Robert Durst sentenced to life in prison for murdering Susan Berman to cover up wife's disappearance
Robert Durst, the eccentric real estate scion millionaire, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in the 2000 execution-style killing of his best friend, Susan Berman.
Last month, the 78-year-old Durst was found guilty of first-degree murder, more than 20 years after Berman was found dead inside her Beverly Hills home.
Prosecutors said Durst, now 78, killed Berman, a writer whose father was a Las Vegas mob boss, because she knew too much about the disappearance of his first wife Kathleen, who was last seen alive on January 31, 1982.
Prosecutors alleged Berman was not Durst's only victim, saying he killed both Kathleen and Morris Black, his then-neighbor in Galveston, Texas. Durst was acquitted of Black's murder when he claimed self-defense, saying Black pointed a gun at him and that Black was killed during a struggle for the weapon.
"When Bob Durst killed Kathie, he killed Susan and Morris as well because once that happened, once he did that, there was no turning back," Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Lewin told jurors during the first week of trial.
"Bob Durst is a person who is going to protect and take care of Bob Durst."
Over 100 people testified during the trial, including Durst's estranged brother, Douglas; HBO's The Jinx filmmakers Marc Smerling and Andrew Jarecki; and comedian Laraine Newman, a friend of Berman's.
Durst also testified from a wheelchair and spent 15 days on the stand.
Berman's body was found in the bedroom of her Beverly Hills home around noon on Dec. 24, 2000, after a neighbor reported her dogs were loose. She had been fatally shot in the back of the head. Officers determined there was no forced entry or sign of ransacking or a struggle. Her purse, with her ID and her cash inside, was sitting on the kitchen counter.
During opening statements, Lewin said Berman knew her killer and let him inside. Berman, Lewin said, was a "paranoid New Yorker" who would have never opened her door to a stranger.
"She was murdered by someone she truly trusted," said Lewin.
For decades, Durst denied he was ever in Los Angeles around the time of Berman's slaying. But later, his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, admitted that he was in Los Angeles and had plans to spend the holidays with Berman when he found her dead.
"When Bob showed up and found her dead he panicked," DeGuerin said. "He wrote the anonymous [cadaver] letter so her body would be found, and he ran. He ran away all of his life."
DeGuerin said Durst denied killing Berman.
Durst's trial, which began in March 2020, was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed again in May 2021. There was a brief pause in the trial in June because of Durst's ongoing health issues. His lawyers asked the judge for a mistrial because of his medical condition but the judge denied the request.
First wife's family: 'She was murdered by Robert Durst'
Kathleen's family reacted to Durst's conviction last month in a statement obtained by PEOPLE: "Not a single day goes by that we do not think about our beautiful, smart, and kind sister, Kathleen. Today, more than ever before, it is clear that she was murdered by Robert Durst in Westchester County, New York on January 31, 1982. The evidence is overwhelming.
"Although Durst has now been rightly convicted of killing Susan Berman, who helped him conceal the truth about Kathie's death, the McCormack family is still waiting for justice. Kathie is still waiting for justice.
"The justice system in Los Angeles has finally served the Berman family. It is now time for Westchester to do the same for the McCormack family and charge Durst for the murder of his wife, Kathie, which occurred almost forty years ago.
"They have had interviews, statements, and documents for months. The closing arguments by the Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys should remove any doubt. It's bizarre and unacceptable that Durst was tried for killing an accomplice before being held accountable for Kathie's murder."
The Westchester County District Attorney reopened the disappearance case of Kathie in May.
Kathleen's family had wanted to be present in the courtroom for Durst's sentencing to address him, but their request was denied.
Robert Abrams, the attorney for her siblings, told PEOPLE prior to the sentencing, "My clients wanted to come here and they wanted to confront Durst. The whole case was about Kathie and it is pretty disgusting that they don't get a chance to confront Durst."
Abrams added, "There is absolutely no justice for Kathie's family. He has never been charged or convicted for the murder or disposal of her body. Until he is held accountable in New York this case will continue."
This story originally appeared on people.com