ROBERT DURST, THE JINX, MEDIA SENSATIONALISM & PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT
Acting in concert with T.V. producers, the authorities arrested Robert Durst on a Los Angeles, California warrant for the murder of his old friend Susan Berman. Will Mr. Durst be convicted of murdering Ms. Berman? Or will he get away with murder, again? That is how the media will frame the murder trial of Mr. Durst, milking the case for every last drop. Despite the blurred lines between reality T.V. and criminal investigation, future Durst jurors will be sworn in promising to focus on the evidence, rather than dramatic innuendo, plot-line suspicion, or the clever edits of a clearly compromised filmmaker. Just evidence. The presumption of innocence and proof beyond a reasonable doubt form the foundation of our criminal justice system, and the same standard must also apply to controversial figures like Durst.
There has been suspicion surrounding Mr. Durst ever since his wife disappeared so many years ago. But, where is the actual proof that Mr. Durst murdered Ms. Berman? Reports have indicated that the only new piece of evidence relied upon by prosecutors is an old envelope uncovered by T.V. producers who worked for ten years investigating Mr. Durst while creating their Jinx series. On that old envelope, which contained a letter to Ms. Berman, Mr. Durst misspelled the word “BEVERLEY” in the address line. Years later, an anonymous note addressed to the police alerted them that Ms. Berman’s dead body could be found in her home. This cryptic note was also mailed in an envelope with the same misspelled word, “BEVERLEY.” The Jinx series has the viewer draw the conclusion that Mr. Durst inscribed both envelopes and, therefore, murdered Ms. Berman.
Will the similarities in the envelopes be enough evidence to convict Mr. Durst of murder? Here is what we know for sure: Mr. Durst is very “suspicious.” He is not only eccentric, but he is bizarre, probably “crazy.” He exhibits peculiar mannerisms and facial tics. He is “creepy” and “weird.” Mr. Durst talks to himself and mutters out loud what he believes other people are thinking about him. Even Mr. Durst’s own family members have disowned him and are afraid of him. He admitted to chopping up a body while dressed as a woman in Galveston, Texas. Mr. Durst is the kind of guy that would steal a sandwich from a store even though he has thousands of dollars in his pocket. And, of course, Mr. Durst has been under suspicion of murdering his first wife for decades.
Mr. Durst is all of those things, but what about the actual proof that he killed Susan Berman? Separating out mere suspicion and the ambiguous T.V. edited mutterings, we are left with the two envelopes. Apparently, there is no forensic proof whatsoever that Mr. Durst was present at the crime scene or that he killed Ms. Berman. There are no fingerprints. There are no hair samples. There is no DNA. There is actually no evidence that Mr. Durst was physically present in the City of L.A. at the time of the murder. There are no witnesses. There is plenty of suspicion, but not much evidence. Just the envelopes.
By the way, when you look at those envelopes and note the similarities in the block handwriting, look closely and compare the letter E’s. Are the E’s in the cadaver note strikingly and consistently different from the E’s in Mr. Durst’s earlier letter? The dubious science of hand writing comparison may leave the jury wondering who really wrote that cadaver note.
There is no doubt that Robert Durst is a strange old man who is an intriguing target for law enforcement. Publicity hungry D.A. Jeanine Pirro investigated Mr. Durst for many years for the murder of his wife, but failed to come up with any evidence. Now is Mr. Durst responsible for the execution-style murder of Ms. Berman? Maybe, but the jury will need more than envelopes and suspicion. Even for Mr. Durst, the law requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.