A New Orleans judge Thursday postponed a preliminary hearing in the drug-and-gun case of New York real estate heir Robert Durst until next week.
The continuance came after witnesses Durst's attorneys planned to have testify did not show up in court. The witnesses were the three law enforcement officials who were initially involved in stopping and arresting Durst at a New Orleans hotel last month.
Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told a judge that federal prosecutors contacted the defense witnesses and "instructed them to ignore the subpoenas" to show up in court.
FULL COVERAGE: Robert Durst case
Assistant U.S. Atty. Duane Evans then addressed the court, insisting "we are not ignoring the subpoenas,” adding that he spoke with Durst’s attorneys before the hearing and asked to delay the testimony for a week “to vet it.”
"We need more time," Evans said.
DeGuerin balked and shot back: "It doesn't take any time to prepare to speak the truth.”
After DeGuerin said he had planned to call only those three witnesses and couldn’t go forward without them, Orleans Parish Magistrate Harry Cantrell Jr. ruled to continue the preliminary hearing until next week.
Orleans Parish Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Burton, who looked visibly upset in the courtroom, had initially requested the hearing be postponed because he needed more time to review motions that Durst’s attorneys filed this week, but Cantrell denied that.
“I read about this in the L.A. Times before it was even dropped on my desk and served,” Burton said.
Durst, 71, wore a yellow jail uniform and twisted his neck during the hearing. He was led away in shackles when the hearing ended.
Durst was arrested March 14 at a New Orleans hotel in connection with the slaying of Los Angeles author and friend Susan Berman 15 years ago.
Inside his hotel room, investigators said they found a .38 revolver and marijuana. 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.
Veteran defense attorney Donald Re, who previously defended onetime Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano and a German architect who was charged with a firefighter’s death for recklessly installing a fireplace in his mansion, confirmed that he’s been brought on to join Durst’s defense team.
Re said he traveled to New Orleans last week and met Durst, whom he described as “affable.”
“He was alert and in good spirits,” Re said.
“We’d like to get him back here as quickly as possible,” he said. “From our view, it’s a very defensible case.”
Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske was in court for the hearing. Read her updates below and follow @mollyhf.
Staff Writer Marisa Gerber contributed to this report from Los Angeles.