An Orleans Parish grand jury on Wednesday indicted Robert Durst, the eccentric millionaire accused of murder in Los Angeles, on local firearm and drug charges.
The move by Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office nixes a hearing scheduled for Thursday at which a magistrate commissioner was slated to rule on whether there was probable cause for the 71-year-old real estate heir to be held on charges stemming from his arrest March 14 at a Canal Street hotel.
It means that any hope Durst’s attorneys had of extricating him from Louisiana so he can face a murder charge in Los Angeles for the 2000 killing of his onetime confidante, Susan Berman, is gone for now.
“It means he’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” said Craig Mordock, a local defense attorney who has been following the case closely.
The indictment accuses Durst of one count of illegal carrying of a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance and one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Durst will be arraigned on those charges Thursday morning.
The charges stem from a search of Durst’s room at the JW Marriott Hotel last month by authorities chasing him in connection with Berman’s killing.
Durst was the subject of a recent HBO documentary series, “The Jinx,” which tracked his connection to three separate killings, including that of his wife, Kathleen Durst, who went missing in 1982.
During the search of Durst’s hotel room, investigators found 5 ounces of marijuana and a loaded pistol. He was booked on the pair of gun counts, keeping him in Louisiana despite a judge’s order, encouraged by Durst’s attorneys, granting his extradition to California.
Authorities say Durst had been on the run while authorities in California prepared to charge him in Berman’s killng. A flesh-colored mask, tens of thousands of dollars in cash and a map of Cuba were also found in his room.
Durst’s attorneys have challenged the legality of his arrest in New Orleans, saying authorities failed to secure a warrant before conducting an “inventory” of his hotel room and finding the illegal items. They also filed a motion to quash the arrest warrant in the gun case, while claiming the charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm isn’t justified. Their argument is that Durst’s prior felonies — for bail jumping and carrying a weapon across state lines — don’t apply to the gun possession count under Louisiana law.
But those arguments will have to wait now that the indictment has come down.
Durst continues to be held without bail.
Orleans Parish Prison officials have deemed him a suicide risk and assigned him to a state prison facility 60 miles away in St. Gabriel.
Durst’s local attorney, Billy Gibbens, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the indictment.
Prosecutors commonly use indictments to avoid a preliminary hearing at which defense attorneys can see a dress rehearsal of the state’s case and later seek to highlight discrepancies in witness testimony at trial.
Mordock, a former state prosecutor, said the indictment lends Cannizzaro’s office a significant advantage and hamstrings Durst’s attorneys, Gibbens and Dick DeGuerin.
With the indictment, “DeGuerin only gets one crack at the witnesses in the case, which is at trial,” Mordock said. “Having two cracks at a witness is a huge advantage.”
While the local gun charges seem somewhat trivial compared with the murder count Durst faces in California, they could mean significant prison time for Durst, who turns 72 next week and appeared fragile in court Tuesday.
The first charge in the indictment — having a weapon along with marijuana — carries a sentence of five to 10 years. The count of being a felon in possession of a firearm would mean 10 to 20 years. As a two-time felon, the sentences for Durst could rise.
The indictment lists numerous aliases that prosecutors say Durst has used over the years, including Jim Turs, Diane Winn, Robert Dean Jezowski, James Klosty and Emilio Vegnoni.
Durst is also accused of using the alias Morris Black — the name of a former Galveston neighbor whom Durst acknowledged killing and dismembering, though he claimed it was in self-defense; he was acquitted in that death by a Texas jury.
When he was caught at the JW Marriott, Durst had checked in under yet another alias, Everette Ward.
Durst’s case will now go before Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich, a former New Orleans deputy city attorney who won his seat in 2011.
Staff writer Jim Mustian contributed to this story. Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.