Robert Durst sentenced to life in prison after California murder

Real estate heir convicted of murdering best friend Susan Berman in 2000

New York real estate heir Robert Durst was sentenced on Thursday to life in prison without a chance of parole for the murder of his best friend more than two decades ago.

A Los Angeles County jury found him guilty of shooting Berman, 55, in the back of the head in her Beverly Hills home. The jury also found him guilty of the special circumstances of lying in wait and killing a witness, which carry a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Berman’s death left a permanent hole in the lives of family members who remembered her Thursday for her adventurousness, creativity and deep love and loyalty.

“It has been a daily, soul-consuming and crushing experience,” said Sareb Kaufman, who considered Berman his mother after his father dated her. “I’ve lost everything many times over because of him."

Durst, 78 and in poor health, had spent much of the past four decades evading the law, ever since his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst went missing in New York in 1982.

Los Angeles County prosecutors alleged he killed Berman because she helped provide a false alibi for Durst and he feared she would reveal that to authorities.

Kathie Durst has never been found. Robert Durst has never been charged with a crime related to her disappearance.

But following his conviction in Berman’s death, which relied on evidence that he killed his wife, a New York prosecutor is prepared now to seek charges against him in her death, a person familiar with the matter — but who was not authorised to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation and did so on condition of anonymity — told The Associated Press.

Superior Court Judge Mark Windham, who oversaw the trial, called the case "the most extraordinary trial that I've ever seen or even heard about".

The trial came six years after Durst's apparent confession was aired in the HBO television documentary series The Jinx, in which Durst was caught on a live microphone in the bathroom saying to himself, "What the hell did I do? ... Killed them all, of course."

Kathie McCormack Durst’s family had hoped to present statements to the court on Thursday about their loss, but prosecutors denied the request, according to emails sent to their lawyer.

Attorney Robert Abrams said the McCormack family was disappointed, and he was outraged. He said family members would not attend the sentencing.

“The family is not going to go travel 3,000 miles to be a prop in some Hollywood production and sit there and not be able to make their victim impact statements,” Mr Abrams said. “This is not some movie where it’s gross spectacle. This is their lives, and they’ve suffered for 40 years.”

Durst testified over 15 days during the trial, nine of them under cross-examination. He claimed he discovered Berman's body when he went to visit her but did not call police.

Durst is the grandson of the founder of The Durst Organisation, one of New York City's premier real estate companies. He long ago left the company, which has developed some of Manhattan's signature skyscrapers.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: October 15th 2021, 1:15 PM