Once-Fugitive Real Estate Heir's Plea Deal Approved

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday approved a plea agreement for real estate heir Robert Durst to serve 7 years, 1 month in prison on a weapons charge.

         U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt sentenced Durst, 72, on Wednesday in New Orleans. Durst had accepted the sentence as part of his guilty plea in February. Engelhardt also fined Durst $5,000 and said that his sentence, once served, would be followed by three years of supervised release.

         He will get credit for time served since his arrest in mid-March last year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon said.

         Ten years and a $250,000 fine would have been the maximum sentence that Durst could have faced for illegally carrying a .38-caliber revolver after being convicted of a felony.

         Durst still faces a separate murder charge in California. Durst is charged in Los Angeles with killing a female friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 to keep her from talking to New York prosecutors about the disappearance of Durst's first wife in 1982.

         His attorneys have said repeatedly that he is innocent, does not know who killed Berman, and wants to prove it.

         "I have been waiting to get to California about a year so I can state my not guilty plea," Durst told Engelhardt. "I truly, truly want to express my statement that I am not guilty in the death of Susan Berman."

         While federal guidelines recommended a sentence of between 12 and 18 months, Engelhardt said the sentence was reasonable since it included agreements in three other jurisdictions. Under the deal, the U.S. attorneys in Houston and Manhattan and the Orleans Parish agreed not to prosecute Durst on a variety of offenses.

         Accepting the longer sentence "cleared the decks — at a cost," defense attorney Richard DeGuerin said. "It's a great cost, but he's not facing any other prosecutions except what's in California."

         "This case is and always has been about the accusation that Bob killed his best friend, Susan Berman. He did not kill Susan Berman, he doesn't know who did, and he's eager to get to California and prove that," DeGuerin said.

         Durst's attorneys and prosecutors in Los Angeles have agreed that he will be in Los Angeles by mid-August.

         He's likely to leave Louisiana within a couple of weeks, McMahon said.

         "He'll be out of here pretty quickly," McMahon said, noting that timing and the specific prison that Durst goes to is up to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

         Engelhardt recommended that Durst serve his time at FCI Terminal Island, California, about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The location is near the trial venue and has medical facilities Durst needs because of his "advanced age and serious health considerations, including mobility challenges," defense lawyers wrote in a request filed Monday.

         An estranged member of the wealthy New York real estate family that runs 1 World Trade Center, Durst was tracked to New Orleans in March 2015 by FBI agents worried that he was about to flee to Cuba.

         He was detained at a hotel on the eve of the finale of a six-part documentary about him, and was arrested early on the morning of the show. "The Jinx" described the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, the death and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, and Berman's death.

         At the end of the show, Durst is heard muttering, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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