Real Estate Heir Durst Pleads Not Guilty To Firearm Charges

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst, wanted in California on a murder charge, pleaded not guilty Thursday to two weapons charges related to his arrest last month.

         Durst, with hands shackled to his sides, entered his plea during an arraignment in a New Orleans court on charges of possessing a firearm after a felony conviction and possessing both a firearm and an illegal drug, marijuana.

         Durst's defense attorneys lifted him from an armchair to his feet to walk to the podium and then helped him enter his plea.

         Attorney Dick DeGuerin whispered into Durst's ear as he entered the plea. He had to whisper twice before Durst said, "I am not guilty, your honor."

         Judge Franz Zibilich asked if Durst was making that plea to both charges against him. DeGuerin whispered again, and Durst said, "Yes, your honor."

         Durst was arrested at a J.W. Marriott hotel on March 15 in New Orleans on warrant from Los Angeles County after being recognized by an FBI agent. The next day, a grand jury indicted Durst on weapons charges after authorities searching Durst's hotel room allegedly found a .38-caliber revolver and a controlled substance in the room.

         The weapons arrest has kept Durst in New Orleans even though he waived extradition to California, where he's charged in the December 2000 death of a longtime friend. Durst is being held without bail in the mental ward of a state prison.

         Durst's story also is playing out two miles away in federal court in New Orleans. An affidavit filed there accuses Durst of breaking a federal law prohibiting felons from possessing firearms. Durst pleaded guilty in Pennsylvania in 2004 to possession a firearm while a fugitive and doing so while under indictment. But DeGuerin has argued that the two felonies to which Durst pleaded guilty would not make it illegal for him to have a gun.

         Prosecutors have asked a U.S. magistrate judge to order Durst to be brought to federal court for a hearing April 16 — and that he remain in U.S. custody until the federal matter is resolved. DeGuerin said attorneys are set for a hearing on federal matters later Thursday.

         Durst, an estranged member of the family that runs 1 World Trade Center in New York, has had multiple run-ins with the law over his nearly 72 years.

         He was arrested in New Orleans on the eve of the finale of a six-part HBO documentary called "The Jinx" about Durst, the disappearance of his first wife in 1982, the death of a longtime friend in 2000 and the death and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston in 2001.

         A self-defense plea won acquittal in the death of Morris Black, but Durst is charged in Los Angeles with murder in the death of longtime friend Susan Berman, 55, who was shot in the head in 2000. His lawyers, DeGuerin and Billy Gibbens, have said repeatedly that he just wants to go to California to deal with that charge.

         Durst's lawyers say his arrest in New Orleans was timed to coincide with the conclusion of "The Jinx," which also described the disappearance of his wife, Kathleen, in 1982 from New York; the Los Angeles shooting of Berman, 55, in 2000; and Black's death in 2001.

         Durst had registered at the Marriott under the name Everette Ward and was lying low while HBO aired the final chapter of his life story.

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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