(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File). FILE – In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, real estate heir Robert Durst sits in a courtroom during a hearing in Los Angeles. Before a judge even decides if there’s enough evidence to try Durst on an old murder charge,… (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File). FILE – In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, real estate heir Robert Durst is brought into a courtroom in a wheelchair for a hearing in Los Angeles. Before a judge even decides if there’s enough evidence to try Durst on …
LOS ANGELES (AP) – One of Robert Durst’s closest friends testified Thursday that the real estate heir admitted killing their mutual best friend.
Nathan Chavin said Durst told him in 2014 that he had killed Susan Berman in 2000.
Chavin said the admission came on a New York City sidewalk after the two had met for dinner to discuss the 1982 disappearance of Durst’s wife, Kathleen Durst, and the death of Berman.
Durst said: "I had to. It was her or me, I had no choice," Chavin testified before Durst’s potential murder trial.
Chavin became emotional and reached for a tissue and blew his nose. Durst showed no emotion.
Chavin was asked if he still had warm feelings for Durst.
"It sounds ridiculous, but yes," Chavin said. "This was a best friend who admitted to killing my other best friend."
Durst has pleaded not guilty to murder in Berman’s 2000 shooting. Prosecutors contend she was shot to keep her from telling police what she knew about the disappearance of Kathleen Durst.
Authorities have long suspected he killed his wife, but he’s never been charged and her body has never been found.
Earlier, Chavin testified that Berman told him Durst had confessed to killing his wife – but he didn’t believe her for years.
"Susan said to me specifically that Bob killed Kathie, and I said, ‘No, he didn’t,’" Chavin said.
Chavin told prosecutors in a recording played in court that Berman exaggerated and lied and was "a real fantasy writer."
According to Chavin, Berman said she and Chavin loved both Dursts and now that Kathleen was gone, "we need to protect Bob."
Chavin, 72, was called as a witness in a rare hearing to record testimony in case he is unavailable if Durst is ordered to trial. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has allowed testimony from witnesses who are elderly or fear for their safety.
Prosecutors have suggested that with Durst’s estimated $100 million fortune, he could have witnesses knocked off. The defense calls that suggestion absurd, pointing to the 73-year-old Durst’s frail health and the fact that he is in jail, where his phone conversations are recorded.
Before he took the stand, Chavin’s identity had been a secret. He entered the courtroom through a back door with a personal security detail.
Chavin, who considered Durst his best friend for many years, said he began to question his doubts about the millionaire’s involvement in Kathleen Durst’s disappearance after Berman was shot in her home.
"I began to doubt my own feelings," Chavin said. "It seemed to me that no one else had any reason to harm Susan Berman."
Durst, wearing headphones to better hear the witness, stared straight ahead at his friend through a pair of large eyeglasses.
Chavin said his questions deepened when he learned that Durst, charged with killing an elderly neighbor in Galveston, Texas, in 2001, conceded that he chopped up the man’s body and tossed it out to sea in bags.
Durst was acquitted of murder after testifying that he killed Morris Black in self-defense.
Chavin said his reaction was "extreme shock. Disbelief."
"I didn’t think he was capable of hands-on violence of that extreme," Chavin said. "Now it was like taking the gloves off."
Chavin testified a day earlier that Kathie Durst confided in him that she feared her husband. He described watching their marriage deteriorate.
"She said she was afraid of him," Chavin said. "She never said he hurt her."
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