Durst charged with murder, movie confession likely admissible

New York real estate scion and accused murderer Robert Durst's bathroom muttering that he “killed them all” would likely be admissible evidence in a murder trial, legal experts said on Monday.

Durst, the subject of a six-part HBO documentary series called “The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” was picked up by a filmmaker's microphone apparently acknowledging his crimes and admitting that he was “caught.”

He was formally charged on Monday in the first-degree murder of a longtime friend, writer Susan Berman, in a 15-year-old cold case. Also on Monday, Durst agreed to be extradited to Los Angeles County from New Orleans.

He could face the death penalty in the case, which was filed by Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey with special circumstances. He is accused of murdering Berman two days before Christmas in 2000.

Long estranged from his powerful family with its major New York real estate holdings, the eccentric Durst has been tried and acquitted in the death of another person in Texas and was a suspect in the disappearance of his wife.

Considered a flight risk, he was arrested on Saturday at a New Orleans hotel on a warrant from Los Angeles County, according to a police report, which noted that he was in possession of a revolver.

He was taken into custody the day before his chilling statement aired during the final minutes of the HBO series.

Whether Durst's apparent confession will be admissible at trial would likely be the subject of a pre-trial hearing that would “certainly be the centerpiece of the legal battle,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now at the McCarter & English law firm.

“It turns on whether or not there was an expectation of privacy,” he added.

Paul Callan, a former New York City homicide prosecutor, believes the statement will be admitted as evidence because Durst could not have had an expectation of privacy in a public restroom when he was wearing a microphone.

Matthew Galluzzo, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor in New York, said the recording is “probably admissible.”

The only way Durst's lawyers could challenge it, Galluzzo said, aside from showing that the recording has been tampered with, is to assert that the HBO filmmakers were acting as agents of law enforcement.

Series director Andrew Jarecki, speaking on Good Morning America on Monday, said he was unaware of the apparent confession for more than two years after it was recorded, and that his team reached out to law enforcement after an editor discovered it during a review of the tape.

“We've been in contact with law enforcement for the past two years,” he said. “And so, when we finally found that subsequent admission, what happens in the bathroom, we contacted them and we said we have something more.”

Durst, 71, maintained his innocence after the possible confession.

“We're ready to go to California and to have a trial,” defense attorney Dick DeGuerin said after Durst appeared in a New Orleans court in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs.


The Los Angeles Police Department said the timing of Durst's arrest had nothing to do with the finale of the documentary.

Officer Rosario Herrera said on Monday she could not comment on whether detectives were aware of the finale and its contents.

“The arrest was made through evidence,” she told Reuters, declining to say what that evidence revealed.

The warrant, issued on Wednesday by Los Angeles County, is for the death of Susan Berman, whose body was discovered in her West Los Angeles home on Christmas Eve in 2000, authorities said.

Durst was booked on Monday in a New Orleans jail on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing a firearm with a controlled substance, according to court records. A state police official told the Times-Picayune newspaper that the substance was marijuana.

Berman, a friend from graduate school, served as Durst's spokeswoman after his first wife disappeared, according to the New York Times.

Durst was questioned but not charged in the death of Kathleen Durst in 1982, and he was acquitted of murder in a third case in 2001.

In the final installment of the HBO series, Durst was talking to himself when he appeared to say he carried out all three killings.

The documentary showed an interview session during which he rejected a piece of evidence against him. Durst then went to the bathroom, still wearing the microphone, when he whispered, “There it is, you're caught… What a disaster.”

He added: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst's transfer to California is being held up as local prosecutors in New Orleans weigh bringing unspecified charges against him, his attorney said.

Guide for the Jewplexed: Ashamnu for computer users–a keyboard confession

It is customary to pound one's SHIFT Key as we recite each line:

We know our Apple better than the apple of our eye.

We think that Backspacing will fix everything.

We seek Control too often.

We Delete the good with the bad.

We have traded in our feelings for Emoticons.

We ignore our Function keys.

We think Google is the truth.

We have forgotten how to ask for Help.

We Insert in the wrong places.

We pay way too much attention to our Joysticks.

We waste our Keystrokes.

We LOCK CAPS when we are angry.

We forget those who live on the Margins.

When others Need us, our attention is stuck on Num lock.

We abuse our Operating system.

We only care about our Percent.

We Call Your name and it comes out QWERTY.

Too often we are a Remote user.

We Shift all blame, and take too many Shortcuts.

We have done the same thing wrong so many times, we might as well set a Tab.

We are more User than friendly.

We turn up the Volume, rather than seeking quiet resolution.

We close our Windows to new possibilities.

We don't type enough X's & O's.

We lose ourselves in YouTube.

We have lost our Zip and our drive.

We have corrupted Your binary commandments, and it has frozen our drives. Surely, You are correct to inspect all the data we input, for You have worked wonders in IT, but all we send is an error message.

Who shall live and who shall die: God’s iPhone, Rosh Hashanah 5769


On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,
And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.
How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,
Who shall live and who shall die,
Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not,
Who shall perish by water and who by fire,
Who by sword and who by wild beast,
Who by famine and who by thirst,
Who by earthquake and who by plague,
Who by strangulation and who by stoning,
Who shall have rest and who shall wander,
Who shall be at peace and who shall be pursued,
Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,
Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,
Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

But repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree.

