By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The woman who real estate scion Robert Durst is charged with murdering 16 years ago in Los Angeles confided to a mutual friend that Durst had privately confessed to killing his wife nearly two decades earlier, that friend testified on Thursday.
The testimony from Nick Chavin, 72, a New York advertising executive, appeared to buttress the assertions of prosecutors that Durst killed his longtime confidante Susan Berman in December 2000 because of what she knew about his wife's unsolved demise in 1982.
Durst's ties to both cases, and his 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor, were chronicled last year on HBO in its popular documentary series "The Jinx," drawing national attention to various mysteries surrounding the multimillionaire defendant.
Chavin testified on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court that he disbelieved Berman at first when she told him that Durst had admitted to her that he killed his wife, Kathleen, then a fourth-year medical student in New York.
"My relationship with Bob (Durst) was very close, and I couldn't believe that he would have committed a crime like that," Chavin testified, saying his conversations with Berman occurred relatively soon after Kathleen Durst's disappearance.
Chavin said he challenged Berman to tell him why she thought Durst had killed his wife.
"She said, 'Because he told me,'" Chavin added.
Chavin also testified that Berman had said it was important to "protect" their mutual friend, Robert Durst, because nothing could be done to bring back his wife. Chavin acknowledged under questioning from a prosecutor that he only told police about his pivotal conversations with Berman after she was found slain.
Berman, 55, was found shot to death execution-style in her home a couple of months after it was revealed that police in New York had reopened their investigation into the disappearance and presumed killing of Kathleen Durst.
Durst, 73, is charged with first-degree murder in Berman's death and has pleaded not guilty. He has been questioned in the probe of his wife's disappearance but her body was never found, and Durst was not been charged in that case.
Chavin's identity was kept secret until he took the witness stand on Wednesday, and prosecutors have said he feared his life may be put in danger by testifying.
Judge Mark Windham invoked rare procedures in allowing Chavin and one other witness to testify on videotape in case either of them dies or is incapacitated before Durst's trial, which is not expected to begin before next year.
Durst was formally charged with the Berman killing a day after HBO aired the final episode of its series, in which he was recorded muttering to himself off-camera: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."
Durst is not involved in managing his New York family's significant real estate holdings. But prosecutors have put his estimated net worth at some $100 million.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and David Gregorio)