Accused Los Angeles killer Robert Durst appeared briefly in a New Orleans courtroom on Tuesday, shackled and gaunt, as one of his attorneys pressed with no success to have him shipped to the West Coast.
“We’re willing to do whatever we need to do to get him back to California,” attorney William Gibbens said, even offering to pay for his transportation, though Durst would be returning to face a murder charge in the 2000 shooting death of his onetime confidante, Susan Berman.
But in Louisiana he will remain, at least until a judge decides if there is enough probable cause to hold the New York real estate scion, who turns 72 next week, on a pair of gun counts stemming from his March 14 arrest and a search of his Canal Street hotel room.
That decision could come Thursday, barring a move by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office to indict him first.
The decision was delayed last week after a hearing in which three government witnesses failed to show up under subpoena, prompting Orleans Parish Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell to call for a contempt hearing.
In response, U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office this week invoked a federal statute allowing him to remove the contempt case against FBI agents Crystal Bender and William C. Williams to federal court. That case has landed in the hands of U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan.
In the meantime, Durst’s attorneys filed a motion last week asking Cantrell to find no probable cause on the local counts against Durst: possessing a gun as a convicted felon and possessing a firearm with a controlled, dangerous substance. Durst is being held without bail.
Durst’s attorneys have argued that his arrest was improper because authorities did not obtain a search warrant before they entered his hotel room and took an “inventory” of his belongings.
It was only after the FBI found 5 ounces of marijuana and a handgun in his possession that Los Angeles police were encouraged to obtain a formal search warrant, attorney Richard DeGuerin has said.
DeGuerin and Gibbens argued in a court filing that Cannizzaro’s office, in calling no witnesses last week and relying only on “an unauthenticated copy of the arrest warrant,” failed to prove probable cause existed to book Durst on the gun charges.
As prosecutors have “not even attempted to meet this burden, this court should enter a finding of no probable cause and put an end to these tortured proceedings,” the attorneys said.
In response, Cannizzaro’s office argued that the arrest warrant affidavit from a Louisiana state trooper assigned to an FBI task force was sufficient to justify Durst’s arrest on the state gun counts.
Whether the evidence seized from the hotel room can be used at trial is a question for later, separate from whether enough proof of a crime exists to hold Durst, Assistant District Attorney Kyle Daly argued in a response Tuesday.
Separately, the DA’s Office is seeking to rebuff a bid to have Jeanine Pirro, a former Westchester County district attorney and current TV legal commentator, take the witness stand in the case.
Pirro was the investigating attorney when Durst’s wife, Kathleen Durst, disappeared in the early 1980s; Durst has long maintained his innocence in her death.
Pirro, the host of the Fox News show “Justice With Judge Jeanine,” has since remained on Durst’s tail.
His attorneys took aim at her as they won an acquittal for Durst in the 2001 killing of his Texas neighbor, Morris Black. Durst successfully claimed self-defense in that killing despite his dismemberment of Black’s body.
Durst claimed he sliced up Black’s body because he was panicked over Pirro’s pursuit of him in his wife’s death, according to an Associated Press story.
On Tuesday, Cannizzaro’s office filed its opposition to the bid by Durst’s attorneys to subpoena Pirro, calling her testimony irrelevant to the gun charges that Durst faces.
“The effort to subpoena Ms. Pirro is nothing more than a transparent effort by the defendant’s attorneys to take out a battle-tested defense strategy for another test drive,” Assistant District Attorney Christopher Bowman wrote.
Bowman added that Durst is trying to use the probable cause hearing to force his extradition to California. “However, under Louisiana law, defendants, even wealthy ones, do not get to pick which case is tried first,” he wrote.
Deemed a suicide risk by jail staff, Durst was assigned to a state prison facility in St. Gabriel where Orleans Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office sends inmates deemed to have acute mental health problems.
His lawyers dispute that characterization of a man who became the focus of a recent HBO documentary series, “Jinxed,” which probed Durst’s ties to the killings of Berman, his wife and Black.
Durst said nothing in court on Tuesday.
Cantrell postponed any decisions in the case until Thursday.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.