Real estate tycoon Robert Durst, accused of killing his close friend, to take the stand today

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Durst is charged with the first-degree murder of his close friend and confidante, Susan Berman, in 2000, at her Beverly Hills home, hours before she was set to talk to investigators about the mysterious disappearance of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst.

Durst has long denied killing Berman, his lawyer saying instead that he panicked and ran after finding her body. He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial was initially suspended in March 2020 after just a few days of witness testimony due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was originally scheduled to resume in July but was postponed again until 2021.

Earlier this week, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark Windham rejected Durst’s lawyers’ latest bid to delay or end the trial because of his deteriorating health.

Durst has bladder cancer and has undergone multiple surgeries, including the insertion of a shunt in his head to relieve pressure on his brain.

“I’m worried about his health,” his longtime attorney Dick DeGuerin said. “I’m worried about his ability to survive and his ability to understand complex questions, both direct and cross-examination.”

What to expect from his testimony

Durst’s testimony is expected to last several days, and legal analysts caution that he needs to be careful with his words.

His “testimony could open the door to all types of prior bad conduct that he could be questioned about,” said CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. “If the jury thinks he’s lying, being evasive or if he’s unsympathetic, a conviction is assured.”

Durst looks and sounds frail in court. He’s a thin, bent-over 78-year-old defendant in a wheelchair who speaks in a whispery voice.

“There is a still a slight chance of raising the sympathy of someone on the jury,” said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman.

But Jackson believes Durst needs to be careful about how jurors perceive his medical issues. “If he testifies and feigns sickness or incapacity, the jury will see right through it,” Jackson quipped.

Also, Judge Windham could still delay the trial due to Durst’s poor health, Goldman says.

“That’s if the judge changes his mind and determines Durst’s condition makes him unfit to testify at this time or in the foreseeable future,” Goldman said.

How we got here

Prosecutors allege that Durst shot Berman in the head from behind to stop her from incriminating him in the disappearance of this first wife, Kathleen, in 1982.

They say Durst confided to Berman that he had killed Kathleen, and that she helped him cover his tracks.

Durst will likely be cross-examined by Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney John Lewin, who has relentlessly pursued Durst for Berman’s murder.

Lewin and Durst squared off in a New Orleans jail cell in 2015 after Durst agreed to an interview that would last three hours, without his lawyers present, making potentially damaging claims and lamenting his many physical ailments.

“My life expectancy is about five years,” the eccentric millionaire said in the 2015 interview.

There is little physical evidence in Berman’s nearly 20-year-old unsolved death. There are no eyewitnesses and no murder weapon.

One key piece of evidence is the so-called “cadaver” note, a cryptic letter sent to police with Berman’s address and the word “cadaver” in caps that led detectives to her body.

In “The Jinx,” Durst said the letter could have been sent only by Berman’s killer. Defense lawyers previously denied Durst wrote the note, and they tried to exclude from trial handwriting evidence about it.

But in a court filing late last year, lawyers for the real estate mogul reversed course and acknowledged that Durst penned the anonymous note. “This does not change the fact that Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman,” DeGuerin said at the time.

In the HBO documentary, filmmakers confronted Durst with another letter he once mailed Berman, with nearly identical handwriting to the “cadaver” note. In both, Beverly Hills was misspelled as “BEVERLEY.”

Lewin, in the interview with Durst, asked him, “Why would you think the killer would have left a note?”

“I’m gonna stay away from that,” Durst replied.

Immediately after the last shot of “The Jinx” finale, Durst went into the bathroom, apparently not realizing his microphone was still on.

“There it is. You’re caught,” he said. He rambled a series of seemingly unrelated sentences before saying, “He was right. I was wrong.”

Then, he muttered, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

The defense has said Durst’s statements were heavily edited and not uttered in the order in which they appeared in the documentary.

Real estate tycoon Robert Durst admits writing note giving location of body, lawyer says

Berman’s death is not the first in which Durst has faced trial. In 2003, a much more animated Durst testified he had killed a neighbor, Morris Black, in self-defense and admitted he cut up his body with surgical precision and dumped it in Galveston Bay. He said he shot the man and cut him up in a panic. Prosecutors said he wanted to steal the man’s identity and escape the investigation of his wife’s disappearance.

Durst testified the killing was in self-defense, that he panicked and decided to cut up Morris Black’s body and throw away the pieces.

The Texas murder trial revealed more about Durst’s often eccentric behavior, including how he posed as a mute woman as he hid out in Galveston.

The jury in Texas accepted Durst’s self-defense assertion, acquitting him of murder.

CNN’s Augie Martin and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.

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