‘SNL’ star Laraine Newman to testify in Robert Durst murder trial
Former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Laraine Newman is expected to return to the witness stand Thursday — one day after testifying that a longtime friend told her at some point before she was killed that she had provided a false alibi for Robert Durst in connection with the disappearance of the New York real estate scion’s first wife.
Newman — called as a witness in Durst’s murder trial for the December 2000 shooting death of Susan Berman — said she learned about Kathie Durst’s disappearance from Berman.
“Do you know how you found out that she had disappeared?” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin asked.
“Susan told me that she had provided an alibi for him, for Bobby, in relation to the disappearance,” the prosecution witness testified.
“I remember her saying that she made a phone call,” said Newman, who now works in voice-over animation.
When asked how certain she was that Berman told her she had provided Durst with an alibi, she responded, “100%.”
“And in discussing this alibi, did she indicate to you whether or not in words whether this was an actual alibi or whether she had done something false?” the prosecutor asked.
“It was something false,” Newman said, noting that she “responded negatively” to Berman, whom she said subsequently attempted to take back the statement. The two never discussed the subject again, she said.
The former SNL star testified that she was “not thrilled to be in court” and felt “tremendous shame that I did not appreciate the gravity of what she was telling me.”
Newman acknowledged a history of past drug use, but said she had “no doubt” that Berman had made the statement about the alibi to her. She is due back on the stand Thursday afternoon for continuing cross-examination by one of Durst’s attorneys, David Chesnoff.
Durst, now 78, is charged with murder for the killing of Berman, a writer with whom he had been close friends for years after the two met at UCLA. The murder charge includes the special circumstance allegation that she was killed because she was a witness to a crime.
The prosecution contends that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst, with Durst’s lead attorney, Dick DeGuerin, countering by calling Berman a “storyteller” who had a “great imagination” and “made things up.”
The prosecutor had told jurors earlier that the evidence would show that Durst shot and killed the 55-year-old Berman “out of survival” because he feared she would tell authorities about his involvement in Kathie Durst’s disappearance.
During an updated opening statement last month when the trial resumed after more than a yearlong delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lewin called the cases of Kathie Durst and Berman “interrelated,” and told jurors they would hear evidence that Durst killed his wife and used Berman to help cover up his part in the crime, and that he subsequently had to kill another person, Morris Black, in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, because the man figured out who Durst was and was putting pressure on him.
“Susan Berman never saw what happened. She never knew it was going to happen. She turned around because she trusted him because he was her close friend. He was not someone to fear … She took a few steps and he basically blew her brains out,” Lewin said.
DeGuerin countered that his client had no motive to kill his longtime friend in her home in the Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles and had nothing to gain from her killing.
“Bob Durst did not kill Susan Berman and he does not know who did,” DeGuerin told the panel twice, reiterating his opening statement to jurors in March 2020.
Durst — who contended that Black was killed during a struggle over a gun before Durst dismembered his neighbor — was acquitted in Texas of that killing.
Durst’s attorney contends the disappearance of Kathie Durst and Berman’s killing were “completely dissimilar” to Black’s shooting death.
“Whoever killed Susan Berman left no clues. Kathie Durst disappeared without a trace. After Morris Black’s death, the police found hundreds of clues,” the defense attorney told the jury.
DeGuerin said Durst went to Berman’s home in December 2000, found his close friend dead and “freaked out,” then sent a note to Beverly Hills police about her body.
DeGuerin also told jurors that his client — whom he said suffered from what has been known as Asperger’s syndrome — has “been considered a little bit weird” and run away all of his life and “doesn’t make what we would consider good decisions,” reminding jurors that they will hear from the defendant during the trial.
DeGuerin said Durst “had no motive and nothing to gain” by Berman’s death, noting later that there was no forensic evidence linking his client to that killing. He also disputed the prosecution’s contention that Berman made a phone call posing as Kathie Durst and called Berman a “storyteller” who had a “great imagination” and “made things up.”
DeGuerin told the panel that a six-part HBO series “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which the defendant was recorded saying “There it is, you’re caught” and “killed them all, of course,” was “heavily edited” and “not a documentary.”
DeGuerin said his client “wanted his story out,” but chose the wrong people to tell that story and realized by the time the fifth episode aired that it was a “hatchet job.”
Durst has been behind bars since March 14, 2015, when he was taken into custody in a New Orleans hotel room hours before the airing of the final episode of the HBO series, which examined Kathie’s disappearance and the killings of Berman and Black.
Durst has been long estranged from his real estate-rich family, which is known for ownership of a series of New York City skyscrapers — including an investment in the World Trade Center.
Durst split with the family when his younger brother was placed in charge of the family business, leading to a drawn-out legal battle, and ultimately reached a settlement under which the family reportedly paid him $60 million to $65 million.