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N.Y. millionaire Durst not guilty of murder

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
GALVESTON, Texas (AP) -- A jury found eccentric New York millionaire Robert Durst innocent Tuesday of murdering an elderly neighbor, whose dismembered body was thrown into Galveston Bay.

Jurors deliberated over five days, following nearly six weeks of testimony, before deciding that the real estate heir did not murder 71-year-old Morris Black, who lived across the hall from him in a low-rent apartment building.

Durst, 60, who is under suspicion in two other killings, testified in his own defense for nearly four days. He insisted that Black was shot accidentally during a struggle, and said that in a panic he then cut up the body. The victim's head has never been found.

Durst appeared stunned when he heard the verdict from state District Judge Susan Criss, standing with his mouth slightly open and his eyes filling with tears. He hugged his attorneys afterward, saying: "Thank you so much."

After the killing in late September 2001, Durst was a fugitive for six weeks until he was caught in Pennsylvania when he tried to shoplift a $5 sandwich even though he had $500 in his pocket.

At defense attorneys' request, jurors considered only a murder charge. They could have asked that jurors consider a lesser charge, such as manslaughter, in addition to murder.

If he had been convicted, Durst could have been received a prison sentence from five to 99 years and a fine of up to $10,000.

Prosecutors called Durst a calculating, cold-blooded killer who shot Black to steal his identity. They said all his actions afterward, including cutting up the body and twice fleeing Galveston, were part of an elaborate plan to hide his guilt.

But defense attorneys contended Black was shot accidentally while the two men struggled for a gun after Durst found his neighbor illegally in his apartment. The defense said prosecutors failed to show jurors any motive for the killing or disprove self-defense.

"Whatever (Durst) did after Morris Black was dead cannot change how Morris Black died," defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said in his closing statement. "You can't convict Bob Durst simply because of that."

District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk said Durst cut up Black's body without hesitation, meticulously cleaned the crime scene, reserved a flight to leave the area and dumped the body but later returned to retrieve the head because it could identify his victim.

"Is it well planned and calculated? You bet it is," Sistrunk said.

Durst moved to Galveston in November 2000 disguised as a woman to escape scrutiny in New York after an investigation was reopened into the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen. He used the name Dorothy Ciner, a childhood friend.

After he jumped bail in Black's killing, Galveston authorities learned he was wanted for questioning in his first wife's disappearance and in the Christmas Eve 2000 shooting death in Los Angeles of a friend, writer Susan Berman, who was set to be questioned about his missing wife.

He met Black while wearing his disguise but later dropped the masquerade and they became friends.

Durst's attorneys said the friendship soured because of the elderly man's increasingly aggressive behavior. Durst and other witnesses testified Black often got into fights and arguments with people.

Neighbors "could hear Morris Black two blocks down the road when he was in his rages," said Debra Monogan, who once lived upstairs from Black in South Carolina.

Prosecutors said Black was abrasive but not violent.

Durst testified that he discovered Black in his apartment on September 28, 2001, and that Black armed himself with a gun Durst had hidden. During a struggle, the weapon fired, hitting Black in the face, he said.

Durst testified he did not recall details about dismembering the body, but when pressed by a prosecutor he said he remembered "a nightmare with blood everywhere."

"I remember like I was looking down on something and I was swimming in blood and I kept spitting up and spitting up and I don't know what is real and I don't know what is not real," Durst said.

He said he preferred not to use the term "murder" to describe Black's death.

"I like dying better. Killed implies like I killed him. I did not kill him," Durst said.

"It was self-defense and an accident," he said.

When he learned police had found some of Black's remains, Durst said he fled to New Orleans with five pounds of marijuana and more than $500,000 in cash.

He returned to Galveston and was arrested. He posted bail and fled, and was captured six weeks later in Pennsylvania when he was caught trying to steal a $5 sandwich and bandages even though he had $500 in his pocket.

Durst's family runs The Durst Organization, a privately held, billion-dollar New York company.

How is it self-defense when you kill someone and then dismember him? What about his wife who disappeared years ago? And his friend, that journalist that was murdered. To me, its a very strange case, with a very strange man.
post #2 of 4

Shooting in self-defense, yes. But dismembering & disposing of the body? I would think not.
post #3 of 4
I think they did the right thing here, because after 5 days, (not 5 hours as sometimes happens in death penalty cases,) they decided the prosecutor had not proved his case, of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, for what he was charged with. From listening to court-tv, I gather that the prosecutors went for the highest charge they could, some form of premeditated murder, instead of giving the jury the option of finding him guilty of an included lesser offense. It sounded like they could not prove the premeditation, and that was an integral part of the charge. If they had gone for manslaughter or whatever else is available in Texas, they might have convicted him, since he had indeed admitted killing the man. One juror also said that 2 different theories abt why he killed the man were presented, and that that troubled them.
post #4 of 4
This may be a slightly different way of looking at this BUT...Do I think he was guilty? Yup, sure do. Do I think the system worked? Yup. Our system is set up so that a guilty man will go free before an innocent man will go to jail. It stinks sometimes(the OJ fiasco comes to mind) but on the whole it works. *Shrug* Yes, sometimes guilty people get off, but I think we can all agree that if God forbid we were ever charged with a crime we didn't commit the cards are stacked in our favor.
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