New York millionaire Robert Durst declared guilty of best friend’s murder

 Real estate heir Robert Durst is shown in this Jan. 6, 2017, file photo. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via AP/Pool)
Real estate heir Robert Durst is shown in this Jan. 6, 2017, file photo. (Mark Boster/Los Angeles Times via AP/Pool)
Short Url
Updated 18 September 2021

New York millionaire Robert Durst declared guilty of best friend’s murder

New York millionaire Robert Durst declared guilty of best friend’s murder
  • Durst faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole after he was convicted of first-degree murder
  • Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way

INGLEWOOD, California: A Los Angeles jury convicted Robert Durst on Friday of murdering his best friend 20 years ago, a case that took on new life after the New York real estate heir participated in a documentary that connected him to the slaying that was linked to his wife’s 1982 disappearance.
Durst, 78, was not in court for the verdict from the jury that deliberated about seven hours over three days. He was in isolation at a jail because he was exposed to someone with coronavirus.
Durst, who faces a mandatory term of life in prison without parole when sentenced Oct. 18, was convicted of the first-degree murder of Susan Berman. She was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head in her Los Angeles home in December 2000 as she was prepared to tell police how she helped cover up his wife’s killing.
Berman, the daughter of a Las Vegas mobster, was Durst’s longtime confidante who told friends she provided a phony alibi for him after his wife vanished.
Prosecutors painted a portrait of a rich narcissist who didn’t think the laws applied to him and ruthlessly disposed of people who stood in his way. They interlaced evidence of Berman’s killing with Kathie Durst’s suspected death and the 2001 killing of a tenant in a Texas flophouse where Robert Durst holed up while on the run from New York authorities.
“Bob Durst has been around a lot of years, and he’s been able to commit a lot of horrific crimes. We just feel really gratified that he’s been held accountable,” Deputy District Attorney John Lewin said.
Lewin met with jurors after the verdict and said they thought prosecutors had proven Durst had killed his wife and had murdered both Berman and his Texas neighbor in an effort to escape justice.
He said jurors did not find Durst credible as a witness.
Durst was arrested in 2015 while hiding out in a New Orleans hotel on the eve of the airing of the final episode of “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” in which he was confronted with incriminating evidence and made what prosecutors said was a confession.
Durst could be heard muttering to himself on a live microphone in a bathroom: “There it is. You’re caught.”
Durst’s decision to testify in his own defense — hoping for a repeat of his acquittal in the Texas killing — backfired as he was forced to admit lying under oath, made damning admissions and had his credibility destroyed when questioned by the prosecutor.
Defense lawyer David Chesnoff said Friday they believed there was “substantial reasonable doubt” and were disappointed in the verdict. He said Durst would pursue all avenues of appeal.
The conviction marks a victory for authorities who have sought to put Durst behind bars for murder in three states. Durst was never charged in the disappearance of his wife, who has never been found, and he was acquitted of murder in Galveston, Texas, where he admitted dismembering the victim’s body and tossing it out to sea.
The story of Durst, the estranged scion of a New York real estate developer, has been fodder for New York tabloids since his wife vanished. He provided plot twists so numerous that Hollywood couldn’t resist making a feature film about his life that eventually led to the documentary and discovery of new evidence in Berman’s slaying.
Durst ran from the law multiple times, disguised as a mute woman in Texas and staying under an alias at a New Orleans hotel with a shoulders-to-head latex mask for a presumed getaway. He jumped bail in Texas and was arrested after shoplifting a chicken sandwich in Pennsylvania, despite having $37,000 in cash — along with two handguns — in his rental car.
