March 17, 2015 by Bill Johnson
When the makers of the HBO documentary “The Jinx” discovered an old letter that appeared to link New York real estate scion Robert Durst to a Los Angeles killing, their first instinct was to keep it from authorities.
They locked the letter away in a bank safe deposit box and strategized how to confront Durst with it.
“Nobody is going to know that we have this document,” director Andrew Jarecki says on camera to members of his film crew. “We interview Bob, we bring it up, we have it on film, and now we have something that the LAPD is going to really want because … we’ve got Bob reacting clean to this hugely important piece of evidence.”
The scene made for gripping television and left no doubt that a key piece of evidence implicating Durst was inextricably tied to the six-part television series.
As Los Angeles prosecutors filed murder charges against Durst on Monday, it remained an open question how much of the evidence uncovered in the documentary, which also included arguably incriminating statements by Durst, will make its way into the courtroom.
Legal experts said the prosecution probably will try to limit how much it relies on the documentary in order to keep Durst’s defense team from raising doubts about the film’s accuracy and from challenging the unusual role the filmmakers played in building the case against Durst.
For their part, the filmmakers said they expect they will be called as witnesses, and they canceled a raft of planned interviews, saying it would be inappropriate to comment.
The documentary and the questions it raises loomed in the background Monday as Durst remained in a New Orleans jail after his arrest there Saturday.
Wearing an orange jail suit, Durst appeared before an Orleans Parish magistrate and waived his right to fight extradition to California.
“Fighting extradition when you’re already in the U.S. makes no sense,” Chip Lewis, one of Durst’s attorneys, told the Los Angeles Times before the court hearing.
When Durst will arrive in Los Angeles is unclear. Louisiana officials announced late Monday that he had been booked on two weapons-related charges: being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a weapon with a controlled dangerous substance. The substance was a small amount of marijuana, a Louisiana State Police spokeswoman said.
In Los Angeles, Durst is accused of the execution-style killing of a friend, Susan Berman, in her Benedict Canyon home in December 2000. At the time Berman was killed, New York authorities were planning to interview her to learn what she knew about the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s first wife, Kathleen.
The charges include allegations that Durst lay in wait and killed Berman because she was a witness to a crime. Durst could face the death penalty if he is found guilty.
Los Angeles police rejected any suggestion that the timing of last weekend’s arrest was influenced by the HBO documentary.
“We based our actions on the investigation and the evidence,” LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk Albanese said. “We didn’t base anything we did on the HBO series. The arrest was made as a result of the investigative efforts and at a time that we believe it was needed.”
Sunday’s finale of “The Jinx” revolved largely around the letter, which Durst wrote to Berman the year before she was killed. In the documentary, Jarecki zeroes in on similarities between the handwriting on the letter’s envelope and an anonymous note sent to Beverly Hills police at the time of Berman’s killing that alerted them to “a cadaver” in her house.