Durst wit­ness ex­plains switch

Emily Altman tes­ti­fies she con­sulted hus­band be­fore back­track­ing on tes­ti­mony.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Marisa Ger­ber marisa.ger­ber @la­times.com Twit­ter: @maris­ager­ber

Friend of mil­lion­aire mur­der sus­pect says she con­sulted hus­band on her tes­ti­mony.

One of Robert Durst’s old­est friends ad­mit­ted on the stand Mon­day that she got guid­ance from her hus­band be­fore back­track­ing on dam­ag­ing tes­ti­mony that put the New York real es­tate mag­nate in Los An­ge­les at the time his best friend was mur­dered.

Last week, Emily Altman gave tes­ti­mony that ad­dressed a key chal­lenge po­lice had faced in build­ing a case against Durst: His where­abouts at the time of the slay­ing of his best friend, Susan Berman.

Durst told her he’d been in Los An­ge­les around the time Berman was killed in De­cem­ber 2000, Altman had said.

But un­der ques­tion­ing from Durst’s at­tor­ney the next day, Altman dis­tanced her­self from the claim, say­ing she didn’t know whether she’d heard it from Durst or from her hus­band.

She also said that while she knew Durst had been in Cal­i­for­nia around that time, she was not sure whether he’d been in Los An­ge­les.

Durst, 74, is ac­cused of shoot­ing Berman in the back of the head in­side her Bene­dict Canyon home — a slay­ing that pros­e­cu­tors say was mo­ti­vated by his fear that she knew too much about the 1982 dis­ap­pear­ance of his wife, Kath­leen.

The ec­cen­tric mul­ti­mil­lion­aire, who has pleaded not guilty, says he didn’t kill Berman — and doesn’t know who did.

Last week, Altman of­ten got emo­tional on the stand, sigh­ing and dab­bing at her eyes with tis­sues.

She oc­ca­sion­ally glanced at Durst, who she said looked phys­i­cally un­rec­og­niz­able — the end re­sult, she said, of years of sus­pi­cion about his in­volve­ment in Berman’s death and Kath­leen’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

Altman also tes­ti­fied that Durst had been “crushed” by his wife’s dis­ap­pear­ance years ear­lier.

“He was dev­as­tated,” she said.

Altman said Mon­day she was intimidated when Deputy Dist. Atty. John Lewin ques­tioned her last week. She first said she be­lieved Durst was stay­ing at the Bev­erly Hil­ton ho­tel dur­ing that fate­ful time, but af­ter think­ing about her tes­ti­mony in her ho­tel room, she then said she wasn’t sure if he’d been in L.A. at all.

When you re­turned to your ho­tel room to think, Lewin asked Mon­day, were you aware that the in­for­ma­tion you’d pro­vided in court was “ex­tremely dam­ag­ing” to Durst? “Yes,” she re­sponded. The wit­ness said Mon­day that be­fore chang­ing her ac­count, she had spo­ken to her hus­band Stew­art about what she’d said on the stand. Dur­ing that con­ver­sa­tion, she said, her hus­band told her he re­mem­bered it dif­fer­ently — the in­for­ma­tion, he told her, had prob­a­bly come from him, not Durst.

“He felt that I was in­cor­rect,” Altman said.

Later in Mon­day’s hear­ing, Durst’s lead at­tor­ney, Dick DeGuerin, asked if her fi­nal state­ment on the mat­ter was that she couldn’t iden­tify the source of the in­for­ma­tion.

Altman nod­ded, say­ing, “I re­ally don’t think I can.”

At one point, the prose­cu­tor ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with her an­swers, which he char­ac­ter­ized as in­ten­tion­ally eva­sive.

“She’s been Pinoc­chio up there, your honor,” Lewin said.

Altman, 68, is one of sev­eral older wit­nesses whom pros­e­cu­tors have ques­tioned early, pre­serv­ing their tes­ti­mony in case they’re not avail­able for the mur­der trial, which is un­likely to be­gin be­fore 2018.

Durst will re­turn to court Aug. 28, when sev­eral other wit­nesses, in­clud­ing Altman’s hus­band, Stew­art, are ex­pected to tes­tify for the pros­e­cu­tion. Two wit­nesses who were ini­tially go­ing to tes­tify last week — Paul Kauf­man, who dated Berman and Richard Markey, one of the last peo­ple to see Berman alive — are also sched­uled to tes­tify at that time.

‘She’s been Pinoc­chio up there, your honor.’ — John Lewin, deputy district at­tor­ney, about Emily Altman’s tes­ti­mony in the Robert Durst mur­der trial

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