When Robert Durst, the subject of HBO’s documentary series The Jinx, is back in court in New Orleans on Wednesday, his longtime attorney, Dick DeGuerin, will again defend him. Durst is expected to plead guilty to a gun charge in New Orleans.
DeGuerin will also defend Durst in California this summer, when the heir of a wealthy New York family goes on trial for murder.
DeGuerin, a Texan, takes on tough cases. He represented former Texas Congressman Tom DeLay after a campaign finance scandal, disgraced businessman Allen Stanford and outlaw country singer Billy Jo Shaver, who had shot someone in the face. He also defended David Koresh, who, for 51 days in 1993, was in a standoff with federal authorities at his religious compound in Waco, Texas.
DeGuerin was sympathetic.
“I saw that as a terrible abuse of authority, in the way the raid was conducted on an otherwise peaceful group of religious people,” he says.
The FBI led a siege of the building as fires burned it to the ground.
“So they had a pretty good stash of cash,” DeGuerin says. “It all burned up, as it turned out. And I didn’t get any of it.”
DeGuerin would re-enter the national spotlight a decade later when he defended a recluse who disguised himself as a woman, then killed and dismembered his neighbor, dumping him into Galveston Bay. That was Durst. The trial in 2003 was sensational. It brought DeGuerin celebrity lawyer status, and it cemented Durst’s reputation for the bizarre.
“For instance, coming to Galveston and renting an apartment, dressed as a mute woman — and the cutting up and disposing of the body afterwards,” DeGuerin says.
But the key to that case — and to a lot of DeGuerin’s work — was reading the jurors and having them forget the surrounding intrigue to instead focus on one question: “If you kill somebody in self-defense, does it change, that if later you panic and dispose of the body, in some way?” DeGuerin says.
Durst was acquitted then. But the defendant who is DeGuerin’s greatest legal success is now his biggest challenge.
“When we were through the case, I thought, well, he’s going to go live a quiet life. He didn’t like being Robert Durst; he wanted to be anonymous as much as possible. And that would be the last I’d heard of him — until this TV series,” he says.
The HBO documentary The Jinx, from last spring, put Durst in a bright spotlight.
The series re-examined the execution-style killing of Durst’s friend Susan Berman. In the final scene, he mumbles, “What did I do? Killed them all, of course.”
The weekend the final episode aired in March, Durst was charged with her murder. DeGuerin says Durst has been in a New Orleans jail on separate charges ever since.
“I’ve had a lot of hard cases. I enjoy hard cases. But, yes, this one is tough,” he says.
Durst is expected to be extradited to Los Angeles to be arraigned on the murder charge.