On Sunday, March 15, hours before the series finale of HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, police in New Orleans apprehended Robert Durst and charged him with first-degree murder. When he was found, Durst was staying in a hotel room he’d paid for in cash, under a fake name. Sources told the New York Times they considered Durst a flight risk.
Durst was represented by legal counsel during the filming of The Jinx; his lawyer Chip Lewis even appears on camera in some of the episodes. After the finale, Lewis spoke to a triumphant Jeanine Pirro on Fox News and claimed to be “underwhelmed” by Durst’s muttered bathroom confession. Durst himself seems to understand the trouble he is in. He has again retained high-priced Texas attorney Dick DeGuerin, the man who managed to get Durst acquitted of murder under sensational circumstances once before. DeGuerin is also the man who, in an interview on The Jinx, compared the American justice system to a car dealership. Some people can only afford jalopies, he said, while others get the luxury treatment.
Now that Durst is in police custody, Vulture spoke to Daniel Hochheiser, a former prosecutor and current criminal-defense attorney in Westchester, New York, about the case, and where it might go from here.
What happens to Robert Durst now?
Well, Robert Durst is going to have an extradition hearing this morning in New Orleans. He’s going to waive extradition according to his attorney, and then they’re going to take him to L.A. for an arraignment in California for the charges of first-degree murder of Susan Berman.
Do you think they’re going to charge him in the case in New York as well? Do they have to officially reopen that case? Now that he’s said, “I killed them all,” what does that mean for the other two cases?
I don’t think they have enough yet to charge him in New York. I think if they did have enough, a New York warrant would have dropped on him just like the L.A. warrant dropped on him. I think that they’re getting closer to being able to arrest him in the disappearance of Kathleen Durst. That statement, that may be admissible, that he said, “Of course I killed them all” — but I don’t think they have enough yet in Westchester County.
Is there some sort of priority because the New York murder happened first? If a warrant does drop in New York, do they still try him primarily for the murder in L.A. because the cops have actually gotten a warrant for him there?
Well, L.A. is going to take him first because they got him first. Remember, law enforcement is a competitive business. The L.A. people want this high-profile case just like the New York people want it, so L.A. is going to go first.
My impression from watching the show is that the L.A. people really dropped the ball, that Jarecki found evidence that they ignored or overlooked; they were looking at the mob for a long time and never found anything, that maybe this wasn’t a high-priority case for them. Do you think they feel that way and now they’re trying to burnish their image a little bit, make themselves look better because they looked a little bit foolish on television? Or do you think that’s not a consideration?
I don’t know enough about the discovery of this letter from Robert Durst to Susan Berman, written in 1999, turned over by Susan Berman’s stepson to Andrew Jarecki of HBO, to make that determination. Jarecki’s HBO people certainly did a more effective job than the authorities, but I can’t say that the authorities did anything wrong or failed to do something. I just don’t know enough. I don’t think they’re embarrassed; I think they’re acting on the information as they have it. Now they have it, so they’re acting on it.
Is there anything you expect Durst to do or say in his own defense? Is there anything you really don’t expect him to do or say, anything that would surprise you?
I expect he will continue to deny writing the “cadaver” letter to the “Beverley” Hills police, because admission of authorship identifies him as Berman’s executioner.
What would you advise Durst to do if you were his attorney?
If I were his attorney, I would tell him to keep his mouth shut in order to avoid further damage to his future defense in the L.A. first-degree murder prosecution.