A judge refused Tuesday to suppress evidence — including a loaded handgun and stacks of cash — that investigators seized this year from the New Orleans hotel room of Robert Durst, allowing a federal firearms prosecution to proceed against the New York real estate heir accused of killing a woman nearly 15 years ago in California.
Durst, who became a celebrity murder suspect this year after the airing of an HBO miniseries spotlighting his possible role in as many as three homicides, was taken into custody in March after authorities caught up with him at the JW Marriott Hotel on Canal Street.
Among the items reportedly found in his possession there were five ounces of marijuana, tens of thousands of dollars in cash and a .38-caliber revolver, which Durst, as a convicted felon, could not legally carry.
Over the past several months, Durst’s defense attorneys have vigorously challenged the legality of two searches of the hotel room, including one for which the FBI did not first secure a warrant. They argued that the second search, for which the Los Angeles police obtained a warrant, had been irreparably “tainted” by the earlier search.
Federal prosecutors disagreed, saying investigators had more than enough probable cause to enter Durst’s room and maintaining the FBI acted “in good faith.”
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, in a 16-page ruling, held that the ultimate issuing of a search warrant in the case “provided an untainted, independent source of the physical evidence.” She said the FBI’s arguably “illegal search” of the hotel room did not motivate the LAPD to secure a warrant after the fact.
“The evidence obtained during the initial warrantless search by the FBI was arguably tainted since warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable,” Berrigan wrote. “However, the second seizure of the evidence during the legal search pursuant to a search warrant removes any taint from the original seizure.”
The judge added that she found “no legal basis to order the suppression of any of the physical evidence.”
Durst has been charged with murder in Los Angeles in the 2000 fatal shooting of Susan Berman, a onetime confidante of his.
He faces up to 10 years behind bars on a federal charge in New Orleans of possessing a firearm as a felon, a case based upon his 2004 conviction for jumping bail and carrying a weapon across state lines as he attempted to flee a murder prosecution in Texas, a killing for which he ultimately was acquitted.
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