By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Robert Durst, the real estate scion tied to several slayings explored in HBO's series "The Jinx," faced an old friend on Wednesday who testified in Los Angeles that before Durst's wife disappeared in 1982 she told him she was afraid of her husband.

Nick Chavin, 72, a New York advertising executive, in an unusual arrangement testified with two police officers in the court serving as his protection detail.

Chavin's identity was kept secret until he took the stand on Wednesday. Prosecutors have said he feared his life may be put in danger by testifying.


Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Windham has allowed Chavin and one other witness to testify on videotape in case either of them dies before Durst's trial.

Durst, 73, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a writer and longtime confidante of his, Susan Berman, in December 2000.

Berman was found slain execution-style in her Los Angeles home not long after police in New York had reopened an investigation into the disappearance and presumed killing of Durst's spouse, Kathleen, two decades earlier.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles say they suspect Durst killed Berman, 55, because of what she knew about his wife's unsolved demise in 1982.

Chavin testified he met Durst in New York around 1980 and the two soon became close friends, with Durst eventually serving as a best man at Chavin's wedding. The two men shared a mutual friendship with Berman.

Chavin said he also knew Durst's wife, Kathleen, and described the Dursts' relationship as "strained."

"She said she was afraid of him. She never said he would hurt her but she was afraid of him," Chavin testified.

Chavin is scheduled to testify again on Thursday.

Durst has pleaded not guilty in Berman's killing. He was questioned in the probe of his wife's disappearance but has not been charged, and her body has never been found.

Durst at Wednesday's hearing walked haltingly into court wearing khaki pants and a light-blue collared shirt. He stopped briefly to look over the audience of reporters and spectators.

His ties to both cases, and his 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor, were chronicled in the popular multi-part HBO documentary "The Jinx" last year.

An 85-year-old retired dean of the New York City medical school attended by Durst's wife before she vanished was permitted to testify under similar conditions as Chavin on Tuesday due to his advanced age.

Durst was formally charged with the Berman killing a day after HBO aired the final episode of its series, in which Durst was recorded muttering to himself off-camera: "What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course."

Durst told authorities after his arrest that he smoked marijuana daily and was high on methamphetamine during his appearance on "The Jinx," according to court records.

Although Durst has long been estranged from his New York family and their significant real estate holdings, prosecutors have put his estimated net worth at some $100 million.

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Lisa Shumaker)