For purposes of grasping the structure of crafting an opening statement and
the technique in delivering it, here are the edited opening statements for the
defense delivered by defense attorneys Dick DeGuerin and Mike Ramsey at
the Galveston County murder trial of 58-year-old mega-wealthy
Robert "Bob" Durst . Messrs. DeGuerin and Ramsey obtained
an acquittal in this highly publicized 2004 case. DeGuerin
delivered the first half of the opening, and Ramsey
delivered the second half.

Notice that Mr. DeGuerin handled the telling of the story up to the point where multi-millionaire Bob Durst was sitting on the bed at his $300-a-month apartment with his head
in his hands and the dead body of Morris Black on the floor. Mr. Ramsey tells the second half of the story, including the unsettling facts that Durst dismembered Black's body and discarded it in Galveston Bay and that Durst fled the State of Texas after making bond.

For educational purposes, I have edited the openings and made comments where relevant.

  • Mr. DeGuerin's Opening Portion of the Opening Statement

(Defense counsel begins his opening statement in this intent to kill murder case with the defensive theories - that the killing of 71-year-old Morris Black was in self-defense and accidental. At the same time, the defender concedes certain facts that will not be disputed by the defense i.e., that the accused was present and struggling with the deceased at the time of the fatal gunshot wound to the deceased's face. The defender's story, however, is that the gun went off accidentally while the accused struggled in self-defense with Black. All of this is accomplished in the first five lines of opening. It seems apparent from the opening that the defendant will testify in his own behalf.)

May it please the court. Self-defense/accident, and no motive whatsoever. Why did Morris Black die? How he died will not be an issue. Morris Black died as a result of a life and death struggle over a gun that Morris Black had threatened Bob Durst with. And as they struggled, the gun went off and shot Morris Black in the face.

(Defense counsel briefly summarizes the defense story of the case.)

Bob had arrived unexpectedly at the apartment that he had rented in Galveston, a rundown $300 a month apartment that he rented, dressed as a woman named Dorothy Ciner, a name from his past. He arrived unexpectedly. He caught Morris Black in his apartment. And he knew, because he knew Morris Black, that Morris Black likely had a gun. And he felt both fear and anger because he had kicked Morris Black out of his apartment. He knew Morris Black was dangerous.

(Introduction of the characters- The defense counsel paints a word picture of Morris Black, the deceased. The theme here is that the deceased, Black, was a violent, confrontational, crotchety, much despised, wicked reprobate. The hook re Black is : Who was Morris Black?)

Now, we need to stop and back up and learn about who Morris Black was and who Bob Durst is. (Defense counsel now describes Black with adjectives suportive of a self-defense theory.) We agree with Mr. Sistrunk (the prosecutor) that Morris Black was known, and not very favorably known, throughout Galveston as a cantankerous, dangerous, threatening, unpredictable old man. Morris Black was violent. (Defense counsel now presents a series of vignettes that will cause the jury to view Black as a vilolent reprobate and will support a self-defense against violent attack theory of the case.). Morris Black threatened some of the people at the Rosenberg Library. Morris Black had to be forcibly removed from the Rosenberg Library. Morris Black had a warrant out for his arrest at the time he met his death (Notice that defense counsel does not say "was killed."), a warrant based on a peace bond that had been  sworn out by the people at the Rosenberg Library - a peace bond which is a formal complaint requiring that a person be arrested to come in and go to jail and post bond conditioned on them not threatening the people anymore, because Morris Black had threatened to burn down the Rosenberg Library.

Morris Black came to Galveston because he was basically run out of North Carolina, where he had threatened to blow up the power company, and then he threatened to kill a woman who turned him in for doing that. Morris Black was treated at U.T.M.B. (University of Texas Medical Branch); and every time he was there, he created a scene. He kicked and spit on the people that were trying to help him. They had to forcibly restrain him. They had to tie him down with straps on his arms because he was dangerous. And there's one woman there who is scared of him today still because of the violent threats that he made against her.

Morris Black was evicted from several apartments and was about to be evicted from the apartment at 2213 Avenue K when he met his death.

