Suspect Says He Doesn’t Recall Cutting Up Friend

Times Staff Writer

New York real estate heir Robert Durst, on trial in the shooting and beheading of a neighbor, told prosecutors Monday that a bottle of whiskey had obliterated his memory of dismembering the victim.

“You were drunk when you were cutting him up?” asked Galveston County District Atty. Kurt Sistrunk, referring to the fifth of Jack Daniels that Durst said he downed before dismembering 71-year-old Morris Black. “I hope so, yes sir,” Durst replied.

It was the third day of testimony for the 60-year-old son of the late real estate mogul Seymour Durst, whose company owns many Manhattan skyscrapers and helped redevelop Times Square.


Durst maintains that he panicked after Black, a friend, was accidentally shot in the face during a struggle over a .22-caliber pistol. Prosecutors contend Durst is a methodical killer who “carved up Morris Black’s body like a side of beef” and dumped his bagged remains into the Gulf of Mexico in September 2001.

Repeating testimony he gave last week, Durst on Monday described his quandary after the shooting: He was a millionaire who, dressed as a woman, had rented a cheap apartment in Galveston after New York authorities in 2000 reopened a decades-old investigation into his first wife’s disappearance. Now there was a dead man in his apartment.

“I remember deciding that I couldn’t go to the police because they wouldn’t believe me, and I would have to make it appear that Morris Black had moved out of his apartment,” Durst said.

Realizing Black’s body was too heavy to lift, Durst said he decided to “cut the body in half” using “tools I found in [Black’s] apartment -- two saws and an ax ... a big ax.” He said he later bought a 4-inch paring knife to cut pieces of a drop cloth that were used to clean blood from the apartment floor.

“The knives were getting a little dull, weren’t they, Mr. Durst? Do you remember using the paring knife to cut through muscle and skin before using the heavier tools?” Sistrunk asked during the cross-examination.

“I don’t remember,” Durst answered.

Durst said he drove to “seven or eight places” in Galveston before finding a secluded spot to dump the body parts. “You could get the car close to the water, walk to the water and nobody would see,” he said.


“Did your memory come back after you chopped off every piece of Morris Black’s body or did it come back after you were looking for a dump site?” Sistrunk asked the defendant.

After dropping Black’s body into the water, prosecutors pointed out, Durst had the presence of mind to use a money order to pay Black’s rent to cover up his disappearance.

Durst has pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense and accident. He could face between five and 99 years in prison.

“I did not kill my best friend,” Durst said Monday. “I did dismember him.”

Authorities in California want to talk to Durst about his friend Susan Berman, a Los Angeles writer killed in December 2000, before she was to be questioned about Durst’s missing wife.