He later quipped that he was “the worst fugitive the world has ever met.”
Durst escaped close scrutiny from investigators when his wife disappeared. But his troubles resurfaced in late 2000 when New York authorities reopened the case.
His lawyer told him to be prepared to be charged in the case, and he fled a life of luxury to Galveston, Texas, where he rented a cheap apartment as “Dorothy Ciner,” a woman he pretended couldn’t speak. He eventually dropped the disguise after mishaps that included walking into a men’s restroom and igniting his wig at a bar while lighting a cigarette.
Just before Christmas, he testified that he traveled to LA to visit Berman for a “staycation” with plans to see some of the tourist sites.
Durst, who had long denied ever being in LA at the time of Berman’s death, testified at trial that he found her dead on a bedroom floor when he arrived.
Berman, a writer who had been friends with Durst since they were students at the University of California, Los Angeles, had serious financial problems at the time. Durst had given her $50,000, and prosecutors suggested she was trying to leverage more money from him by telling him she was going to speak with the cops.
Nine months after her death, Durst killed his Galveston neighbor Morris Black, in what he said was either an accident or self-defense. Durst said he found Black, who he had become friends with, in his apartment holding Durst’s .22-caliber pistol.
Durst was acquitted after testifying the 71-year-old was killed in a struggle for the gun. Durst then chopped up Black’s body and tossed it out to sea. He was convicted of destroying evidence for discarding the body parts.
After the trial and the ghastly evidence of the dismemberment, Durst found he was a pariah, he said. Despite an estimated $100 million fortune, he was turned away by multiple condominium associations and said the Los Angeles County Museum of Art wouldn’t take his money unless he donated anonymously.
Durst thought a 2010 feature film based on his life, “All Good Things,” starring Ryan Gosling as him and Kirsten Dunst as Kathie, had been largely accurate and painted a sympathetic portrait, despite implicating him in three killings. He only objected that he was depicted killing his dog — something he would never do.
He reached out to the filmmaker and agreed to sit for lengthy interviews for a documentary. He encouraged his friends to do the same and gave the filmmakers access to boxes of his records.
He came to deeply regret his decision after “The Jinx” aired on HBO in 2015, calling it a “very, very, very big mistake.”
The documentary filmmakers discovered a crucial piece of evidence that connected him to an anonymous note sent to police directing them to Berman’s lifeless body.
Durst, who was so confident he couldn’t be connected to the note, told filmmakers “only the killer could have written” the note.
Filmmakers confronted him with a letter he sent Berman a year earlier. The handwriting was identical and Beverly Hills was misspelled as “Beverley” on both. He couldn’t tell the two apart.
The gotcha moment provided the climax of the movie as Durst stepped off camera and muttered to himself on a live microphone in the bathroom: “Killed them all, of course.”
During 14 days of testimony that was so punishing Judge Mark Windham called it “devastating,” Durst denied killing his wife and Berman, though he said he would lie if he did.
He tried to explain away the note and what prosecutors said was a confession during an unguarded moment.
For the first time, Durst admitted on the witness stand that he sent the note and had been in Los Angeles at the time of Berman’s death.
Durst said he sent the note because he wanted Berman to be found but didn’t want anyone to know he had been there because it would look suspicious.
He acknowledged that even he had difficulty imagining he could have written the note without killing Berman.
“It’s very difficult to believe, to accept, that I wrote the letter and did not kill Susan Berman,” Durst testified.
A prosecutor said it was one of the truest things Durst said amid a ton of lies.


Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering
Updated 17 October 2021

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering

Assad’s cousin boasts Ferrari and Israeli girlfriend in US while Syrians continue suffering
  • This is not the first time the Makhloufs’ lavish lifestyles, and their business ties to the Assad regime, have come to light

LONDON: A viral video showing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s millionaire cousin Ali Makhlouf cruising around Los Angeles in his $300,000 Ferrari 488 Spider has highlighted the stark divisions in a war-torn country where many people do not have enough to eat.

The video, which was apparently caught randomly, showed popular vlogger Daniel Mac standing near a traffic light in LA when Makhlouf rolled by in his luxurious car alongside his Israeli model girlfriend Michal Idan.

As per Mac’s standard, he asked Makhlouf what he did for a living, to which the latter replied that he worked, before saying that he was at an internship after further playful prodding by the vlogger. At the end, he said that the car was a rental before driving off.

What is even more telling is that Makhlouf is seemingly dating an Israeli model.

Syria’s Golan Heights have been occupied by the Israelis for years; the US recognized them as Israeli in 2019. And Israel has continuously attacked Iranian troops and Iran’s proxies across Syria with fighter jets, and so Makhlouf’s dealing with — even dating — the enemy could be regarded as treason.

Past lavish living

This is not the first time the Makhloufs’ lavish lifestyles, and their business ties to the Assad regime, have come to light. However, ties between Assad and his cousin, Rami Makhlouf — Ali’s father — are said to be strained after the US-sanctioned Syrian businessman revealed last year that he had set up a web of offshore front companies to help Assad evade Western sanctions.

Strained or not, the Makhloufs’ splurging has repeatedly caught the media’s eye and placed them under severe scrutiny, with Ali seemingly lacking any sense of moral responsibility when posting items on his social media accounts.

During the pandemic, Ali took to his Instagram account to show a video of him celebrating his birthday in Dubai by blowing out a cake in front of at least four MacBooks and two iPads — one for each of his friends beaming in via Zoom.

Other posts to his page include collections of luxury cars, mansions and even a couple of jet skis.

The average Syrian earns between $70 and $130 per month and, with the country still reeling from its decades-long war and with Assad firmly in power, this may not be the last the world hears of Makhlouf’s lavish spending.


Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach
Updated 17 October 2021

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

Doctors in Egypt extract mobile phone from patient’s stomach

CAIRO: Doctors in Egypt removed a mobile phone from the stomach of a patient who  swallowed the device several months ago, according to local reports. 

The Aswan Univeristy Hospital admitted the patient on Friday night suffering severe abdominal pain. 

On examination medical staff found the man was suffering severe infection and stomach cramps.

Doctors carried x-rays and lab tests before they decided that his condition required urgent surgery.

They said an operation was needed to extract a “foreign body” inside the patient’s stomach. 

Doctors then realized he had swallowed a small phone, which subsequently led to preventing food from being digested, and caused painful cramps.

The patient’s condition is stable.


Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space
Updated 17 October 2021

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space

Russian crew return to Earth after filming first movie in space
  • The filmmakers blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month

MOSCOW: A Russian actress and a film director returned to Earth Sunday after spending 12 days on the International Space Station (ISS) shooting scenes for the first movie in orbit.
Yulia Peresild and Klim Shipenko landed as scheduled on Kazakhstan’s steppe at 0436 GMT, according to footage broadcast live by the Russian space agency.
They were ferried back to terra firma by cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, who had been on the space station for the past six months.
“The descent vehicle of the crewed spacecraft Soyuz MS-18 is standing upright and is secure. The crew are feeling good!” Russian space agency Roscosmos tweeted.
The filmmakers had blasted off from the Russia-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan earlier this month, traveling to the ISS with veteran cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov to film scenes for “The Challenge.”
If the project stays on track, the Russian crew will beat a Hollywood project announced last year by “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise together with NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
The movie’s plot, which has been mostly kept under wraps along with its budget, centers around a surgeon who is dispatched to the ISS to save a cosmonaut.
Shkaplerov, 49, along with the two Russian cosmonauts who were already aboard the ISS are said to have cameo roles in the film.
The mission was not without small hitches.
As the film crew docked at the ISS earlier this month, Shkaplerov had to switch to manual control.
And when Russian flight controllers on Friday conducted a test on the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft the ship’s thruster fired unexpectedly and destabilized the ISS for 30 minutes, a NASA spokesman told the Russian news agency TASS.
But the spokesman confirmed their departure would go ahead as scheduled.
Their landing, which was documented by a film crew, will also feature in the movie, Konstantin Ernst, the head of the Kremlin-friendly Channel One TV network and a co-producer of “The Challenge,” said.
The mission will add to a long list of firsts for Russia’s space industry.
The Soviets launched the first satellite Sputnik, and sent into orbit the first animal, a dog named Laika, the first man, Yuri Gagarin and the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova.
But compared with the Soviet era, modern Russia has struggled to innovate and its space industry is fighting to secure state funding with the Kremlin prioritising military spending.
Its space agency is still reliant on Soviet-designed technology and has faced a number of setbacks, including corruption scandals and botched launches.
Russia is also falling behind in the global space race, facing tough competition from the United States and China, with Beijing showing growing ambitions in the industry.
Russia’s Roscosmos was also dealt a blow after SpaceX last year successfully delivered astronauts to the ISS, ending Moscow’s monopoly for journeys to the orbital station.
In a bid to spruce up its image and diversify its revenue, Russia’s space program revealed this year that it will be reviving its tourism plan to ferry fee-paying adventurers to the ISS.
After a decade-long pause, Russia will send two Japanese tourists — including billionaire Yusaku Maezawa — to the ISS in December, capping a year that has been a milestone for amateur space travel.