(Defense counsel confronts the fact that Black did engage in random acts of kindness but manages to put a negative spin of spiteful arrogance on Black's small acts of kindness.) Morris Black had a generous side, if you can call it that. Morris Black had a scheme where he would buy reading glasses on the Internet for pennies apiece, and he would pass them out to some of the old homeless people at the Salvation Army and at the Jesse Tree. But if whoever he gave the glasses to angered him, if for instance they weren't sufficiently grateful, then he would grab them and take them back from them. And his generosity turned to spite in an instant.

(Defense counsel paints Black as a social recluse, very strong physically, confrontational in relations with others, including small children and dogs, and dangerous.) Morris Black moved into the apartment at 2213 Avenue K, apartment number one, with almost no furniture, no television, no radio, no clock, no electric appliances of any kind, basically a bed and a mattress. He yelled at the children in the neighborhood. He threatened and frightened the kids. He complained about dogs that barked. He carried a stick and threatened people with it. Bob was with him on several occasions when Morris Black attacked men twice his size. Morris Black was not a big man, maybe 5' 6"; but he was strong. And he walked everywhere in Galveston at practically a runner's pace. And he carried with him, when he ran, homemade weights to build up his arms. You are going to see his arms. They are going to be very gruesome. But you are also going to see that Morris Black was a strong man. Morris Black was a dangerous man.

(Who is Bob Durst? Defense counsel introduces the defendant as the son of a wealthy New York family who fled to Galveston to escape a political witch hunt and the media frenzy surrounding it.)

Now, who is Bob Durst? What brought Bob Durst to Galveston, Texas? Bob Durst is from an extremely wealthy New York family. He was the oldest of four children of Seymour Durst. The Durst organization owns and operates properties in Manhattan worth billions -- that's with a "B" -- billions of dollars. They own Times Square. They own other properties all around Manhattan. They are a powerful, strong organization. They have a lawyer here monitoring this trial. And whenever anything happens having anything to do with the Durst family, the press turns out in droves.

Bob was the oldest of the four children. He was passed over for control of the Durst organization. And when Seymour Durst passed on control to his children, he named Bob's younger brother as the head of the Durst organization. Bob still had his quarter interest, but he became disassociated from the Durst organization.

(Defense counsel introduces the fact that the defendant's wife had disappeared without explanation earlier in the defendant's life, but uses this and the politically inspired investigation of it to explain why the defendant fled from New York to Galveston and assumed the disguise of a mute woman.) Twenty years later, almost 20 years later, a politically ambitious lady district attorney from Westchester County announced to the public that she was reopening the disappearance of Kathy Durst and that Bob Durst was the person that they were centering on. The media went into a frenzy.

(The defender tells the jury that the defendant fled to Galveston to escape the tabloids and the publicity-hungry New York D.A.)  The New York tabloids carried front page articles. These are the same kind of newspapers that report when Elvis is sighted, that report when some movie star has a baby by space aliens. That's the kind of news they report. That's the kind of sensationalism. But what it did to Bob Durst was it caused him to want to get away and not be Bob Durst, to hide from that horrible investigation based on no evidence whatsoever. And a lawyer hired by the Durst organization told Bob Durst that Jeanine Pirro, the politically ambitious D.A, who you may have seen on one of the talk shows -- we call them "scream shows" where everybody screams at each other and everybody takes positions . She's probably on Larry King tonight. The lawyer hired by the Durst organization told Bob, "With no evidence whatsoever, Bob, she can have you indicted and thrown into jail and a million dollar bond placed on you." And it so scared him that he left New York, and he came to Galveston, and he disguised himself as a woman. And he took the name Dorothy Ciner, a girl who he had gone to high school with. And he bought a wig  And he signed a lease. And that's all true. And he began living in Galveston across the hall from Morris Black, out of the frying pan and into the fire.

(Defense counsel describes the defendant's life in Galveston.) Bob liked Galveston. His life began to return to normal from having paparazzi following him around in New York and taking his picture every time he walked out of his apartment building, from banner headlines screaming that he was guilty of Kathy Durst's disappearance. He came to Galveston where he didn't have to be Bob Durst anymore, where he could just be a normal person. He didn't have to be the wealthy son of Semour Durst. He could just be an ordinary person. And for a while he wore a wig. You will probably hear from some people that saw him and thought he was either a very ugly woman or that he was a guy with a wig on. He started going to do normal things that normal people do without being recognized.