From the cover story by Marty Kaplan

The U’Netaneh Tokef prayer—or piyyut—was the subject of last week’s Torah Slam. Read Danielle Berrin’s report, and watch the video here.

Is our fate really sealed? Is change possible?

These are nervous-making times.

No, I’m not talking about the damage the capital campaign may do to you, or — at my temple, anyway — whether you’ll find a parking place for services, which is enough to make anyone want to reach for a Xanax.

What I mean is this protracted season of suspense we inhabit, this waiting for the other shoe to drop, this not knowing what comes next.

The uncertain outcome of the presidential election would by itself be enough to give anyone the jitters, no matter which way you want it to turn out. The economy, both national and global, seems to be lurching from one meltdown to another. Hotspots and tragedies on the international scene may have fallen off the radar screen of the ADD-afflicted news media, but anyone who continues to pay attention to the Middle East or Russia or Darfur, to name just three, has reason to be plenty anxious. Terrorists, loose nukes, avian flu, climate change, the lurking Big One: it’s a wonder anyone can get out of bed these days.

Yet even though the country has a bad case of shpilkes, and despite the nervousness that comes from uncertainty, both presidential candidates have hitched their campaigns to the bandwagon of change. From Barack Obama: “Change You Can Believe In,” “The Change We Need. “From John McCain: “The Change You Deserve,” “Change Is Coming.”

Clearly it’s a welcome message. Eight out of 10 Americans say the country is on the wrong track. All the polls say that the country wants change. Despite the upheaval and disorientation that change often brings with it, nearly all of us want a divorce from the present, a clean break, a fresh start.

But can one leader — whether Obama or McCain — really change us? How much can any one man, no matter how vigorously he exercises his powers, no matter how energetically he uses his bully pulpit, change us, let alone change Washington, or America, or the world?

The answer, of course, depends on how capable of change you believe anyone is, or can be.

I’m not asking whether the next president, whoever he is, will have an impact on our lives. For better and worse, presidents have changed the course of innumerable American lives, and their actions have remade the nation’s place in the world. The issue I’m trying to get at — and I’ll be the first to admit that the question may be unanswerable — is the human capacity for change, the malleability of our individual souls.

Some people maintain — and there is a long tradition that this conception arises from — that people really can’t change. People are inherently good, or they are inherently bad, or they are inherently programmed to be selfish or altruistic or whatever innate characteristics you believe are built into our species. In other words, human beings are limited and run by something called “human nature.”

Yes, there is variety within groups; yes, personal circumstances and social experiences also shape us along the way; yes, we do develop along several dimensions during the course of our lives. But all these variations occur — says this point of view — within the framework of our hardwiring, our genetic givens, our fundamental nature. When real change does occur in our species, it happens during a glacial time frame, not within individual lifetimes; it arises from random variation and natural selection, not from new leaders and new policies.

But the contrary view has just as long a history. It says that conscious human evolution is possible. It maintains that free will can move genetic mountains, that big ideas can change civilizations, that consciousness is not a prison, but a battlefield. Where the notion of human nature leads ultimately to a tragic sense of life, the concept of conscious evolution is ultimately utopian — the belief that there is something perfectible about society, and not over the course of eons, but within our own lifetimes.

José Ortega y Gasset put this way: “Man, in a word, has no nature; what he has is — history.” Yes, there may be local and temporal limitations on our freedom to act, but if someone tells you that you can’t change human nature, beware of power politics masquerading as evolutionary biology. Just about every progressive social movement — abolition, suffrage, civil rights, gay rights, feminism, environmentalism — starts from this premise. So does what Philip Rieff called “The Triumph of the Therapeutic”: the culture of self-help, the faith that each of us has the power to change our own life.

Which brings me back to the High Holy Days.

Within the calendar that constitutes the Jewish cathedral in time, no days are more saturated with the experience of human nature, and with experiments in human change, than the Days of Awe. This is when we are asked, paradoxically, both to steep in our powerlessness to escape our species’ fate, and yet also to try out behaviors that can rescue us from our destinies.

This is a good moment for me to confess that I have never been particularly comfortable with the grand narrative of the High Holy Days liturgy, the story of the Book of Life.

Pearls respond to murder ‘confession:’ We’ll continue to fight hatred

The Pearls recorded this video to mark the fifth anniversary of Danny’s death.
Click on the BIG ARROW to view.

Judea and Ruth Pearl were notified late Wednesday evening that the suspected mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, has confessed to personally killing their son, Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl.

“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” Mohammed is quoted as saying, the Associated Press reported.

The Pearls spent the night talking about their son, who was abducted in Pakistan in January 2002, Ruth Pearl said in a brief phone conversation Thursday morning.

In a statement released to The Jewish Journal on Thursday, the Pearls said, “It is impossible to know at this point whether Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s boast about killing our son has any bearing in truth. We prefer to focus our energy on continuing Danny’s lifework through the programs of the Daniel Pearl Foundation which aim to eradicate the hatred that took his life.”

