A judge has set a June trial date in the federal firearms case against Robert Durst, the eccentric millionaire and accused killer who has been detained in Louisiana for a month.
The proceedings against Durst, a New York real estate heir charged with murder in Los Angeles, shifted Tuesday from state to federal court in New Orleans, where Durst pleaded not guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Durst, 72, faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted.
U.S. District Judge Lance Africk set a tentative trial date of June 22 before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan. He said a bond hearing wasn’t necessary because Durst remains in state custody on similar charges for which he has been denied bail.
Wearing a familiar prison jumpsuit, Durst seemed more alert than he did at a similar arraignment last week in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court.
One of his defense attorneys, Dick DeGuerin, of Houston, told Africk his client struggled to hear out of his left ear. Durst, however, appeared to have no problem understanding Africk, telling the judge that it wasn’t necessary for him to read aloud his one-count indictment.
The federal prosecution, like the state charges, stems from a loaded handgun and marijuana that authorities found in Durst’s New Orleans hotel room last month. Prosecutors have said Durst came to New Orleans to flee murder allegations in California and may even have been preparing to leave the country. He’s charged in Los Angeles in the 2000 fatal shooting of Susan Berman, a former friend.
Law enforcement officials had been tracing Durst’s movements through his cellphone and located him at the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street after he placed a call to his voice mail. Authorities said Durst had checked into the hotel under an alias, carrying tens of thousands of dollars in cash, a map of Cuba and a latex mask with salt-and-pepper hair.
The state and federal charges here have postponed Durst’s return to Los Angeles indefinitely, even though he hasn’t fought extradition. Durst’s attorneys repeatedly have said they are eager to return to California to fight the murder charges, a case they say relies too heavily on a sensational HBO miniseries that culminated in an alleged confession from Durst captured on a body microphone. The documentary, “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” examined the Berman case as well as Durst’s possible connection to the 1982 disappearance of his wife, who is presumed to be dead.
Durst previously was acquitted of murder in the killing of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas. He maintained he acted in self-defense in that case.
Durst’s next hearing is scheduled for May 7 in Criminal District Court.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.