(The defender shows how the defendent completely and almost comically bobbled his efforts to disguise himself.) He went to the E Street Coffee House on a regular basis, just right down the street from here. He would go to the Rosenberg Library -- this was in the brief period about a week or so after he got here, and he was still wearing this wig and pretending to be a mute woman -- he was at the library and working on the Internet. And one of the librarians came up. Something had gone funny with the computer, and she asked if she could help. And Bob, forgetting that he was supposed to be mute, started talking to her. And she was shocked. And he knew that his disguise wasn't going to work.  But really the crowning blow was when he went to a bar and was sitting at the bar with the wig on and he lit a cigarette and part of his wig caught fire. And when he tried to get the fire out, the wig came off.

(Defense counsel describes how the defendant began to live a more normal life in Galveston.) So, he knew he couldn't live as a woman. And he began being more comfortable, and the publicity died down. And he started traveling back to New York. And he found that he could go back to New York, and he decided to marry his long time girlfriend, Debbie Charatan. And they got married. But while he was in New York, he heard the news that his long time friend Susan Berman had been murdered in Los Angeles. At a meeting, the press went wild again, trying to put a connection between Bob Durst and the death of Susan Berman and the disappearance of Kathy. So he came back to Galveston.

(Defense counsel now begins explaining the prior relationship between the accused and the deceased, including events about Black known to the defendant that would make it reasonable for the defendant to be in fear for his life on the night of the killing.)

He (Durst) struck up a friendship of sorts with Morris Black. He and Morris Black would sometimes be at the E Street Coffee House at the same time. He and Morris Black would sometimes be at the library at the same time. He and Morris Black would sometimes be at the Kroger store at the same time. Morris Black once followed him at the liquor store on 25th just off of the Seawall. I forget the name of the liquor store. Not 25th, 23rd, 23rd and Market. It doesn't matter. Right close to the Seawall, Economy Liquor. Morris Black followed him in there. Bob was buying a fifth of Jack Daniels. Black said, "I like Jack Daniels." And Morris invited himself over. So they had drinks together.

It developed into an easy friendship. And as it developed, Bob Durst probably was the only friend that Morris Black had in Galveston. (Defense counsel tells the jury about the defendant learning about and witnessing acts of violence by Black. This will help with the sel-defense claim.) And Bob began to find out things about Morris. Morris told Bob that he, Morris, had killed a man in Japan many years ago. He told him about getting tied down to the bed at U.T.M.B. (Editor's Note: This is the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston - a teaching hospital) and being thrown out at U.T.M.B.

Bob saw several things happen. They were walking on the Seawall. Bob has had since he was a child a habit of talking to himself. He talks outloud to himself, and he gestures while he does so. Bob was doing that, and Morris was walking along. And some guy walked up to Bob and said, "Hey buddy, are you talking to me?" Morris jumped in and pushed the guy and pushed him back. And the guy was twice the size of Morris, and the guy could have creamed him. Bob grabbed Morris, and they went on. (Notice that counsel for the first time makes what might be considered as a mini-argument, i.e., he argues logical inferences from the story he's been telling.) Now, what did that tell Bob? It told Bob several things. First, Morris would start a fight. Morris was unpredictable.

(Counsel returns to the story of Morris' volatile confrontations with people.) It happened again on the beach once. Some kids were throwing a Frisbee. It landed near where Morris and Bob were sitting, and Morris took the Frisbee and threw it in the ocean.These kids came over and surrounded Morris, and Morris started yelling at them and created a scene. And the police were called. The police broke it up, and nothing happened, but it showed Morris' volatility.

(Defense counsel focuses on Black's fascination with guns, downplaying to some extent but facing the fact that that the defendant also had an interest in guns.) And there was another thing about Morris. Morris had a thing about guns. Bob had several guns. Bob had applied for a concealed handgun license in Dallas, Texas. Bob had had an apartment in Dallas, Texas. He had a home in Northern California. Bob and Morris, as friends will do, started talking about guns, and Morris wanted to shoot the gun. Bob had a 9 millimeter Browning. Morris said he knew a place where they could go and shoot the gun. And so they went to that place out on Pelican Island. Morris said, "You can go out there early in the morning, and there's nobody there. And there's some sandhills that you can shoot into to your heart's content. And they went out there. And Morris took the 9 millimeter and started shooting it. And Bob, as he describes it, says Morris shot bam, bam, bam. He just kept shooting, and it was dangerous. Morris didn't know how to handle the kickback. And Bob determined, "I'm not going to let him shoot that gun anymore." (Defense counsel tells the jury about a second gun, the .22 target pistol, and advises them that they will see it later in evidence.) And so Bob went and bought a special target pistol, a Ruger .22 caliber target pistol. By this time, it's August of 2001. And Bob and Morris went to the same place and shot that target pistol, and Morris was much safer with that pistol.  It has a heavy barrel. You will see it. It's going to be in evidence. Bob bought it in Pasadena, Texas, at Carter's Country, and signed for it "Bob Durst," filled out all the forms.

