Tempers flared at a preliminary hearing Thursday for New York real estate scion Robert Durst as prosecutors resisted his attorneys' efforts to overturn state charges and speed his extradition to California on a murder charge.
Durst, 71, was arrested at a Canal Street hotel last month after investigators found a .38-caliber revolver and marijuana in his room. He was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a firearm with a controlled substance.
Durst waived extradition, but Orleans Parish prosecutors have pursued the state charges, which, if he is convicted as a first-time offender, carry maximum sentences of 10 and 20 years.
He was initially stopped on a California warrant for the killing of Los Angeles author and friend Susan Berman, who was found shot execution-style in her Benedict Canyon home 15 years ago.
At the time, Westchester County, N.Y., Dist. Atty. Jeanine Pirro had reopened an investigation into the 1982 disappearance of Durst's wife, Kathleen.
Durst's attorneys subpoenaed Pirro to testify Thursday, along with the law enforcement officials who stopped and arrested Durst March 14.
None of them showed up for the hearing.
The investigators, including the two FBI agents who spotted Durst at the hotel and the Louisiana state trooper who arrested him, had been instructed not to appear, prosecutors said.
Assistant Orleans Parish Dist. Atty. Mark Burton complained to the judge that Durst's attorneys waited until the last minute to call the witnesses and to serve him with more than 120 pages of legal paperwork.
"I wasn't given adequate notice to respond," Burton told the judge. "I'm talking about procedural justice and fairness to both Mr. Durst and the state of Louisiana."
But Orleans Parish Magistrate Harry Cantrell Jr. initially balked at delaying the hearing. He had a bailiff call the witnesses, to no avail.
Durst watched, gaunt in a baggy yellow jumpsuit and shackles, as Assistant U.S. Atty. for the Eastern District of Louisiana Duane Evans said he had instructed the agents not to appear. Although they had received the subpoenas, he said, federal officials needed to vet their testimony.
"We are not ignoring the subpoenas," Evans told the judge. "We need more time."
Defense attorney Dick DeGuerin shot back: "It doesn't take any time to prepare to speak the truth."
The judge eventually agreed to delay the hearing a week, and both sides left dissatisfied. The prosecutor had objected to nearly everything that transpired. The defense was stymied in its effort to get Durst transferred to California, where they hope to get Durst's arrest warrant overturned.
"We believe the California case is by far more important," DeGuerin said, adding: "Everything that happened here is because of the California case."
DeGuerin is not licensed to practice in California, but he has already brought local counsel on board: veteran Los Angeles defense attorney Donald Re. Re previously defended Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano and a German architect charged with killing a firefighter who installed a fireplace at his mansion.
He traveled to Louisiana last week and met Durst, whom Re described as "affable… alert and in good spirits."
"We'd like to get him back here as quickly as possible," Re said of his multimillionaire client. "From our view, it's a very defensible case."
Times staff writer Marisa Gerber contributed to this report.