By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Wealthy real estate scion Robert Durst faced the first prosecution testimony of the murder case against him in Los Angeles on Tuesday, from a retired dean of the New York medical school his wife attended before she vanished three decades ago.
The testimony of Dr Albert Kuperman focused on a telephone call he recounted receiving from a woman identifying herself as Kathleen Durst in 1982, a day after she was last seen alive, saying she would have to miss a clinical rotation due to illness.
Prosecutors have raised the possibility that the call in question was actually placed by another woman posing as Durst's wife, and that the fourth-year medical student may have already been dead by then.
Durst has been questioned about his wife's disappearance and presumed slaying but has never been prosecuted in that probe.
Instead, the 73-year-old heir is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Susan Berman, a writer and long-time confidante, at her Los Angeles home in December 2000.
Prosecutors say she was killed execution-style because of what she knew about the unsolved death of Durst's spouse two decades earlier.
His ties to both those cases, and his 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor, were chronicled by the popular HBO documentary series "The Jinx" last year.
Durst has pleaded not guilty in the Berman case and has said he had nothing to do with the disappearance of his wife, whose body has never been found.
Kuperman, 85, was permitted because of his advanced age to take the witness stand months ahead of the actual trial to give videotaped testimony that could be preserved should he die or be otherwise unable to appear in person during a prolonged trial.
Under questioning from prosecutors and defense lawyers, Kuperman said he had long assumed the woman who telephoned his office 35 years ago to call in sick was Kathleen Durst, as she had identified herself.
However, he acknowledged that, after being interviewed by Los Angeles investigators in 2015, he grew uncertain about the caller's true identity. "It didn't occur to me that it was someone else," until then, he said.
Kuperman said he realized Kathleen Durst's voice was not familiar enough to him to have recognized it in that one call. The two had only spoken briefly in person twice before, he said.
Investigators are reported to have long suspected that it was Berman who placed the pivotal call to help obscure the timeline of events on behalf of her friend, Robert Durst.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Tait)