Chasing justice in the Empire State: A Q&A with Jeanine Pirro

In 2000, then-Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine Pirro reopened an 18-year-old cold case on the mysterious disappearance of Kathleen Durst, wife of wealthy Manhattan real estate heir Robert Durst. Her office never brought the case to trial, but that case and two subsequent slayings became the subject of a 2015 HBO documentary “The Jinx.” Robert Durst has since been arrested and awaits trial on both federal weapons and drug charges in Louisiana and a first-degree murder charge in California. Pirro, now host of “Justice with Judge Jeanine” on Fox News, recently released a book on her investigation, “He Killed Them All: Robert Durst and My Quest for Justice.”

Pirro spoke with City & State’s Jeff Coltin about her idea of justice and developments in the case. The following is an edited transcript.

City & State: Your new book about Robert Durst, who has been accused of killing his wife, Kathleen Durst, his friend Susan Berman, and a neighbor, is titled “He Killed Them All.” Do you believe he is guilty of murder in all three cases?

Jeanine Pirro: Certainly that’s for a jury to decide! My mission from the start has been to find Kathleen Durst. It was a case in 1982 that was poorly investigated. It was a substandard investigation where everyone was willing to believe that a fourth-year medical student just weeks away from graduation fell off the face of the earth or ran off with another guy! And that was the end of it. I’ve been determined since the first time my assistant D.A.s came in to tell me about this case, and (asked) did I want to reopen it. I am determined to give her family some closure, to find out what happened to Kathleen. Her mother is over 100 years old now. And Kathleen deserves a burial and a decent farewell.

C&S: The title of your book is taken from Durst’s own mouth, when he was caught on microphone while filming an HBO documentary earlier this year saying, “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” Do you think that statement would have any validity in court?

JP: Yep. I’ll tell you why. Every time Durst was interviewed by (“The Jinx” director Andrew) Jarecki, he signed a waiver that they could use all of his statements. Secondly, he was not in custody, he was not under arrest. It was not a custodial interrogation. And, if you watch “The Jinx,” there is one time where he is talking with an open mic on and his lawyer comes out and says, “Don’t forget, you’ve got an open mic on.” He had noticed! Just because people walked away, if he’s still mic’ed up, his statements are being recorded! 

C&S: You’re releasing your own book after that very popular documentary. Were there things in the series that you thought weren’t portrayed accurately? Are you trying to correct the record?

JP: No.

C&S: So why the book now?

JP: I think the book coming out now is really a reflection of the fact that he admitted he killed them all. There were things in “The Jinx” that certainly would have helped in 1999 when my office began the investigation. He was asked by Jarecki, “What were they looking for in the lake?” (Pirro’s team searched Truesdale Lake in South Salem for evidence.) His answer was not “my wife,” not “my wife’s body,” not “a body.” He said “body parts.” So to me, in “The Jinx,” Durst was basically saying in 1999, when we went back in and sent the divers in that we were looking for body parts! No one was even thinking body parts in 1999. Until Morris Black (Durst’s neighbor, whom he killed and chopped into pieces) came along in 2001, no one thought this guy was chopping up bodies. (Durst said Black was killed accidentally during a struggle and was acquitted of murder.) And then he answers the question, “What were they looking for?” he says “body parts!” 

C&S: Durst is likely to go on trial next year in Los Angeles for the death of Susan Berman. Do you think with the new evidence uncovered by “The Jinx” and with what could be revealed in that murder trial, could the Kathleen Durst disappearance case be reopened?

JP: Well with that, you’d have to ask the present D.A. 

C&S: The Times reported that your new book could actually help Durst’s defense, writing “the statements in her book could be used to undermine (witnesses’) credibility with the jury.” One lawyer said “she’s giving the defense team more ammunition for cross-examination.” How would you respond to that?

JP: That’s not true at all. I’ve spent 15 years investigating Robert Durst and I have remained silent. I’m commenting now on things that happened, and I think that it’s better that the truth come out now than someone who’s not telling the truth have it blow up in their faces in L.A.

C&S: You’ve been accused of – and praised for – trying Durst in the court of public opinion –

JP: I never did that.

C&S: Well do you think public outcry plays a positive role in legal convictions?

JP:I think the conversation is already in the public if you watch “The Jinx.”

C&S: Do you think there are two types of justice? Legal, and a different kind of societal justice in cases like this?

JP: No. What I think is that the only justice that counts is the justice in a courtroom. And for too long, Robert Durst was able to avoid justice because of money and power, and his ability to get away with it. In 1982, there was a substandard investigation by the New York City Police Department at a time when I had just started one of the first domestic violence units in the nation. I was training the New York City Police Department on how to handle domestic disputes. And they were willing to believe in 1982 that this woman who turned out to be a battered womanyou know Kathleen Durst was a battered womanbut they were willing to believe that she just ran off with another guy or just fell off the face of the earth. And his money allowed him to get away with a murder in Texas, where the defense admittedand I was silent through all of thatthey admitted that they created a mythical creature in meand the jury bought it hook, line and sinker. And they admitted they took license with what I had done and they said things that I didn’t do.

I think the most important thing is you had a guy with enormous wealth and enormous power. And today we talk about unequal justice, and we talk about it primarily in terms of color. That’s part of the discussion going on today. Well, there’s another problem in the system. And that is the unequal justice of the rich versus the poor. That power and money can influence justice. It did in Texas. I believe in 1982 there was a belief that women really didn’t count and whatever the criminal said was fine. Instead of speaking to the victim’s family or the defendant or the guy who is reporting his wife missing five days later, they just said, eh, she probably ran off with another guy. And that, I think, is a sad commentary. Robert Durst walked into the 20th Precinct in New York City five days after his wife goes missingas he sayscarrying a magazine with a picture of his father in it as one of the most powerful men in New York. Why? It’s like the second line in the police report!

C&S: You ran for attorney general against Andrew Cuomo in 2006. How do you think he’s done as governor?

JP: I’m not commenting on his role as a governor. That’s not something I would do. I haven’t since the day he won. I wished him well, and that’s the end of it.

Here’s the bottom line. What we need in this country is people who are honest and people who are going to fight for Americans. We are at a very dangerous time right now with ISIS, al-Qaida and what’s going on. That’s the focus of my show, “Justice with Judge Jeanine,” that’s the focus of my podcast that I do weekly. Those are the politics I’m concerned about, not politics in New York.