Robert Durst to be moved to mental health facility at prison

Accused killer Robert Durst, the eccentric real estate heir who was the subject of the HBO documentary “The Jinx,” was scheduled to be relocated Tuesday night to a mental health facility at a Louisiana state prison because of an acute medical condition, authorities said.

The move -- which was approved after much legal wrangling -- came on the same day that Durst’s legal troubles played out in several jurisdictions across the country, including a police raid at his Houston residence and the announcement by Eureka, Calif., police that the 71-year-old may have information about the disappearance of a teenage girl there nearly two decades ago.

“We are very interested in any information Mr. Durst may have in connection with the disappearance” of Karen Mitchell, said Eureka police Capt. Steve Watson, who did not identify Durst as either a suspect or person of interest in the 1997 case.

Meanwhile, New York authorities remain interested in Durst as they continue to unravel the mystery of what happened to his first wife, Kathleen, who disappeared in 1982.


FBI agents arrested Durst on Saturday in a New Orleans hotel at the behest of Los Angeles officials. Police in L.A. said they had uncovered new evidence linking Durst to the Benedict Canyon slaying in 2000 of writer and filmmaker Susan Berman. On Monday, Durst was charged with one count of murder.

But when agents arrested Durst, a search of his room uncovered a revolver and a stash of marijuana, leading to charges in New Orleans that are complicating Durst’s transfer to L.A. His extradition will be delayed for at least five days as authorities in New Orleans determine how to deal with the lesser allegations there.

Suspicions about Durst exploded into a national sensation as they played out in a six-part HBO series, “The Jinx.” Agents took Durst into custody the day before Sunday’s finale, in which Durst uttered a possible confession after the filming stopped but his microphone continued recording.

“Killed them all, of course,” Durst muttered after stepping away from the set.

The role of the documentary in assembling evidence against Durst could complicate a criminal trial, but LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday he was confident the prosecution would not depend on the broadcast.

“It is a unique set of circumstances,” he said. “But our case is independent of the documentary. Our case will stand on its own.”

Detectives had actively investigated Berman’s death for nearly 15 years, Beck said. Its resolution had been delayed by the “legal maneuverings” of Durst and his attorneys as well as unrelated prosecutions in other states, he said.

The chief declined to discuss details of the ongoing investigation, telling reporters that he did not want to jeopardize the case by making statements to the media.

“We are glad that we have finally come to a point where we can request Mr. Durst be extradited to California, to Los Angeles, so he can face a jury of his peers in the homicide of Susan Berman,” Beck said.

How soon this extradition could happen was unclear Tuesday.

The charges in New Orleans relate to an earlier case, in which Durst was found guilty of skipping bail. That felony conviction bars him from carrying a gun, according to court papers. He’s also charged separately with having a gun in combination with a “controlled, dangerous substance” -- legal parlance for the marijuana found in his room.

The maximum penalty for these charges is a $10,000 fine and five to 10 years of hard labor, according to court papers.

In L.A., Durst could face the death penalty for the murder charge with special circumstances. The indictment alleges that Durst lay in wait for Berman and that he acted to prevent her from speaking to police about the disappearance of Kathleen Durst.

An attorney representing Durst once again asserted his client’s innocence after his appearance in court Tuesday in New Orleans.

“Robert Durst did not kill Susan Berman,” attorney Dick DeGuerin said, standing before reporters outside the courthouse. He blamed the capital charges on the documentary, for which Durst had agreed to be interviewed.

“My concern is that the warrant that was issued in California was issued because of a television show and not because of facts,” DeGuerin said.

The attorney gave mixed signals about whether he would resist his client’s extradition to Los Angeles.

“We’re going to get to contest that warrant here in Louisiana because of the Louisiana authorities determining to file charges here,” DeGuerin said. “We want to contest the basis for his arrest. Because I think it’s not based on facts. It’s based on ratings.”

He added: “We want to get to California as quickly as we can so we can get into a court of law and try this case where it needs to be tried. We’ll contest the facts there, and we’ll try to contest them here.”

Durst appeared briefly in court Tuesday, shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and rubber sandals on bare feet. During the proceedings, Durst sometimes glared at the prosecutor. At other moments, he appeared to smile and talk to himself.

Orleans Parish Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Burton asked Orleans Parish Magistrate Harry Cantrell Jr. to detain Durst for five days, “until a hearing to determine whether bail can be set, given his flight risk.”

