LOS ANGELES (AP) — Real estate heir Robert Durst pleaded not guilty to murder Monday in the death of a friend who authorities said Durst wanted to keep from talking to investigators looking into the disappearance of his first wife.
The 73-year-old Durst, wearing a neck brace and seated in a wheelchair, entered the plea during a long-awaited appearance in a Los Angeles courtroom in the death of Susan Berman 16 years ago.
“I do want to say here and now, though, I am not guilty,” a pale and frail-looking Durst said in court. “I did not kill Susan Berman.”
Durst’s statement came after his attorney unsuccessfully argued to ban news media cameras from the courtroom.
Prosecutors said they would not be seeking the death penalty against Durst.
Durst was already a well-known figure in his native New York. But he became a national name when HBO aired the documentary “The Jinx” that followed his life and cast suspicion on him involving several crimes.
Los Angeles County prosecutors have been seeking to bring Durst to California since shortly after his arrest in March 2015.
But he first faced a federal weapons charge in New Orleans, where he pleaded guilty in April then began serving a seven-year prison sentence in Indiana.
The arrest came just as the final episode of “The Jinx” was airing. The HBO documentary examined alleged ties to the killing of Berman and the death and dismemberment of his neighbor Morris Black in 2001.
Durst testified that he killed Black in self-defense and was acquitted of murder.
Durst’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said Durst has been wanting to face the Los Angeles charge for the past year and a half.
“We’re glad to be here, glad to get the proceedings underway,” DeGuerin said. “Bob is not guilty. He did not kill Susan Berman, he doesn’t know who did and he’s eager to go to trial.”
The lawyer declined to answer questions from reporters, including inquiries about his client’s health.
Prosecutors also declined to comment.
Gloria Allred, a prominent attorney, told reporters that she was speaking on behalf of a woman who thought of Berman as a mother and is still devastated by her loss.
“She has been waiting a lot longer than Robert Durst’s attorneys for this day to happen,” Allred said. “She wants to have justice in this case.”
Durst, an estranged member of the family that runs 1 World Trade Center in New York, will have a hearing on Feb. 17.
FBI agents tracked Durst to a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the finale of “The Jinx.” Durst was formally 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.”