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Jeff Wolf Discusses the Robert Durst Murder Trial on Law & Crime

Robert Durst, a New York real estate mogul, is one of the most notorious defendants in the country, following the 2015 HBO documentary miniseries: The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. The documentary chronicles the disappearance of Durst’s wife Kathie (1982), the murder of his friend Susan Berman (2000), and the death and dismemberment of Durst’s neighbor Morris Black (2001). Durst was suspected of involvement in the first two murders and confessed to the third, but was acquitted at trial after claiming self-defense. 

This week, after a long delay due to COVID-19, Durst, now 78, sits in a wheelchair in a courtroom in Los Angeles for the death of his long-time friend Susan Berman.

The defense called the 14-month delay “the longest adjournment in U.S. history featuring the same jury.” And they argued that the jurors could have forgotten information from earlier in the trial.

In a recent interview on Law & Crime, a multi-platform live trial network, Denver defense lawyer Jeff Wolf discussed the veracity of allowing jurors to read transcripts of previous court testimony.

“It’s highly unusual…jurors all the time ask for a transcript of what someone has said, and the judge routinely tells them they have to rely on their memory. Because of what COVID has done to this trial…[it’s] a huge problem. The jury heard this testimony and now they get to read it again. It’s beyond the pale.”

For cases like Durst’s, which now spans four decades, many of the witnesses have passed away or are unavailable to testify. Wolf went on to discuss the rules of hearsay: an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of whatever it asserts.

“It tends to happen in older cases because witnesses are less available,” explained Wolf. “So, when you’re talking about the rule of hearsay, it’s a very complex rule…The first thing you have to determine is…is this actually hearsay or is it being used for a purpose other than the truth of the matter asserted. If it is being used for the truth of the matter asserted, then there’s one set of rules for when the declarant is available and one set for when they’re unavailable…and then both of those have a bunch of exceptions that fall under them for when they’re going to be allowed. The exceptions for when the declarant is unavailable are much looser than when the declarant is available.”

Watch the full video for extended commentary from Jeffrey Wolf or for more details about the case.