Judge OKs early testimony by scared witnesses in Durst case
Los Angeles (AFP) - A judge has agreed to allow two witnesses to be questioned ahead of the murder trial of Robert Durst, accepting prosecutors' claims that the pair fear the real estate tycoon might have them killed.
Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mark Windham said the two witnesses would be questioned on February 14 and their taped testimony could be used at a later hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence for Durst to stand trial.
Of the two witnesses, only one -- Albert Kuperman -- has been identified.
Windham ordered prosecutors to submit to Durst's defense team the identity of the second witness by the end of the month so they could prepare for questioning.
The 73-year-old Durst, who appeared at Friday's hearing in a wheelchair and whose bizarre life was the focus of an HBO series, stands accused of the December 2000 execution-style killing of longtime friend Susan Berman.
Berman was killed just as she was set to be questioned by authorities on the disappearance of Durst's first wife, Kathleen Durst, who vanished in 1982 from the couple's New York cottage.
Kuperman, a doctor who is in his mid-80s, is believed to have spoken with Kathleen Durst around the time she disappeared.
Prosecutors had appealed to the judge to expedite the questioning of Kuperman and the other witness on grounds they feared they "might be killed" ahead of the preliminary hearing on whether Durst should stand trial.
They noted that Durst "is a menace to society" and had a history of violence, including the 2001 death of a neighbor in Texas who was found dismembered.
At the time, Durst was living under an assumed name in Texas and pretended to be a mute woman, prosecutors said. He claimed self-defense and was acquitted after a high-profile trial.
- 'Client not a threat' -
Responding to the filings by prosecutors in Los Angeles, Durst's defense team argued that there was no evidence he could harm anyone. They told the judge that their client same day dentures Union had health problems and his calls in prison were monitored.
Prosecutors told the judge that the taped testimony of the two witnesses would only be used should one of them die or disappear before the case comes to trial.
Durst was arrested in March 2015 in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the final episode of the six-part HBO documentary "The Jinx: The life and Deaths of Robert Durst," which delved into the disappearance of his wife as well as the killing of Berman and the Texas neighbor.
In the documentary's explosive finale, Durst is heard muttering to himself, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course," apparently unaware that a wireless microphone remained switched on while he used the bathroom.
"There is it, you're caught," he said at another point. "What a disaster."
He was sentenced to seven years in prison on a weapons charge following his arrest in New Orleans and, as part of a plea deal, was transferred to Los Angeles in November from a prison in Louisiana.
The real estate scion, who is worth an estimated $100 million, has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Berman.