INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Robert Durst took the stand at his California murder trial Monday and immediately denied killing his best friend.
“Did you kill Susan Berman?” Durst’s attorney Dick DeGuerin said to open the testimony of the 78-year-old New York real estate heir.
“No,” Durst answered.
“Do you know who did?” DeGuerin asked.
“No,” Durst answered.
Straining to speak in a soft, frail voice, Durst described seeing “mommy on the roof” the night she fell to her death from his family home when he was 7 years old.
He said he didn’t know whether she jumped or fell. He said a miserable childhood followed.
“I kept begging my father to move,” Durst said, “but he never sold the house where his wife died.”
Asked if her ran away from camp and ran away from school, Durst answered,
“I ran away from everywhere,” Durst answered.
A stronger, much wordier Durst told the same story in interviews for the 2015 HBO documentary series, “The Jinx.”
As he said he would when the trial began in Los Angeles Superior Court more than a year ago, DeGuerin went through with the risky move of calling a murder defendant to testify, just as he did with Durst at his 2003 Texas murder trial, when the wealthy heir was acquitted.
Durst, who has bladder cancer and several other ailments that he listed from the stand, wore the brown jail attire he’s had on in court for the past few weeks of the trial. His attorneys said he’s been unable to stand to put on a suit. The judge has denied several requests for delays and a motion for a mistrial because of the health woes.
Durst testified while sitting in a wheelchair, and struggled to hear both the clerk when he was sworn in and DeGuerin as he asked questions, using a tablet that showed a live transcription to help him understand.
Durst also struggled to hear the prosecution’s objections and the judge’s rulings on them, frequently speaking after he was told to stop.
Durst is charged with killing Berman, who was shot in her home in December of 2000. His attorneys have said he found the body, panicked and fled.
He was arrested in 2015 on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx,” in which he made several seemingly damning statements about the killing.
His trial finally began in early 2020, but the coronavirus forced a pause of more than a year before it resumed in May.