Robert Durst Pleads Not Guilty to Gun Charges

Millionaire real estate heir Robert Durst has pleaded not guilty to two weapons charges related to his arrest last month.

Durst entered his plea during an arraignment in a New Orleans court on weapons charges that accused him of possessing a firearm after a felony conviction and possessing both a firearm and an illegal drug, marijuana.

Durst's hands were shackled to his sides, and two defense attorneys lifted him from an armchair to his feet to walk to the podium.

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."

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. Prosecutors have asked a U.S. magistrate judge to order Durst to be brought to federal court for a hearing next Thursday — and that he remain in U.S. custody until the federal matter is resolved.

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.

They also have challenged the weapons charges on several grounds, including the allegation that the FBI "rummaged" through Durst's belongings before getting an arrest or search warrant.

But Andrea Armstrong, a criminal law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, said Wednesday that "the fact that it was warrantless doesn't necessarily mean it was unconstitutional."

There are at least 11 circumstances, starting with consent, that make it legal to search without a warrant, she said.

DeGuerin also has argued that the two felonies to which Durst pleaded guilty in Pennsylvania — possessing a firearm while a fugitive and doing so while under indictment — are not among those that would make it illegal for him to have a gun.

Until his indictment Wednesday, Durst had been arrested but not formally charged in connection with the .38-caliber revolver authorities say was found in his room at the J.W. Marriott, where he was staying under the name Everette Ward.

According to court testimony, an FBI agent recognized Durst in a New Orleans hotel March 14 and escorted him to his hotel room. Durst was arrested early March 15 on the Los Angeles warrant and arrested separately on the weapons charges the next day.

Durst's lawyers say the arrest in New Orleans was timed to coincide with the final episode 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.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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