Case made famous by HBO begins

Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during an appearance in a courtroom in Los Angeles. Photo / AP
Real estate heir Robert Durst sits during an appearance in a courtroom in Los Angeles. Photo / AP

American real estate heir Robert Durst has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of a friend who authorities said Durst wanted to keep from talking to investigators looking into the disappearance of his first wife.

The 73-year-old Durst, wearing a neck brace and seated in a wheelchair, entered the plea during a long-awaited appearance in a Los Angeles courtroom in the death of Susan Berman 16 years ago.

"I do want to say here and now though I am not guilty," a pale and frail-looking Durst said in court. "I did not kill Susan Berman."

Durst's statement came after his attorney unsuccessfully argued to ban news media cameras from the courtroom.

Prosecutors said they would not be seeking the death penalty against Durst.

Durst was already a well-known figure in his native New York. But he became a national name when HBO aired the documentary The Jinx that followed his life and cast suspicion on him involving several crimes.

The HBO documentary examined alleged ties to the killing of Berman and the death and dismemberment of his neighbour Morris Black in 2001.

Durst testified that he killed Black in self-defence and was acquitted of murder. FBI agents tracked Durst to a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the finale of The Jinx. Durst was formally arrested early on the day of the broadcast, before viewers saw him in a washroom, still wearing a live microphone and muttering, "There it is. You're caught! What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

Durst is an estranged member of the family that runs One World Trade Centre in New York.

- AP

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