A 35-year-old phone call to one witness may play a key role in Durst murder case; next, a secret witness will testify

At a court hearing Tuesday, a retired New York City doctor testified about a phone call he received in 1982, a short conversation that could play a key role in the murder case against real estate scion Robert Durst.

Los Angeles County prosecutors sought to question Dr. Albert Kuperman and another witness ahead of Durst’s eventual murder trial to preserve their testimony in case either of them dies or is killed. Durst isn’t likely to stand trial for the slaying of his friend Susan Berman until at least 2018.

The second witness — a man whose identity is still secret — is expected to testify Wednesday, prosecutors said. 

Durst, 73, is charged with murder in the execution-style slaying of Berman. Prosecutors say he fired a single shot through the back of her head inside her Benedict Canyon home in 2000, because she knew too much about the disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen. He has pleaded not guilty.

At Tuesday’s hearing in Los Angeles, Kuperman — who was associate dean of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where Durst’s wife had been enrolled — testified that he received a call on Feb. 1, 1982, from someone identifying herself as Kathleen Durst. The call came the same day Durst was expected to begin a clerkship in pediatrics and a day after she was last seen. Prosecutors have said there’s evidence to suggest she was already dead at the time of the call.

The call that Monday morning lasted about five minutes, Kuperman said, and the woman said she would be absent because she was sick. 

“Are you able to say based on the voice that it was or wasn’t Kathleen Durst?” a prosecutor asked.

“No,” Kuperman responded, adding that he’d never spoken on the phone with Durst before.

Prosecutors say that evidence points to Berman making the call to Kuperman. 

Under cross-examination by Robert Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, Kuperman said he had believed for more than three decades that the call was from Kathleen Durst. The idea that perhaps it hadn’t come from her “began to gel,” he said, after he had a conversation with prosecutors in 2015.

DeGuerin argued that police and prosecutors pressured him to change his stance and said Kuperman previously claimed to have recognized Durst’s voice on the phone.

When Robert Durst was arrested by FBI agents on March 14, 2015, at a hotel in New Orleans, officials found guns, stacks of cash, a fake ID and an old-man mask. He was charged with Berman’s murder two days later. He was transferred to Los Angeles in November 2016 after being sentenced on federal gun charges.

Berman’s death and Kathleen Durst’s 1982 disappearance were featured prominently in “The Jinx,” a six-part HBO documentary series about Robert Durst’s life, which aired in 2015. 

The series includes video from Durst’s 2003 trial in Galveston, Texas, where he was accused of killing a neighbor, Morris Black. Durst admitted killing Black, saying he’d shot him in self-defense before chopping up the man’s body and tossing the pieces into Galveston Bay. He ultimately was acquitted of murder in Black’s death.

 

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer James Queally contributed to this report

Follow @marisagerber for more news on criminal trials in Los Angeles.

marisa.gerber@latimes.com

 

 

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UPDATES:

7:35 p.m.: This article was updated with additional testimony from the court hearing and further edited.

2 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about Kuperman’s testimony.

12:55 p.m.: This article was updated with information about a delay in the testimony of a secret witness.

This article was originally published at 4 a.m.

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