I was following this trial before the semester began. Robert Durst, in California, is being tried for the murder of his friend Susan Berman 20 years ago. It is a bizarre spectacle, with an obsessed prosecutor, Lewin, Ahab-like, going after the elderly Durst for days of intense cross-examination in minute details about things of no pertinence to anything. At one point, there is an exchange about somebody with the last name of "Weiner" or "Wiener." The prosecutor is insistent that this is not the same name, but Durst says, essentially, it is. Now my friend's last name is Reiber, and she pronounces it "Rye-ber," since she knows German, but the rest of her family (her parents, brother and sisters) says "Reeber." A long exchange on this has almost nothing to do with guilt or innocence in the case. I think many people are aware that these German names can be pronounced in different ways.
The exchanges went on so long, and Durst bested Lewin enough, that it took on a grotesque, eerie feeling. I wouldn't be surprised by a hung jury here. Many of the court TV people were criticizing Lewin for this. They would know better than I.
It is a complex case, because it depends on Durst's supposed murder of his wife in the early 80s. Berman was supposedly blackmailing him, though the prosecutor also said explicitly that it was not blackmail (very confusing theory of the motive!). Berman had been talking to people for years about Durst killing his first wife, and Durst had given money to her for years too, even before the disappearance of his wife. Isn't the point of blackmail buying someone's silence? And if that were the motive, wouldn't he have killed her years before, since she was telling people this repeatedly?
They showed a fictionalized movie about the case to the jury. Durst was also in a documentary, called "The Jinx." He is a creepy character for sure, having dismembered one murder victim (and being acquitted for that!) but the prosecution confused me in their arguments. The judge seemed mostly on the prosecution side, overruling many objections, though he also had to admonish Lewin at several points for yelling and getting out of line.
At one point in the closing argument, the prosecutor violated the "golden rule" rule, according to one of the commenters on Court TV. You can't ask the jury to put themselves in the place of one of the parties to the case. That right there would be grounds for a mistrial or an appeal. I didn't know of this rule before yesterday, but you can't directly appeal to the empathy of the jury like that, because that urges them take one perspective over the other rather than being impartial.
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