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Durst Found Not Guilty of Murder

Aired November 11, 2003 - 11:14   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: On the phone with us right now, we have our legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeff, I don't know if you were watching and could see the reaction, but it looks like nobody was more surprised than Robert Durst himself to be found not guilty of murdering a man that he admits to killing and dismembering.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, count me among those shocked, astonished, absolutely bamboozled by this verdict. I thought this was a very strong case. And you know, he had some very good legal help. But, boy, this is a total surprise to me.

KAGAN: Some of the things that Ed Lavandera was pointing out, that he did testify, that he did testify in his own defense, that this is an area that doesn't go as strongly for the prosecution as the Houston area.

TOOBIN: That's right. This is not Harris County, which is Houston, where they send more people to death row than any other county in Texas. But it's still Texas, and there are people on death row from Galveston. And you know, it is true, that with middle class and upper middle class defendants, jurors are said to expect them to testify, and he did testify, and apparently, the jury believed him.

But there is so much evidence in this case of what lawyers call consciousness of guilt and flight, the issue of him jumping bail, the issue of him trying to escape is just so damaging to most defendants. Plus, remember, the whole reason he came to Texas was that he was under suspicion for murdering his wife in New York, and then decided to dress up as a deaf, mute woman to escape the scrutiny. I mean, this thing sounds like a bad novel.

KAGAN: You couldn't sell it.

TOOBIN: Well, you may be able to sell it now. He may be able to sell it now. And the jury apparently thought, notwithstanding all that circumstantial evidence of a guilty conscious, that this victim was such a bad guy that Durst really did kill him in self-defense.

KAGAN: Well, you know, and they say money can't buy you love, but apparently it can buy you good legal help.

TOOBIN: You know, this is yet again a demonstration of the fact that it is better to be rich than poor. How is that for a blinding insight.

And in the legal system, if you can afford extremely competent defense attorneys, you do a lot better. You could be sure that most of the people on Texas' death row did not have the kind of legal help that Mr. Durst did.

KAGAN: Absolutely. And Ed Lavandera was also pointing out that he is off this huge hook, but he's not out of the woods totally in terms of his legal problems. For jumping bail, he faces a claim against that. And I imagine there might be some civil charges as well.

TOOBIN: Civil charges, and remember, this murder case, going back to 1982, when his wife disappeared. The whole reason people got interested in Durst again and the whole reason he said that he fled to Texas is that the Westchester Country district attorney has reopened that old murder case. There are allegations, and I don't to overstate them, that he may be a suspect in a murder in California. Again, his legal problems are far from over. But when you admit to a jury that you killed somebody, chopped them up, and disposed of them in Galveston Bay and get off, you've had a pretty good day. Other legal problem can be dealt with down the road.

KAGAN: And what about this other thing that Ed Lavandera was bring up, that prosecutors here might then file charges, of course, not murder charges, because that would be double jeopardy, but about, let's say, say tampering with evidence, because of dismembering the body?

TOOBIN: They could. The custom among prosecutors is, if you lose, you lose, and you don't find a technical way around the double jeopardy laws to essentially try the same case again. But if they do believe that they have a good case and if they do believe Durst is a genuine danger to the community, they could file charges like that.

I do think that bail jumping is very much a separate crime, and very likely to result in additional charges.

So that, I think, they are well within their rights, and I think most people would expect there would be a prosecution there.

As for relating to the murder itself, more charges, that strikes me as unlikely, but I can't say for sure.

KAGAN: All right, Jeff Toobin in New York City. Thank you for that. Want to go back to Galveston, Texas, where Ed Lavandera is standing by.

And, Ed, also, I understand, we expect the attorneys from the case to come to the microphones and have some things to say.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think that might have happened before we took it live on the air, but the judge was explaining to the prosecutors and the defense attorneys in the case that they will have a chance, if the jury so wishes, to meet with them, talk with them. From what the judge was saying, attorneys do this in a lot of cases to get a sense of what they were thinking and what the thought process was. Attorneys learn a lot from that experience, we're told.

Then after that, the attorneys -- the gag order essentially now lifted in this case. The defense attorneys and the prosecutors will be permitted to speak. There's a room set up in the Galveston courthouse where they will be allowed to do that, as well as any juror that might wish to do that as well. It's been a crazy couple -- last week here as we waited for this jury to return with the verdict here. They've deliberated for a little more than three days. The judge's patience starting to wear thin with this jury yesterday. Originally, the jury had been given a couple of -- the jurors are smokers, and they were given smoking breaks every couple of hours. The judge changing that to twice a day, and then the jury had been eating out as well at several nice restaurants around here in Galveston. The Judge took that away as well. The jury started eating in. So definitely the judge trying to put the pressure on this jury to come to a decision and get a lot of work done. They worked a little bit later last night.

So it's been a wild kind of week here, not to mention a wild six weeks for many of the people who have been watching this story very closely here in Galveston.

KAGAN: All right. And as we said, we do expect those lawyers to come to the microphones. We'll be monitoring that out of Galveston. Thanks to you, Ed, Ed Lavandera in Galveston, Texas, and to Jeff Toobin in New York City. So when we hear the lawyers speak at the microphone in Galveston, we'll go back live.


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