A Superior Court judge will allow handwriting experts to testify during the upcoming murder trial of the eccentric real estate scion Robert Durst but will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine how many — and what they can say.
Their testimony will center on an anonymous note mailed to Beverly Hills police around the time Susan Berman was killed in 2000 that listed her Benedict Canyon address above the word “cadaver.”
The mysterious letter, written by hand in block lettering, was postmarked the day before Berman’s body was found in her home with a bullet through the back of her head.
It was a key piece of evidence that ultimately led investigators to Durst, who prosecutors have argued was trying to prevent Berman from reporting what she knew about Durst’s involvement in the 1982 disappearance in New York of his wife, Kathleen.
L.A. County Superior Court Judge Mark E. Windham will allow prosecutors to call at least two experts who concluded that Durst was probably the author of the so-called cadaver note, but he wants them to explain the studies and science they relied on to form their conclusions to decide what is admissible.
Windham also decided to exclude the analysis of a Los Angeles Police Department handwriting expert who formed conflicting conclusions about who wrote the note within a two-year time frame, and his supervisor, who later admitted that she rubber-stamped his initial report without reading it.
In February 2001, the LAPD’s William Leaver concluded it was “highly probable” that the cadaver note was written by Berman’s manager, Nyle Brenner. Several months later, in October, Durst was added to the mix, but there was no definitive conclusion.
“At this point with the limited [exemplars] on Durst, there are more similarities w/Brenner. Need more,” Leaver wrote, according to a defense court filing.
Investigators soon traveled to Galveston, Texas, to get additional writing samples from Durst. After reviewing those extra samples, prosecutors said, Leaver concluded the following June that Durst probably wrote the note.
Faced with contradicting theories, Leaver quickly followed his analysis of Durst’s writing with a conclusion that it was now “highly probable” that Brenner had not written the missive to police.
Windham called Leaver’s conclusion “garbage” and said “it’s truly shocking” that the supervisor signed off on his report without a thorough review.
It was their disjointed analysis that defense attorneys cited when they sought to block handwriting analysis from the trial, calling it “junk science.” After the hearing, they would not comment on whether Durst was the author of the note.
The two experts whom prosecutors plan to call during the trial reviewed the case with far more writing samples than Leaver had. Neither knew about Leaver’s analyses or errors and both pointed the finger at Durst, prosecutors said.