Robert Durst and 'The Jinx' Trial: Will HBO Testify?
"I believe he'll be convicted," says Fox News' Jeanine Pirro of the stunning arrest of subject Robert Durst, but evidence gathered for the series may not be admissible.
This story first appeared in the March 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
HBO might have stumbled into a sequel to its hit documentary series The Jinx. The March 15 finale marked a stranger-than-fiction confluence of events: As subject Robert Durst, 71, was arrested on murder charges in New Orleans, the network debuted audio of him seemingly confessing to three murders. That "killed them all" audio and evidence gathered during production — including a handwriting sample on his letter that appears to match a note sent to police by the presumed killer — could be instrumental in convicting a man suspected in three homicides since 1982.
Durst, never charged in the disappearance of his wife and acquitted of allegedly dismembering a neighbor in Texas, now has been charged in the 2000 murder of friend and Los Angeles writer Susan Berman.
The question is how much material collected for The Jinx will be used by L.A. County prosecutors and whether director Andrew Jarecki, collaborator Marc Smerling or even HBO Documentary Films chief Sheila Nevins will be asked to testify in the case. Prosecutors insist their investigation was independent of the series, but there is little question the material gathered for it helped lead them to charge Durst. "It took a decade for them to unearth what I think is sufficient evidence to prosecute Durst for Susan Berman's murder," says former prosecutor Jeanine Pirro, now a Fox News host, who has chased Durst since 2000 and appears in The Jinx. "I believe he'll be convicted."
The incriminating audio, adds Pirro, should be admissible in court — though ultimately it will be up to a judge. Odds of the "Beverley Hills" handwriting sample landing in court seem much more likely. "The jury will see that letter," says legal news analyst Mari Fagel. "But there will be a question of tampering for all of this evidence. It's not the cops who got their hands on it first, and the defense is going to make a big deal of that. Normally, you have to follow the chain of custody. That's difficult when the evidence comes from documentarians."
Jarecki abruptly halted his media victory lap March 16 as questions arose about the murky timetable for his delivery of material to the police. "It's still a blurred line as to when he should have revealed what he knew," adds Fagel, who says Jarecki taking the witness stand is inevitable. But it could be some time before a trial because Durst was arrested with a revolver and may face gun charges in Louisiana before he's extradited to California.
L.A.'s lead Durst prosecutor, John Lewin, has a reputation for nabbing convictions in previously closed cases. In 2014, he got a jury to convict an Orange County man for the 1979 murder of his girlfriend. Durst again has called on Dick DeGuerin, his Texas lawyer, to lead his defense. "I think the jig is up," says Pirro, though she does have two reservations about the trial: "It is L.A., and his $2 million defense team has no problem with making shit up."