Attorneys claim arrest of millionaire accused of murder was invalid
(NEW ORLEANS) — Attorneys for millionaire Robert Durst, who faces a California murder charge, say Durst’s arrest in New Orleans on weapons charges was invalid, in part because the FBI searched his hotel room illegally.
Durst, who waived extradition to California on the murder charge, was arrested last month at the J.W. Marriott hotel in New Orleans. He is set for a Thursday hearing on Louisiana charges of possession of a firearm by a felon and illegally possessing a firearm along with an illegal drug.
Items recovered from his hotel room included a .38-caliber revolver and about 5 ounces of marijuana, according to court records.
A sworn statement supporting the warrant “contains a material misrepresentation designed to cover up the FBI’s unlawful, warrantless search of Mr. Durst’s hotel room,” according to a copy of a motion filed by Durst’s attorneys.
The motion asking Magistrate Harry Cantrell to throw out the warrant will likely be argued Thursday. Durst’s attorneys also have asked the judge to subpoena Fox News Channel’s Jeanine Pirro, a former New York prosecutor who investigated Durst in connection with the disappearance of his first wife in 1982, and all video surveillance for March 14 and 15 from the Marriott and Los Angeles Police Department.
The FBI and Los Angeles police, who have a warrant accusing Durst of killing his friend and spokeswoman Susan Berman in 2000 to keep her from talking to Pirro’s investigators, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Pirro has said she planned to talk to Berman. Durst’s attorneys want to confirm that she had never contacted Berman before she was killed, according to the motion.
Louisiana State Police referred requests for comment to the Orleans Parish district attorney’s office. That office does not comment on open cases or investigations, spokesman Chris Bowman said.
Orleans Parish district attorney’s investigator Jim O’Hern testified at Durst’s bail hearing that he helped Los Angeles detectives get the warrant on which Durst was arrested early March 15, a Sunday. An FBI agent had inventoried Durst’s belongings in his hotel room the afternoon of March 14 and a judge signed the warrant about 2 a.m. the next day, he said.
The affidavit used to get the warrant states that Los Angeles police and New Orleans prosecutors got a warrant, then searched the room and found the gun and drugs, according to a motion filed Tuesday and provided to The Associated Press on Wednesday by Durst’s attorneys.
“However, those items were actually discovered by the FBI in a warrantless search of Mr. Durst’s hotel room, preceded by a warrantless detention and arrest, long before the search warrant was issued,” the motion said.
Agents C. Bender and C. Williams had identified and frisked Durst, “a frail, 71-year-old man in poor health,” in the hotel lobby and should have taken him immediately to jail if they were arresting him on a California warrant, the attorneys wrote.
O’Hern testified that the search was an inventory to ensure safekeeping of Durst’s belongings. Neither FBI policy nor court rulings support such a search, “and the state cannot expect the Court to take this justification seriously,” the motion said.
Quoting a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that “an inventory search must not be a ruse of a general rummaging in order to discover incriminating evidence,” they said, “the FBI agents rummaged through all of Mr. Durst’s luggage and clothing, opened every bag and pocket, and inspected, removed and photographed every item in his possession, down to his pens, glasses and medication.”
If the agents had just wanted to safeguard Durst’s property, they should have just removed and secured it, the attorneys wrote.
They also argued that Durst’s federal convictions — interstate transportation of a firearm while under indictment and possessing a firearm or ammunition while a fugitive from justice — aren’t among felonies that make possessing a firearm illegal in Louisiana.