Judge Susan Criss can’t shake the image of a severed cat’s head left on her doorstep as Robert Durst stands trial for the murder of his best friend, Susan Berman.
Criss said she believes it was placed by Durst, the wealthy real estate heir that once stood trial for a different murder in her courtroom.
“The cat had been severed behind the shoulder blades so that it was the front legs and it was the head,” Judge Criss said. To this day, Criss feels certain it was Durst who did this.
Durst first went to trial in 2003 for accusations that he fatally shot Morris Black, his neighbor in Galveston, Texas. Durst admitted on the witness stand that he shot Black, claiming both self-defense and accidental firing of the gun.
“He appeared to be sane. He appeared to be competent,” Judge Criss said about Durst’s testimony. She said the defense lowered Durst’s seat and dressed him in baggy clothing in order to make him appear smaller.
“I can’t say that he appeared to be credible,” Judge Criss said.
A jury acquitted Durst of Black’s murder. He pleaded guilty to evidence tampering and bail jumping.
After a brief stint in prison, Durst was paroled and ordered to wear an electronic ankle monitor. But Judge Criss said she ran into Durst at the Houston Galleria Mall, a violation of the terms of the release. She reported this to authorities.
Soon after, she discovered a severed cat head on her doorstep.
“I was horrified. I was terrified. It dawned on me that it could have been Robert Durst because it’s a severed head,” Judge Criss said as she recalled driving home on June 29, 2006.
Judge Criss, now in private practice as a criminal and family lawyer, is now free to talk about the case. And she said she’ll be closely following the Los Angeles trial.
“I think he doesn’t want to kill but he doesn’t like to be told no,” said Judge Criss.
Judge Criss was featured on the one-hour Law&Crime Network Robert Durst Special.
Law&Crime Network host Linda Kenney Baden asked Judge Criss if she has any words of wisdom for the presiding judge in Los Angeles, Judge Mark E. Windham.
“I would say be prepared to be surprised,” Judge Criss said, “because whatever you think’s going to happen, there’s going to be a whole lot more that you have no idea.”
Durst is accused of murdering Susan Berman in her Los Angeles-area home in December 2000.
Prosecutors say Durst killed Berman because she had information about his involvement in the 1982 disappearance of his wife Kathleen McCormack Durst; Berman threatened to go to the police.
Durst shot Black a year after Berman’s death. Detectives believe Black found out about Durst’s true identity while he was hiding in Galveston due to authorities reopening his wife’s missing person’s case.
Prosecutor John Lewin is allowed to enter Black’s death into evidence in the Los Angeles trial because he says it goes to proving motive.
[Image via ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images]