Robert Durst murder trial postponed because of coronavirus as court announces new safety measures
The Robert Durst murder trial has been postponed to April 6 amid concerns across the court system about coronavirus.
In the face of the growing outbreak, courts have taken a patchwork of measures: months-long delays in trials, excusing jurors over the age of 60, and temporarily closing courthouses altogether.
On Sunday, the Los Angeles County Superior Court announced that new criminal and civil trials would be put off for at least 30 days. Judges in the nation’s largest trial court were also encouraged to shift toward telephonic proceedings to lower traffic in the region’s courthouses.
Presiding Judge Kevin Brazile said that for trials already underway, it would be up to individual judges to decide whether to postpone proceedings or declare a mistrial. Brazile said self-help centers at courthouses would also be closed.
“We will continue to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities and remain open to handle criminal matters subject to statutory deadlines,” Brazile said in a statement.
On Friday, Brazile recommended that new civil trials and some criminal trials be pushed back 30 days as some were calling for much more aggressive action.
More information about the fate of court operations could come Monday.
Several attorneys said they were frustrated by what they saw as lackadaisical practices in courthouses last week: Scant hand sanitizer was available to the general public. Security screenings at courthouse entrances had no wipes to clean surfaces as more people came through. And elevators were crammed as ever — filled with people coming for jury duty.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has alleged that Durst, heir to a Manhattan real estate fortune, killed writer Susan Berman in December 2000. Prosecutors contend that Durst killed Berman to prevent her from spilling incriminating information about the 1982 disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen, whose body was never found. He has pleaded not guilty.
Durst’s younger brother, Thomas Durst, 70, said he invoked coronavirus concerns in an effort to get out of traveling to L.A. on a subpoena to testify against his sibling.
In an email, Thomas Durst, who has a residence in the Bay Area, said he presented a doctor’s note on March 6 to the district attorney’s office in which his personal doctor strongly advised “against any travel, particularly airplane travel,” citing unspecified medical issues.
He said he was “amazed at the cavalier attitude” toward coronavirus by the judge and district attorney’s office, and said his request to testify remotely via video was refused. The younger Durst ultimately complied with the subpoena. Last week, Thomas Durst reportedly wore latex gloves when he showed up to testify at the Airport Courthouse near Los Angeles International Airport. On the witness stand, he was asked by a prosecutor how he felt about being there.
“I hate it,” he said. Asked if he had done everything in his power to avoid testifying, he agreed. “This is a horrible experience, and I’m fearful of my brother.”
On Friday, Superior Court Judge Mark Windham said jurors would sit with one seat between them in the courtroom, and said at least one person could testify remotely. It was unclear if that arrangement would continue when the trial resumes April 6.
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