German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home
Updated 15 October 2021

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home

German couple take refuge on boat as volcano threatens their Spanish home
  • Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money
  • "Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat," said Doelz

LA PALMA: Juergen Doelz and his girlfriend Jacqueline Rehm were in the process of selling their small sailboat on the Spanish island of La Palma when the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted, forcing them to flee their dream home and move to the boat.
Doelz, 66, and Rehm, 49, who are from Germany, had been trying to sell the boat to save money after she lost her job at a car rental company due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sept. 19, when the volcano starting spewing red-hot lava just 4 km (2-1/2 miles) from their home in Todoque, the couple had just returned from a trip with a potential buyer. But the sale fell through as the yacht was “not sporty enough,” Doelz told Reuters on the boat, moored in Tazacorte port.
A few hours later, they were ordered to evacuate their rented house with its vineyard and terrace with a sea view and had to leave behind most of their belongings.
“Luckily we still had the boat. ... And since then we have been living on this boat. It’s small, but it’s OK,” said Doelz, who is retired.
A new vent spewed gas at the southeastern side of the main vent on Friday, said the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute.
“What the volcano is leaving behind is a desolate scene for many families, for the island in general because it has a very direct impact on the island’s economy. If strong action is not taken people will have a bad time,” Civil Guard officer Raul Campillo told Reuters.
Streams of lava have laid waste to more than 600 hectares (1,480 acres) of land and destroyed about 1,600 buildings on La Palma. About 6,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has about 83,000 inhabitants.
“We moved here (La Palma) two and a half years ago and after half a year we found our dream house. ... To lose that after two years, it’s hard,” Doelz said.
Although the lava has not yet engulfed their home they believe it’s just a matter of time after the flow destroyed their Swiss neighbors’ place and as the eruption is showing no signs of abating.
“We’ll stay on the boat as long as we don’t know what to do next. Shall we stay here or shall we maybe go to another island, like Tenerife? No idea, I don’t know. It’s written in the stars,” Rehm explained.


Iranian man sentenced to be blinded after fight costs neighbor an eye

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 14 October 2021

Iranian man sentenced to be blinded after fight costs neighbor an eye

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • It is unclear whether the 45-year-old man will lose both eyes or just one
  • Blinding is a relatively rare form of punishment in Iran, but it has been carried out intermittently since 2008

LONDON: An Iranian court sentenced a man to be blinded as punishment for leaving his neighbor without the use of one eye following a fight. 

The 45-year-old man, whose name has not been reported, was sentenced on the basis of a legal principle based on retributive justice.

The 2018 brawl took place in Fashan, an area outside of Tehran province, between the guilty party and his 40-year-old neighbor. The victim complained to a Tehran court after he lost vision in one eye. 

Reports by IranWire did not specify whether the man would lose both eyes or just one as punishment.

The use of blinding in the Iranian justice system has a relatively short history. It was first employed in 2008 when a defendant was handed the punishment for committing an acid attack. The victim in that case pardoned the attacker at the last minute. 

But an acid attacker in 2015 had his eye gouged out by Iranian doctors. A year later, another man was given the same penalty because he threw corrosive substances in his 4-year-old niece’s eye, blinding her. 

Post-revolutionary Iran has long been accused by rights groups, along with regional and international governments, of employing cruel punishments to maintain public order.  

Last year, there was an uproar when news emerged that Tehran was planning to remove four fingers from the right hand of four men accused and convicted of robbery following flawed trials.

Rights group Amnesty International said at the time: “Carrying out such unspeakably inhumane punishments is not justice and underlines the cruelty of Iran’s criminal justice system.”