Judea Pearl is a retired UCLA professor of computer science and his wife is an electrical engineer.

Mohammed’s written confession was read to a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on March 10, and released by the Pentagon in a 26-page transcript on March 14.

Mohammed also claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 operation “from A to Z” and for 30 other attacks and plots in the United States and other countries.Among them was the 2002 bombing of a Kenya beach resort frequented by Israelis and the failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa in Kenya.

The hearing was closed to the press and outside observers, a procedure protested by AP, while Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch questioned whether the confession might have been extracted through torture.

First Woman Heads Reform Conference

Rabbi Janet Marder has a surprising confession for someone
who is making history as the first woman president of the Reform movement’s
1,800-member Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR).

She’s seriously shy.

“I had years of stage fright before I had to stand up in a
crowd,” said Marder, senior rabbi at Reform Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos
Hills, near San Jose. “I still get pretty nervous.”

The 48-year-old Marder was able to shake off her jitters
March 29, when she was installed before hundreds of her colleagues at a Washington,
D.C., ceremony. Elected by her peers, she is taking over the helm of the
world’s largest group of Jewish clergy from a Bay Area colleague, Rabbi Martin
Weiner of San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel.

“It’s exciting, it’s daunting,” Marder said with
characteristic modesty. “It’s a wonderful kind of recognition.”

Marder, a soft-spoken California native, is well aware of
the historic nature of her appointment, describing it as a milestone for women
in general.

“I really see this as a tribute to all of us, and it makes a
statement about what kind of a movement we are,” she said.

Weiner, in a speech at the ceremony, called her installation
“incredibly significant in one sense but really incidental to her achievements
as a truly outstanding rabbi.”

Rabbi Lewis M. Barth, dean at Hebrew Union College in Los
Angeles, said he thought Marder, a former student, would excel in her new

“She was and remains one of the most brilliant students
we’ve ever had,” he said. “She is an extraordinarily gifted rabbi, thinker and

Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills said
Marder helped make the Reform movement more open to gay men and women because
of her work at Bet Cheaim Chadashim, a Southland synagogue catering to
homosexuals. In her new role, Geller said she expects Marder to focus on the
“internal, spiritual lives of rabbis.”

Marder comes to her new post with an ambitious agenda. It
includes working to strengthen progressive Judaism in Israel; transforming
worship services at Reform synagogues with more music, Hebrew and celebration,
and responding to any gender inequities in the salaries of female clergy and
Jewish professionals.

In an interview last month, she said she intends to call
upon this country’s 1.5 million Reform Jews to join ARZA/World Union, the
movement’s Israel advocacy organization. Saying she wants to ensure that Israel
remains an open and democratic state, she added: “I think our movement has a
critical role to play.”

As for gender issues, Marder said she is awaiting results of
a salary survey the CCAR plans to conduct next year. “I have the sense that
there may be some differences” between salaries of men and women in the
movement, she said. In addition, “some congregations still don’t offer parental

While cognizant that Marder’s post with a New York-based
organization will mean less time with the 1,270 families at Beth Am,
congregants expressed both support and pride for their rabbi of almost four

Congregants credit Marder with making dramatic changes at
their synagogue, including writing new prayer books, introducing more music and
adding a 6:15 p.m. Friday service.

“The Friday night service is incredibly joyful,” said
President Jim Heeger, estimating that 300 to 400 people attend. “Maybe we’d get
100 before.”

At the same time, congregants say their rabbi has a gentle
and personal touch, particularly with those suffering a family emergency or
other crisis.

Beth Am Vice President Susan Wolfe remains amazed at the
hospital visit Marder paid to her after Wolfe underwent emergency open-heart
surgery on Oct. 9, 2000. The date was important, because it fell on Yom Kippur,
and Marder raced up to the hospital in Redwood City between services on one of
the busiest days of her year.

“She really cares for individuals and makes those superhuman
efforts not just for me, but for everybody,” Wolfe said.

Congregants also gave Marder high marks for a weekly Torah
study class that regularly packs in 60 to 70 participants. “The class keeps
getting bigger and bigger,” Caryn Huberman, a Palo Alto children’s writer,
said. “It has become the center of my week.”

Despite Beth Am’s size, Marder has worked to make her
congregation an intimate place, where members reach out to one another in times
of joy and need. One example is a professional network in which congregants act
as “connectors” to unemployed members. Marder estimates that up to 10 percent
of her congregants are out of work.

 She has worked to make Saturday services at Beth Am a
community event, rather than a private affair reserved for families celebrating
a bar or bat mitzvah.

While she is away on CCAR business, Marder said her
congregation, one of the largest in the Bay Area, will be in good hands with “a
terrific team” that includes three other rabbis, along with a cantor, music
specialist, educators and administrators.

“There’s a lot of travel involved,” said Marder, who has two
teenage daughters and is married to Rabbi Sheldon Marder of the Jewish Home in
San Francisco.

“I certainly intend to be with the congregation every
Shabbat,” she said. “I’ve made clear to CCAR leadership that my first priority
remains with Beth Am.”