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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Jury Selection Began Today for Robert Durst's Murder Trial

Aired August 26, 2003 - 19:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, jury selection got under way in Galveston, Texas, today. Another case. But not for your standard murder trial. Robert Durst is on trial for murdering and then dismembering his neighbor. Durst, a millionaire, once posed as a mute woman and has been the subject of other murder investigations in the past including his wife's disappearance in 1982, never solved.
Here to preview his trial tonight is former California prosecutor Leonard Levine, who is now a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles.

Also Lisa Bloom is joining as well in New York.

Good to have both of you with us.

COOPER: Leonard, let me start off with you. As a defense attorney, do you put Robert Durst on the stand?

LEONARD LEVINE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, if the defense is self-defense, which I'm told it is, you almost have to put him on the stand. Only two people know what happened. One is now deceased. The other is Mr. Durst. If he's a credible witness as to what occurred -- and I understand he told friends and relatives shortly after the incident that they were struggling over a gun and the gun went off, then he's the only one who can really -- you know, testify to those facts, and he's going to have to do so in trial, I think, if he's going to be acquitted.

COOPER: Lisa, certainly a risky thing, though, I suppose putting this man on the stand if, in fact, his defense team decides to do this because there is such -- I mean, there's so many stories swirling around this person. I mean, the fact that he, you know, cross-dressed as woman -- a s a mute woman, in order to rent the apartment he was living in. Is it a huge risk?

LISA BLOOM, COURT TV: Well, it's a huge risk but let's keep in mind how preposterous self-defense is in the context of this case, Anderson. The victim was hacked up into many pieces and was found headless, torso in one bag, limbs in other trash bags that washed up in the Galveston Bay. How on Earth could be construed into any kind self-defense case, I really don't know. I know that the attorney in this case, Dick Degaron (ph), a prominent Texas defense attorney, he's a very good attorney -- but he's really got his hands full, I think, with this one.

COOPER: Yes, Leonard, I mean, how do you argue self-defense in a case like this? I guess do you resort to the word panic and say it was all just a panic?

LEVINE: Well, first you're assuming he's the one who cut up the body and deposited it in the bay. For all we know, his defense is that they engaged in an argument, the gun went off., he left the man dead, he panicked and someone else, perhaps a Satanic cult -- we've heard that described before in the Laci Peterson case -- came in and engaged in this dismemberment.

COOPER: I should also point out along with the parts of the dismembered body were found a newspaper which had, you know, the delivery address for Mr. Durst as well as a receipt from a hardware store for some of the implements, I guess, that were bought in the process of dismembering.

BLOOM: Well, and let's keep in mind also there's a bloody trail back and forth between Robert Durst's apartment and the victim's apartment. In Durst's pocket when he was arrested is the driver's license of the victim. I mean, there's all kinds of evidence linking him to this crime. He's admitted that he killed this victim. The only question is whether it was self-defense or not.

COOPER: Leonard, how important...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Go ahead.

LEVINE: No, I was going to say, the one thing that's missing is motive. There's no motive here for why Mr. Durst would have killed this elderly man a neighbor of his, unless it was involved in some kind of argument or some kind of scuffle.

And remember, you know, in the O.J. case, everyone thought the evidence was overwhelming. In the John Delorian's case, they had a videotape of him opening the drugs and both were later acquitted. So, you never know how this case is going to play out in trial.

COOPER: And we're talking about this today because jury selection began today and it was very interesting to read that basically the defense -- excuse me -- the defense team, which Lisa pointed out, is a very not only well-paid but well-respected defense team. There are a lot of people on it in Texas. But they basically agreed to not argue or push for a change of venue in order to individually be able to interview jurors. How important is that, Leonard, in selecting a jury?

LEVINE: Well, I think it's very important. In this type of case, you want a jury that in some way you believe is going to be sympathetic to your case. You have a man, a defendant from New York who voluntarily moved to Galveston, apparently to get away from the hustle and bustle of New York to have a more easy lifestyle perhaps, so he may in some way be sympathetic to the jury there and the idea of interviewing them individually is a great advantage to anyone.

BLOOM: Oh, come on, Leonard. This is a multimillionaire who was escaping charges of murdering two other women who was hiding in Galveston, Texas in a $300 a month apartment wearing a woman's wig, woman's clothing and pretending to be mute. I don't think he was exactly vacationing in Galveston.

LEVINE: Well, I'm not saying this is going to be an uphill battle for the defense. But a lot of the evidence -- a lot of the evidence Lisa just pointed out will not be before the jury.

BLOOM: Well, it doesn't pass the straight faced test. And the evidence of him covering up and trying to escape, living on the lam -- Ultimately he got caught because he sold a chicken sandwich.

COOPER: There's a lot of blood evidence and it remains to be seen whether the judge is going to allow of that to be admitted, that the defense is trying to get a squash on basically all of that evidence. We're going to have to wait and see on that.

Appreciate both of you joining us.

Lisa, always good to talk to you.

BLOOM: Thanks, Anderson.

COOPER: Lisa Bloom and Leonard Levine. Thanks very much.

LEVINE: Thank you. Sure.

COOPER: All right.

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