By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Robert Durst, the real estate scion tied to several slayings explored in HBO's series "The Jinx," privately confessed to a friend in 2014 that he killed a close confidante he now stands charged with murdering, the friend testified on Thursday.
The prosecution witness, Nick Chavin, 72, testified earlier in the day that the murder victim, Susan Berman, who was a mutual friend, had confided to him decades before that Durst also admitted killing his wife.
The testimony from Chavin, a New York advertising executive, buttressed the assertions of prosecutors that Durst killed Berman in December 2000 because of what she knew about his wife's unsolved disappearance in 1982.
Berman, 55, was found shot to death execution-style in her home a couple of months after it was revealed that police in New York had reopened an investigation into the disappearance and presumed slaying of Kathleen Durst, who was a medical student in New York when she vanished.
Durst's ties to both cases, and his 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor, were chronicled last year on HBO in its popular documentary series "The Jinx," drawing national attention to various mysteries surrounding the multimillionaire defendant.
Durst, 73, is charged with first-degree murder in Berman's death and has pleaded not guilty. He also has denied having anything to do with the disappearance of his wife, whose body was never found. He was not charged in that probe.
Prosecutors were permitted to keep Chavin's identity a secret until he appeared in court on Wednesday, saying he feared his life may be put in danger by testifying.
The judge invoked rare procedures in allowing Chavin and another witness to take the witness stand early, with their testimony videotaped and preserved in case they die or become incapacitated before Durst's trial, which is not expected to begin before next year.
Chavin testified that he declined an invitation by Durst in 2014 to be interviewed for "The Jinx."
At the time, Durst had promised Chavin he would speak with him about Berman and Kathleen Durst over dinner at a restaurant, but the subject did not come up until the two men were leaving after their meal, Chavin recounted.
"We walked out the door, and on the sidewalk I said: 'You wanted to talk about Susan,' and Bob (Durst) said: 'I had to, it was her or me. I had no choice.' And then he turned to walk away. And I said: 'You wanted to talk about Kathie,' and he just kept walking away, and nothing more was said," Chavin testified.
Asked by prosecutors whether he still felt a bond with Durst, Chavin answered: "I sound ridiculous, but yes, I mean this was my best friend who admitted to killing my other best friend."
'BECAUSE HE TOLD ME'
Chavin said he was incredulous when Berman told him decades earlier, around the time of Kathleen Durst's disappearance, that Durst had killed her.
When asked then by Chavin why Berman believed that to be true, "She said: 'Because he (Durst) told me,'" Chavin recalled.
Chavin also recalled Berman telling him it was important to "protect" Durst since nothing could be done to bring back his spouse.
Chavin acknowledged under questioning that he only told police about his pivotal conversations with Berman after she was found slain 16 years ago.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Cooney)