And Morris had a thing about guns. Bob, when the Susan Berman thing came up, Bob, knowing he had no longer been wearing the wig, no longer was living this charade in Galveston about being a mute woman, decided that he better get another place. And so he rented an apartment in New Orleans. Again he did the ruse. He wore a wig. He took the name of another woman and rented the apartment. That particular landlord had seen lots of men dressed as women and wasn't fooled at all. But nonethless, Bob had an apartment in New Orleans also. But Bob became comfortable with Galveston. He wanted to buy a home here. He wanted to live here. He didn't want to live at 2213 Avenue K.

During the month of September, a number of things happened. September the 11th, 2001, a horrible tragedy happened in New York. Morris Black became obsessed with the events of 9/11.  He had no TV.  He could only watch television if he went to some public place or if he used or borrowed the television set in Bob's apartment. And Bob had a television. And so, he began using the television set there. Bob gave him a key. But Morris obsessed on the news and obsessed on what had happened, ranted and raved like Bob had seen him rant and rave in public before. (Counsel introduces Morris' Black's gunshot incident in the Durst apartment.) And in the middle of September, Bob was watching the news, and Morris was there. Bob went to the bathroom, and he heard a gunshot. Morris had shot the pistol in the apartment. Bob came out of the bathroom. (Notice that defense counsel now goes very briefly into the first person, present tense and then into the first person, past tense while quoting the players.) "Morris, what have you done?" Morris pointed to the wall and said, "You see that eviction notice? Klaus sent me that eviction notice. I shot it. That's what I think of Klaus." Bob said, "You can't do that, Morris. You can't shoot a gun in the house. Give me the gun, Morris." Morris gave him the gun. (Counsel establishes that Durst got his apartment key back from Black .) Bob said, "Give me your key, Morris." Morris gave him the key.

(Black trespasses into Bob Durst's apartment.) About a week later, Bob came to the apartment, and he heard the television. He knew he hadn't left it on. He went to the door. The door was locked. He unlocked the door, and there was Morris watching television. So, he knew that Morris had made an extra key, and the key he took back from him was not the only key that Morris had. And he looked at Morris, and Morris looked at him and said, "Well, I made another key." Bob said, "All right. You can watch television, but I don't want you in here when I'm not here." They sat and watched television. (Black fires the gun in the apartment for a second time.) Bob went into the bathroom, and a gunshot rang out for a second time. Morris Black had shot the gun in the apartment. (Defense counsel reenacts the dialogue partly in the present tense to show that Black was permanently banished from Bob Durst's apartment and that Durst his his gun.) Bob came in and "Morris, you can't do that . Give me the gun." Morris gave him the gun. "Morris get out of her. Give me your key. I don't wan't you ever in my apartment again." Bob took the gun, and he hid it in the apartment."

(Bob Durst moves top the San Luis Hotel, but keeps the apartment.) Bob had already decided that he was going to move out of that apartment. He wanted to find a place to live, he wanted to find a place to buy. For all practical purposes, after that night, after that wekend that that happened, he did not sleep in the apartment again except when his sister's son was getting married in Houston. He came to Houston. He went to the wedding, spent the weekend at the Four Seasons. He came back to Galveston. He registered at the San Luis Hotel as Bob Durst. He would go back to the apartment from time to time, but he did not stay there. He was staying at the San Luis.

(Counsel turns to the day in question with Bob Durst jogging to temple.) And then on Friday morning, September the 28th, Bob drove to the synagogue, to the temple. He left his car. He jogged -- Bob is a jogger. He joged on the Seawall. He jogged in Galveston, all over the streets. He is a runner. He jogged from his -- from the temple to his apartment.

