A Los Angeles judge denied a request for a mistrial Tuesday in the murder case against New York real estate heir Robert Durst after a three-month delay from the coronavirus outbreak.
Judge Mark Windham said Durst’s right to a fair trial has not been compromised by putting the case on hold in March just days after it began. It is scheduled to resume in July in an Inglewood courthouse that has a larger courtroom to accommodate social distancing.
Defense attorney David Chesnoff argued by phone that Durst would not be able to get adequate legal representation because he and two other members of his legal team have been told by doctors not to appear in court because of the virus. He also argued that jurors, court staff, prosecutors and spectators could be exposed to the virus in the courtroom, restrooms, elevators and cafeteria.
Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said the defense was making a strategic move because Durst wants a “do over.”
Windham noted that it took months to whittle 1,000 prospective jurors down to 23, including 11 alternates.
Durst, 77, is on trial in the killing of his best friend, Susan Berman, who was shot in her home in 2000. He has denied any role in her death, but his lawyers acknowledged he sent a note with the word “cadaver” written on it directing police to her body.
Prosecutors allege he killed Berman because he feared she was going to tell New York police that she knew he had killed his wife in 1982 and helped him cover up the crime.
The body of Kathleen Durst has never been found, though she has been legally declared dead. Durst has never been charged with any crime related to her disappearance and has denied any role in her death.