New York real estate heir and celebrity murder suspect Robert Durst is scheduled to be re-arraigned next month in federal court in New Orleans, apparently signaling he has agreed to plead guilty to a federal gun charge stemming from a search of his room at the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street in March.
Durst, 72, is slated to enter a new plea Dec. 17 before U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon. The charge was contained in an April 10 federal indictment.
Lead defense attorney Dick DeGuerin declined Monday to confirm a planned guilty plea for Durst, who was the subject of HBO’s documentary series “The Jinx” and who faces a first-degree murder charge in California for the death of a longtime friend and writer, Susan Berman, in 2000.
Instead, DeGuerin read a statement: “Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and doesn’t know who did. From the time of his arrest in New Orleans in March, Bob and his legal team have been eager to get to California so he will finally have the opportunity to prove his innocence.
“We hope to resolve all other charges right away so that Bob can get to California for trial.”
Authorities allege that Durst was on the lam when he was arrested at the New Orleans hotel with a loaded .38-caliber revolver, five ounces of marijuana, a fake ID and tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Durst had checked into the hotel under an alias, “Everette Ward.”
According to court testimony, authorities had been monitoring Durst’s movements from his Houston home during the final weeks of the HBO series, which examined Durst’s possible roles not only in Berman’s killing but also in the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife in New York and a 2001 killing in Texas.
They lost track of him but homed in on the New Orleans hotel after Durst called his voicemail at least twice from a phone there.
The FBI found him at the hotel and escorted him to his room, where, among other things, they found a latex, flesh-colored mask with salt-and-pepper hair.
His attorneys claim authorities were piggybacking off the HBO documentary to claim a high-profile arrest. They vigorously challenged the legality of two searches of the hotel room. They said the FBI did not secure a warrant for the first one and that the second search, for which the Los Angeles police obtained a warrant, had been irreparably “tainted” by the earlier one.
Federal prosecutors argued that investigators had more than enough probable cause to enter Durst’s room, maintaining the FBI acted “in good faith.”
Durst’s expected guilty plea comes after another federal jurist, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, last month refused a plea to suppress evidence from the search.
In a 16-page ruling, Berrigan held that the ultimate issuance of a search warrant in the case “provided an untainted, independent source of the physical evidence.” She said the FBI’s first and arguably “illegal search” of the hotel room did not motivate the LAPD to secure a warrant after the fact.
Berrigan concluded that “the second seizure of the evidence during the legal search pursuant to a search warrant removes any taint from the original seizure.”
Durst faces up to 10 years behind bars on the federal charge of possessing a firearm as a felon, a case built on his 2004 conviction for jumping bail and carrying a weapon across state lines as he tried to flee a murder prosecution in Texas for a killing in which he ultimately was acquitted.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.