LOS ANGELES — New York real estate heir Robert Durst, who became nationally notorious with last year's HBO documentary The Jinx, made a first court appearance Monday in Los Angeles and pleaded not guilty to a charge of killing his friend 16 years ago.
Durst, 73, entered a courtroom at the Airport Branch courthouse in Los Angeles in a wheelchair and wearing a neck brace. He looked pale and frail.
"I do want to say here and now though I am not guilty," he told the judge. "I did not kill Susan Berman" in 2000.
Durst is accused of shooting Berman, a friend and the daughter of a Las Vegas organized crime figure, in her Benedict Canyon home because she allegedly witnessed a crime.
Durst arrived in Los Angeles Friday evening and has been held in a Los Angeles County jail, Los Angeles district attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said. He may be transferred to another jail facility depending on the outcome of a medical screening.
Speaking to reporters before he entered the courtroom, Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said his client has been dealing with several medical issues and is recovering from a spinal fusion surgery he underwent in Louisiana earlier this year. Durst is also a cancer survivor and has struggled with hydropencephalitis, a condition that involves brain swelling.
DeGuerin, a Houston-based defense lawyer who's starred in several celebrity murder cases, said he expects a trial for Durst a year from now.
Los Angeles prosecutors said they would not be seeking the death penalty against Durst. They've been trying to bring him to California since shortly after his arrest in March 2015, just as the final episode was airing of The Jinx, which featured Durst and examined his alleged ties to the killing of Berman and to his first wife. The six-part series also looked at the 2003 trial in Galveston, Texas, where Durst was acquitted of murdering and dismembering a neighbor.
Before he could be brought to California, Durst faced a federal weapons charge in New Orleans. He pleaded guilty to that charge in April and has begun serving a seven-year prison sentence since September.
He was brought to Los Angeles from a federal prison in Indiana. He had already waived extradition to California.
DeGuerin has said Durst was eager to come to Los Angeles and prove his innocence. "We've been begging to get to California since two days after he was arrested," DeGuerin told The Associated Press in September.
Durst, already well-known in New York (he's an estranged member of the family that runs 1 World Trade Center), became far more famous after The Jinx, in which his own words cast serious suspicion on him.
FBI agents tracked Durst to a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the finale of The Jinx. He was arrested early on the day of the broadcast, before viewers saw him in a washroom, still wearing a live microphone and muttering, "There it is. You're caught! What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."