Prosecution wants to squelch names of witnesses against Robert Durst

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) — Prosecutors preparing the murder trial of real-estate heir Robert Durst are seeking to suppress temporarily the names of two witnesses who say they fear he would harm them.

Durst, who is Jewish, was arrested in New Orleans in 2015 for the 2000 California murder of his longtime friend Susan Berman.

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said in court papers before a hearing Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court that there is fear that Durst would try to kill witnesses, The Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors want to keep their identities under wraps for their safety. The testimony would be videotaped and used at a possible trial only if they cannot appear in court.

“The defendant is a menace to society,” Lewin wrote. “He has demonstrated a willingness to use deadly force to escape justice – killing two people and arming himself with deadly weapons to kill anyone who stood in his way of escape.”

Durst, the heir to the Durst Organization, a large New York real estate company, had been a suspect in the mysterious disappearance in 1982 of his first wife, Kathleen McCormack Durst. Prosecutors allege that Durst killed Berman to keep her from revealing information on his wife.

He also was prosecuted in 2003 for the murder of his neighbor, Morris Black. Durst, the subject of the 2015 HBO documentary series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” admitted to dismembering Black’s body but was acquitted of murder.

Defense lawyers have blasted the prosecution request, saying it’s absurd that the frail 73-year-old who is behind bars is a threat to anyone. They also said it was premature, coming before the scheduling of a preliminary hearing to determine if Durst faces trial, as well as a violation of his right to a fair trial.

One witness Lewin wants to question is a doctor who may have been the last person to speak with Kathleen Durst. No charges have ever been brought in the suspected killing of Durst’s first wife, whose body has not been found.

Durst has always maintained his innocence in the murder of Berman, whose father was an associate of Las Vegas mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, both Jewish.

Berman, who was Durst’s spokeswoman, was killed at her home with a bullet to the back of her head as New York investigators prepared to question her in the unsolved 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife.

Durst was arrested last March in New Orleans before the finale of the HBO series.

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