Millionaire Robert Durst pleads not guilty to federal charge

AP News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2015 6:43 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Jailed millionaire Robert Durst pleaded not guilty Tuesday to the newest charge against him: a federal charge of possessing a gun after a felony conviction.

U.S. District Judge Lance Africk set a trial date for June 22 before Judge Helen "Ginger" Berrigan.

Durst's defense team is also adding David Chesnoff, whose celebrity clients have included Motley Crue singer Vince Neil, pop singer Bruno Mars, boxer Mike Tyson, and businesswoman Martha Stewart. Motions filed Tuesday ask permission for him to represent Durst in federal district court.

Durst is an estranged member of the wealthy family that operates 1 World Trade Center. He also faces a murder charge in California and two state weapons charges in Louisiana — one of possessing a .38-caliber revolver after a felony conviction and one of possessing the firearm along with an illegal drug: about 5 ounces of marijuana.

Durst pleaded guilty to two federal charges in Pennsylvania in 2004: possessing a firearm while a fugitive and while under indictment. However, his lawyers say those convictions don't make it illegal for him to carry a gun under Louisiana law.

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 55-year-old Susan Berman, a longtime friend — allegedly because she was going to talk to investigators about the disappearance of his first wife in 1982.

He was arrested early March 15, less than 12 hours before HBO aired the final segment of "The Jinx," in which — off camera in a bathroom but with the microphone still live — Durst whispers, "There it is. You're caught!" After about 10 other short sentences and disjointed phrases, he says, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

Tuesday's hearing had its own bizarre moment when prosecutor Mike McMahon asked Durst if he understood the maximum penalties he faced if convicted. Durst responded: "And you are?"

Durst's attorney and the judge then explained to him who McMahon was.

Durst is being held without bail in a state prison where the Orleans Parish mental ward is located, because the sheriff's office says experts found him to be a suicide risk.

Defense attorneys and prosecutors met with a different federal judge last week to discuss another federal matter: whether two FBI agents and a state trooper on an FBI task force should be held in contempt of court for failing to show up at a hearing last week before the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court magistrate.

Federal prosecutors moved that part of the case to federal court Monday; Durst's attorneys have not filed their response and have said they would not comment until they do.

Durst's lawyers say his arrest in New Orleans was timed to coincide with the conclusion of "The Jinx." Durst had registered at the Marriott under the name Everette Ward and was lying low while HBO aired the final chapter of his life story.

Authorities said they found a passport, a head-and-chest latex mask, a handgun and marijuana in his room. His lawyers say it was searched illegally.