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Jury convicts real estate heir Robert Durst for 2000 murder of Susan Berman

Real estate heir Robert Durst is scheduled to be sentenced October 18. File Photo by Alex Gallardo/EPA-EFE
Real estate heir Robert Durst is scheduled to be sentenced October 18. File Photo by Alex Gallardo/EPA-EFE

Sept. 18 (UPI) -- A jury has convicted real estate heir Robert Durst of the 2000 murder of his best friend Susan Berman.

A Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Friday found Durst guilty of first-degree murder of his friend, writer Berman. Prosecutors said he killed her to stop her from talking to New York police about the death of his first wife, Kathie McCormack, who was last seen in 1982, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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Prosecutors said the Manhattan real estate heir fatally shot Berman in the back of the head in her home.

Jurors also sided with prosecutors who made special circumstance allegations under California law during the five-month trial that allowed the 78-year-old millionaire to be sentenced to life without parole for lying in wait and killing Berman because she was a witness to a crime. The sentencing hearing is slated for Oct. 18.

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Durst's family runs 1 World Trade Center in New York City.

"The jury's decision demonstrates how our legal system can work to hold accountable people regardless of their wealth and status in life," District Attorney George Gascon said, according to CNN. "I want to commend our prosecution team and investigators for their diligent work to ultimately bring justice for those who have been waiting more than 20 years."

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Defense Attorney Dick DeGuerin expressed disappointment in the verdict.

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"We fought hard, but we came in second," DeGuerin said.

Durst was not able to appear in court to hear the verdict since he was recently exposed to someone with COVID-19, according to CNN.

Durst, who pleaded not guilty to killing Berman during arraignment in November 2016, gained national attention the previous year when he became the subject of the HBO documentary series, The Jinx, which covered him as a suspect in the killing of his first wife, the execution-style murder of Berman and the death of his neighbor Morris Black in Texas in 2001. Durst was convicted of dismembering Black but acquitted of the murder charge, citing self-defense.

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In the documentary series, Durst appeared to mutter to himself he'd "killed them all, of course," unaware that microphones were still recording him. In April 2016, Durst was sentenced in New Orleans to seven years and one month in prison on a weapons charge and he was extradited to a Los Angeles jail in November of the same year to stand trial for the murder of Berman.

The trial was stalled for preliminary hearings due to COVID-19 pandemic.

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The body of Durst' first wife, McCormack, has never been found, but she was declared legally dead in 2017,.

The McCormack family issued a statement praising the verdict and pleading to open a trial for her death, the Los Angeles Times reported.

"The closing arguments by the Los Angeles deputy district attorneys should remove any doubt," the family statement said. "It's bizarre and unacceptable that Durst was tried for killing an accomplice before being held accountable for Kathie's murder."

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