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Retired NYPD detective from Robert Durst's past testifies in the millionaire's murder case

A retired New York police detective took the stand in the Robert Durst murder case Tuesday, testifying that he did all he could to solve the mystery of the long-ago disappearance of the real estate tycoon’s wife.

The 74-year-old millionaire is accused of shooting his best friend, Susan Berman, in her Benedict Canyon home in 2000. The murder, prosecutors allege, was motivated by fear she’d tell others what she knew about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen.

New York police Det. Michael Struk, who led the investigation into Kathleen Durst’s still unsolved disappearance, appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom and vehemently denied accusations that New York authorities sought to protect Durst.

Durst's attorney Dick DeGuerin referred to a collection of items, including the initial missing person's report, Struk's personal notebook filled with details about interviews regarding the case, telephone records, and transcripts from Struk's interviews from an HBO documentary series about Durst, to question Struk on his process during the investigation.

DeGuerin presented an October New York Post article describing a lawsuit filed on behalf of Kathleen Durst’s family accusing the NYPD of working to cover up Durst's role in his first wife's death.

"Did you do anything to cover up [for] Durst in his wife's disappearance?" DeGuerin asked.

"That's silly," Struk said, choking up.

After going through the chronology of Struk's investigation, DeGuerin asked, "Did you do your best to solve this mystery?”

"We did whatever we could with what we were presented with, with what direction we had," Struk said. "I am professionally comfortable with what we had done before the case got really cold."

DeGuerin asked Struk whether he thought allegations made against him and the NYPD in the lawsuit were fair.

"No," Struk replied. "Until you walk in my shoes, don't spit in my face."

Struk was the first witness called by the defense, who believe his testimony undercuts the prosecution’s case and could help secure their client’s acquittal.

Since Durst is unlikely to go to trial before 2018, a judge has allowed attorneys to gather and videotape early testimony from older witnesses, which could be played for jurors if the witnesses are not available to testify at trial. In recent months, several witnesses called by the prosecution have given damaging testimony against Durst.

During a hearing earlier this year, the multimillionaire’s longtime friend Nick Chavin testified that Durst once confessed to killing Berman. “I had to. It was her or me. I had no choice,” Durst said, according to Chavin.

Chavin also testified that Durst admitted to killing his wife in a conversation with Berman, who Chavin said later relayed that information to him.

Durst has pleaded not guilty.

The idiosyncratic magnate was arrested at a New Orleans hotel in connection with Berman’s slaying on March 14, 2015. Inside his hotel room, which police say he checked into under an assumed name, authorities found a .38 revolver, stacks of $100 bills inside small envelopes and a rubber, old-man mask.

His arrest came on the eve of the final episode of a six-part HBO documentary about Durst. During the last moments of “The Jinx,” he mumbles, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Some interpreted his muttering, which was captured on a hot microphone during a bathroom break, to be a confession to three killings — those of Berman and his wife and the fatal shooting of Morris Black, a neighbor in Texas.

In the Texas case, Durst argued at trial that the gun fired while he was defending himself during a struggle with Black. He admitted to dismembering the body and dumping the parts in Galveston Bay, but jury acquitted Durst of murder.

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

For more news from the Los Angeles County courts, follow me on Twitter: @marisagerber


UPDATES:

8:50 p.m.: This article was updated with testimony from the court hearing.

This article was originally published at 5 a.m.

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