Berman’s house. The LAPD considered Durst a possible suspect, but he was not charged.

The LAPD considered Robert Durst as a possible suspect in Berman’s murder, but he was never charged with the crime.

In 2001, Durst moved to Galveston, Texas, where he posed as an old woman under the alias “Dorothy Ciner.”. At this time Durst allegedly committed his third murder by killing his neighbor – an elderly man named Morris Black. Police found a headless torso floating in Galveston Bay and upon investigating the now-missing Mr. Black’s room, they found blood leading to the room of “Dorothy Ciner.”. The apartment also contained bloody boots and a bloody knife. A search of Durst’s car revealed a saw and a gun.

At trial, Durst claimed that he did dismember Black’s body, but that he committed the murder in self-defense. Durst was found not guilty of the murder in November of 2003.

All this led to Durst’s alleged confession, recorded during an interview with documentary filmaker Andrew Jarecki in 2012. While in the bathroom, where he had apparently forgotten about the microphone he was wearing, Durst said “There it is, you’re caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”. This confession would be unexamined until June of 2014, a few months before the Susan Berman murder investigation was reopened.

In addition to his alleged confession, a piece of correspondence written by Durst was discovered during the documentary with handwriting that was nearly identical to that of the Berman letter.

Did Robert Durst write the letter? Handwriting experts weigh in. Bert Baggett appeared on “Legal View with Ashleigh Banfield” and agreed that the notes look alike and thinks it might be his. However, he needs further notes written by Durst to conclude one way or the other. An LA Times article compares a note written by Durst to the anonymous note. Both notes were written in all capitals and the word “Beverly” of Beverly Hills was misspelled.

Sheila Lowe, a handwriting expert, calls the error “very significant.”. Having seen both letters, Lowe thinks there’s a “strong probability” that both letters were written by the same person. But Mark Denbeaux, a law professor at Seton Hall University who has researched handwriting evidence, said he often testifies against its reliability in court. “It’s so bogus,” he said. “It’s sort of like the emperor has no clothes.”. If the LAPD is “trying to look at letters and shapes and say these two letters are written by the same person,” he said, “they have enormous problems.”. Comparing handwriting samples is problematic for several reasons, Denbeaux said, noting that each person’s handwriting is different each time they write. “Every time we all pick up a pen,” he said, “we write differently.”. Investigators had found the analysis of the anonymous note to be inconclusive.

There will also be a search expert brought in with regard to the federal weapon charges. Durst’s lawyers will bring in Don DeGabrielle. He is a former Louisiana and US prosecutor, as well as a former FBI agent. He also served as US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas in Houston from 2006 to 2008. DeGabrielle will opine on “federal law enforcement procedures relative to arrest, inventory and search” in future filings by Durst’s defense team. They seek to have a judge bar evidence seized in a search of Durst’s hotel room. Durst’s lawyers have contended that the initial search of his room was done without a warrant and have sought to have evidence taken in the search deemed impermissible.

What about Mr. Durst’s mindstate? James Garbarino, an author and a professor of psychology who specializes in violence in children, thinks that Durst is not a true psychopath. He further believes that Durst’s behavior is due to childhood trauma; namely witnessing (or so he claims) his mother dying when Robert was 7, and how he remembers the funeral very well (“it never left him”), as well as the dissolution of his first marriage (where he threatened to kill her because he felt “rejected”).


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