New Orleans judge approves Robert Durst plea deal

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Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Robert Durst
Robert Durst is escorted into Orleans Parish Prison after his arraignment in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court in New Orleans, Tuesday, March 17, 2015.
ktrk-AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge on Wednesday approved a plea agreement for real estate heir Robert Durst to serve 7 years, 1 month in prison on a weapons charge.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt approved the sentence during a hearing in New Orleans on Wednesday. The 72-year-old Durst had accepted the sentence as part of his guilty plea in February and was waiting for judicial approval. Engelhardt also fined Durst $5,000 and said that his sentence, once served, would be followed by three years of supervised release.

Ten years and a $250,000 fine would have been the maximum sentence that Durst could have faced for illegally carrying a .38-caliber revolver after being convicted of a felony.

Durst still faces a separate murder charge in California. Durst is charged in Los Angeles with killing a female friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 to keep her from talking to New York prosecutors about the disappearance of Durst's first wife in 1982.

His attorneys have said repeatedly that he is innocent, does not know who killed Berman, and wants to prove it.

"I have been waiting to get to California about a year so I can state my not guilty plea," Durst told the court. "I truly, truly want to express my statement that I am not guilty in the death of Susan Berman."

While federal guidelines recommended a sentence of between 12 and 18 months, Engelhardt said the sentence was "reasonable" since it included agreements in three jurisdictions. Under the deal, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York; the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Texas; and the Orleans Parish agreed not to prosecute Durst on a variety of offenses.

Durst's attorneys and prosecutors in Los Angeles have agreed that he will be in Los Angeles by mid-August.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon says it is likely he will leave Louisiana must sooner than that.

"He'll be out of here pretty quickly," McMahon said, noting that timing and the specific prison that Durst goes to is up to the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Attorneys for Durst filed a motion Monday to ask Engelhardt to recommend that Durst serve his time at FCI Terminal Island, California, about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. The location is near the trial venue and has medical facilities Durst needs because of his "advanced age and serious health considerations, including mobility challenges."

An estranged member of the wealthy New York real estate family that runs 1 World Trade Center, Durst was tracked to New Orleans in March 2015 by FBI agents worried that he was about to flee to Cuba.

He was detained at a hotel on the eve of the finale of a six-part documentary about him, and was arrested early on the morning of the show. "The Jinx" described the disappearance of Kathleen Durst, the death and dismemberment of a neighbor in Galveston, Texas, and Berman's death.

At the end of the show, Durst is heard muttering, "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."