A Los Angeles judge has denied a bid for a mistrial due to COVID-19 from accused murderer and millionaire Robert Durst in the 2000 slaying of his friend Susan Berman.
Prosecutors claim that Durst had killed his first wife, Kathleen McCormack, a native of New Hyde Park, and recruited Berman to help him create an alibi, only to kill Berman in her home to silence her when prosecutors from New York starting looking into McCormack’s 1982 disappearance.
Durst, who in the 2015 HBO miniseries “The Jinx” had been recorded saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course” on a hot microphone, is continuing to deny the allegations, and pleaded not guilty in 2015.
The trial, which began in earnest on March 2, was suspended two weeks later due to coronavirus concerns, and Durst and his attorneys filed a motion for a mistrial.
Judge Mark Windham rejected the bid on the ground that Durst’s right to a fair trial had not been compromised, and opted to move to a larger court to incorporate social distancing measures.
Five years ago, McCormack’s sisters and then-101-year-old mother filed suit in the state Supreme Court in Mineola against Durst, alleging that he had murdered McCormack and caused the family “extreme emotional distress, humiliation, mental and physical anguish, as well as economic losses” by keeping her body hidden.
The ongoing lawsuit charges Durst violated the family’s right to sepulcher, a common-law statute providing legal recourse if the mishandling of a deceased person’s body causes mental anguish.
McCormack’s body was never found after she disappeared on January 31, 1982. The suit accuses Durst of hiding her body from police and the family, and preventing them from giving her a proper burial. Enough evidence has never mounted to charge Durst in her death, though the family cited his words in “The Jinx” for their lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs and law enforcement have conducted an exhaustive search for Kathleen; however, they have been unable to locate her whereabouts or resting place,” the lawsuit said.
In 2017, McCormack was declared dead by a Manhattan court.
McCormack’s brother James, who lives upstate in Sparta and was one of the witnesses who testified prior to the trial’s hiatus, told the New York Daily News that he was “heartened by the judge’s decision to move ahead with the trial.”
“I totally support the decision,” James McCormack said. “It’s in the interest of closure and justice for the Berman family and ultimately the McCormack family. It’s the only decision that makes sense. It’s not about Bob. He’s been getting away with murder for far too long,”
James McCormack told the jurors that his former brother-in-law was a “cold,” controlling and physically abusive husband and said he once witnessed Durst violently yank Kathie out of a family Christmas party by her hair.
”There’s no doubt in my mind that she died Jan. 31, 1982,” James McCormack said of his sister.
Windham, the judge, has set a pretrial motions hearing for July 17 and a resuming of the trial for July 27.