Robert Durst, the New York real estate heir who has come under increasing suspicion for his possible role in as many as three killings, was booked Monday evening in New Orleans on counts of possession of a firearm with a controlled dangerous substance and being a felon in possession of a firearm, a State Police spokeswoman said.
Earlier in the day, Durst waived an extradition hearing after a brief court appearance in New Orleans, agreeing to return to Los Angeles and stand trial in the 2000 killing of writer Susan Berman, his onetime confidante and spokeswoman.
Los Angeles County prosecutors filed a murder charge Monday against Durst in the killing of Berman. The Los Angeles Times said the filing accuses Durst of lying in wait and killing a witness — accusations that would make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.
But the murder proceedings in Los Angeles may have to wait as local prosecutors pursue charges of their own against Durst, apparently stemming from items found in his hotel room after his arrest Saturday.
Trooper Melissa Matey said the “controlled dangerous substance” charge relates to a small amount of marijuana found in his room.
It was not clear what previous felony the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm referenced. Court records released Monday showed the authorities recovered a .38-caliber revolver in Durst’s possession at the time of his arrest.
Addressing a horde of national media who descended upon the Orleans Parish Criminal District Courthouse for the morning extradition hearing, defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said he was frustrated by the specter of local charges, which threaten to delay Durst’s return to California indefinitely. Durst, he said, is “ready to end all the rumor and speculation” and have a trial.
“We want to go to California,” DeGuerin said in an interview. “We’re ready to get it on.”
Durst, 71, appeared in an orange jumpsuit and shackles at a brief court appearance in Magistrate Court. He looked around anxiously and flashed a smile at more than two dozen reporters who had crowded into the courtroom.
Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell quickly signed an extradition order allowing California authorities to take Durst to Los Angeles, where a Superior Court judge on Wednesday signed a warrant for his arrest in Berman’s killing. DeGuerin, however, said the filing of local charges could considerably delay Durst’s return to California.
Durst was taken into custody late Saturday by an FBI task force at the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street.
A filing by Louisiana State Police described Durst as a flight risk who was “believed to be armed and dangerous.”
“Everything has been turned over to FBI Los Angeles,” said Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent.
Durst is being held at Orleans Parish Prison, where he was placed in protective custody. The jail has become known for inmate-on-inmate attacks, and local authorities appeared to be taking no chances in the high-profile case.
“He’s not in the general (prison) population,” said Philip Stelly, an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
DeGuerin complained that Durst had not been receiving his pain medication, which he requires after undergoing neurosurgery.
Durst has become the subject of intense media attention fueled largely by an HBO documentary miniseries — “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst” — that discusses his possible role in three killings, including Berman’s. Berman, a journalist and author, was killed execution-style at her Los Angeles home in December 2000. There was no sign of forced entry to her home. Durst was in California at the time, and authorities in New York had expressed interest in talking to Berman about the disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst, many years earlier.
The documentary series explored Durst’s possible role in the killings of his wife and Berman, as well as a third person, Morris Black, who had been Durst’s neighbor in Galveston, Texas.
Durst admitted killing Black in 2001 but claimed he did so in self-defense, even after he dismembered Black’s body. He was acquitted of murder at a 2003 trial.
In the dramatic final episode of the documentary, which aired Sunday night, Durst could be heard talking to himself off-camera, apparently while using the bathroom. Still wearing his microphone after an interview, he muttered, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
His remarks — considered by some to be a confession, though its admissibility at a trial probably would be vigorously challenged by defense attorneys — came after Durst had been confronted with striking similarities between his handwriting and that of an anonymous letter mailed to police alerting them to a cadaver at Berman’s address shortly after her killing.
The block letters on the anonymous letter appeared to be consistent with the writing on an envelope Durst acknowledged sending Berman years earlier.
Toward the end of Sunday’s episode, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki presented handwriting samples from both items to Durst, asking him to point out which one he had not written. Durst said he could not, even though he denied alerting the police to Berman’s killing and has steadfastly maintained his innocence in her death.
“There it is, you’re caught,” Durst could be heard saying off-camera. “What a disaster.”
Another defense attorney for Durst, Chip Lewis, told The Los Angeles Times that Durst had been in New Orleans for about a week “just hanging out.” He had not been hiding out, Lewis said, but had left Houston amid increasing attention from the news media.
“He was just hanging out, enjoying New Orleans,” Lewis said. “He’s a guy from the hippie generation.”