It has been nearly 20 years since a Galveston County jury found Robert Durst not guilty of murdering Morris Black, the island native Durst admitted to killing in 2001 with a bullet to the head and then dismembering.
Durst’s trial was among the highest profile events ever to occur in Galveston County, drawing worldwide attention with scandalous details about a billionaire who fled to the end of the road in Texas while under suspicion of at least two other murders and lived on the island posing as a mute woman.
Upon news Monday of Durst’s death, former District Court Judge Susan Criss, who presided over his murder trial, said she wasn’t celebrating because questions remained about one of the three killings Durst was accused of during his life.
“I know many people are celebrating,” Criss said. “But I don’t think that’s appropriate. To my knowledge, he didn’t reveal what happened to Kathie. I hope that opportunity wasn’t lost.”
Durst last year was convicted of murder for shooting his friend Susan Berman at point-blank range at her Los Angeles home in 2000. At the time of his death, he was facing charges in the death of his former wife, Kathie Durst, who went missing in New York in 1982.
Durst was “evil,” “smart” and “very manipulative,” Criss said. Nearing the end of his life, he wanted to talk to people about the crimes he committed, she said.
“I think he fell in love with the notoriety,” Criss said.
Durst had been sick for some time, said Dick DeGuerin, his longtime defense attorney.
“We didn’t expect him to survive the trial,” DeGuerin said. “He’s at peace now, but he’d been very sick for a long time.”
DeGuerin didn’t consider Durst’s conviction in California final, because it still was under appeal, he said.
“It’s not final and it will never be final because it was still under appeal,” DeGuerin said. There would be no effort to continue the appeal after Durst’s death, he said.
Meanwhile, the Galveston acquittal long has been settled and in the years since has continued to cast a long shadow over the county’s justice system.
The outcome of that trial created a perception that Galveston County juries are lenient, which lingers even today, Criss said.
“There’s a question about whether Galveston jurors are more lenient,” Criss said. “I don’t necessarily think that’s true. There are death sentences and life sentences that come out of Galveston. I think more important than geography was his wealth and notoriety.”
Criss said she believed the high-profile nature of Durst’s trial might have motivated the jury to acquit him.
Criss said she knew people continued looking for ways to hold Durst responsible long after his acquittal.
Hours after Durst’s death was made public, former Galveston County District Attorney Kurt Sistrunk, who led the office during Durst’s trial, sent a statement to The Daily News regarding his passing, quoting John Donne, the English poet, who once wrote, “Any man’s death diminishes me.”
“COVID has hit the entire world with the realities of a virus being able to kill without reason,” Sistrunk said. “Earlier today, I was made aware of another reality when I received a text and was called about the death of Robert Durst.
“The words of John Donne escape me.”