Cantrell suggested a Friday hearing, but Burton said a longer delay would be needed to assemble relevant evidence.

Cantrell also directed authorities to provide Durst with hydrocodone, a powerful opiate, as necessary for pain. The exact nature of the accused killer’s medical condition became a subject of dispute over his housing.

Durst was notified early Tuesday that he was being transferred to an Orleans Parish Sheriff’s facility at a state prison about an hour away -- a facility that’s designated for inmates with “acute medical conditions” in accordance with a federal consent decree.

Durst’s attorneys fought the transfer, calling him competent and suffering only from Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism that he was diagnosed with as a child.

“He does not have an acute medical or mental condition,” DeGuerin said, noting that his client’s competency “is not in question.”

But an attorney for the sheriff’s office, Blake Arcuri, disagreed, arguing that Durst’s acute medical and mental health issues required him to be transferred, and that being held at the remote facility would not violate his constitutional right to an attorney. Durst could consult with his attorneys by phone or in-person at the jail next to the courthouse.

“I can have him transported over to the jail so they can meet with him daily,” Arcuri said.

The magistrate sided with Durst’s attorneys and ruled against a transfer to the state prison, but the sheriff’s office appealed. Late Tuesday, a three-judge appellate panel reversed the earlier decision and allowed the transfer to proceed.

Also Tuesday afternoon, police executed search warrants at Durst’s Houston home, according to the Associated Press, but it remains unclear who ordered the searches or why.

A spokesman for the Houston Police Department said he could not confirm or deny that a search had been conducted at the condominium in the Rice Village section of Houston.

Louisiana State Police spokeswoman Trooper Melissa Matey said the warrants were not connected to the drug and weapons charges Durst may be facing there, and referred all questions to the LAPD.

Cmdr. Andy Smith, the LAPD’s chief spokesman, declined to comment on the searches or confirm if they were ordered by the department.

And the 1997 disappearance of Karen Mitchell -- who is formally classified as a missing person but whose vanishing is believed to involve foul play -- emerged as possibly involving Durst.

For several years, Durst had a home about 20 miles from Eureka in Trinidad, and he was known to frequent other spots around Northern California. Watson, the Eureka police chief, said that he did not known the specifics of the Mitchell investigation but said that the department is working with the FBI and Humboldt County district attorney’s office.

In an interview Tuesday with Savannah Guthrie on the “Today” show, Jim McCormack, the brother of Kathleen Durst, said he believed Durst’s comments in the HBO series to be an admission of guilt.

“In my heart of hearts, absolutely” it was a confession, McCormack said. “He was audibly making a list of the things that happened. And when he said ‘They got me’ or words to that effect, well, they got him.”

In 1982, Kathleen Durst vanished after she expressed the desire for a divorce. She had been fighting with her husband the night she disappeared, according to a good friend, who said Kathleen Durst was worried about what her husband might do.

Berman had acted as an “informal spokesman” for Durst, giving reporters his side of the story. Durst and Berman went to school together at UCLA.

Berman died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Durst was residing in the L.A. area, but police said at the time that he was not a suspect.

Less than a year later, Durst turned up in Galveston, Texas, in connection with the killing of an elderly neighbor, Morris Black. Black’s dismembered body, in several plastic bags, was discovered in the waters offshore. A trail of clues led to Durst’s arrest.

The real estate heir quickly posted bail and, according to police, went on the lam. He was arrested soon after in a Pennsylvania grocery store, where police said he was caught shoplifting a chicken sandwich and a bandage, despite having $500 with him. Durst was returned to Texas, where he claimed he inadvertently shot Black while struggling to wrestle a gun from the man.

The 2003 trial was a spectacle in which his attorneys argued that after the killing, a previously undiagnosed mental condition propelled Durst into a traumatized state similar to an out-of-body experience. The trial was capped by four days of testimony from Durst, in which he claimed he had no memory of cutting up Black’s body.

Although the documentary has intensified public interest, it’s an open question how much effect the possible confession or other material from the broadcast would have in a trial, legal experts said.

The prosecution probably would try to limit how much it relies on the documentary to keep Durst’s defense team from raising doubts about the film’s accuracy and from challenging the unusual role the filmmakers played in assembling a case against Durst, the experts said.

For their part, the filmmakers said they expected to be called as witnesses, and they canceled a raft of planned interviews, saying it would be inappropriate to comment.

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Times staff writers Matt Hamilton and James Queally contributed to this report.