(Defense counsel renacts the shooting.) As he came to his apartment, as he walked up the steps, he heard the television set playing in his apartment. He knew what that meant. He knew that Morris had another key. He knew that Morris would be in there. And so, when he opened the door, it was locked from the inside, he saw Morris. He saw Morris sitting at the table. The television was over here (indicating on the visual), and he knew that Morris had this thing about guns. And he went immediately to where he had the gun hidden, and it wasn't there. And he turned around, and he said, "Morris, Morris, where is the gun?" And he went to Morris. And as he did, Morris came up with the gun. Bob grabbed his hand, and they wrestled, and they fell down. And they fell into the kitchen. And as the fell into the kitchen, Bob's elbow hit the floor. And as his elbow hit the floor and as Morris hit the floor with a thud, the gun went off.

(Defense counsel explains the immediate aftermath of the shooting describing how the defendant tried unsuccessfully to summon medical aid for Morris Black) Bob had blood on his face.  He had blood on his chest. And he looked, and Morris was lying on the floor with a bullet hole near his nose. He said, "Morris, Morris." Morris didn't respond. "Morris, Morris." He didn't respond. And he jumped up and thought, "I've got to get help." And so he ran upstairs, and he beat on the door upstairs. Nobody came to the door. He came back down. There's no phone in either apartment. Bob didn't have a phone. Morris didn't have a phone. Bob didn't have a cell phone with him. And so he ran out the door and down to the corner where Charlie's hamburger stand is on 23rd and Avenue K. And there was a woman on the phone in the booth there. And he ran up to the woman waving his hands, and he said, "I've got to ue the phone. I've got to call 911." And the woman looked at him with fright. And the woman looked at him, and a big man who was parked nearby got out of his car and started toward Bob. And Bob left.

(Defense counsel explains how, failing to find help and discovering that Morris was dead, the defendant "descended into the depths of despair.") He went to the house next door to Charlie's, and he went in through the fence and went up to the door and banged on the door. Nobody came to the door. And he ran back thinking, "Maybe I can do something." He ran back into the apartment, ran back in. And there was Morris just exactly where he had laid him, but this time there was a large puddle of blood. And he went down to Morris, and he knelt down, and he said, "Morris, Morris." And Morris didn't move. And he could tell Morris was dead. And he thought, "Morris is dead. He's shot with my gun. He's shot in my apartment that I rented as a mute woman wearing a wig because I was hiding from an investigation in New York. They are never going to believe me." He went to his bed, and he sat down and put his head in his hands and he descended into the depths of despair this way. (Counsel concludes his portion of the opening here, with Bob Durst sitting on the bed of his apartment and Black dead on the floor.)

  • Mr. Ramsey's Closing Portion of the Opening Statement

(CO-COUNSEL'S OPENING: Mr. Mike Ramsey (1 - one of the rare superlawyers who is not a publicity hound), (2), co-counsel for the accused and one of the top criminal defense lawyers in the country, takes over the most difficult part of the opening statement, Starting with the defendant sitting on his bed, head in hands, Ramsey explains Durst's subsequent action, dealing with the potentially inflammatory facts surrounding defendant's failure to notify the authorities and his dismemberment and clandestine disposal of the body parts of Morris Black in the Galveston Bay. Key to the defensive theory was the proposition that the dismemberment was a completely separate act from the killing itself - the argument being that what came after the killing could not change the facts of the killing itself.)

CO-COUNSEL RAMSEY: If it please the Court. But for the things that happened after the act of self-defense occurred, we are going to demonstrate to you that there would not be a case in this Court. There would not even be a trial but for the panic, the disassociation, and the mistakes that were made after the murder allegedly occurred, after the death of Morris Black, after an act of self-defense that justified the killing. Mistakes were made that led us to this courtroom. And if you listened carefully to the prosecutor's opening remarks, everything save and except one reference to a blood spatter had to do with events that occurred after Morris was dead, everything. And if you doubt that at the end of the case, if you reflect upon that and even ask it to be read back to you or reflect upon the proof you hear in the courtroom about what proof there is that there was an actual murder not justified by self-defense, you will find that there's none.

(Notice how defense counsel frames the issue as being a dispute over "the aftermath of a righteous shooting," and not over whether the killing was in self-defense. )."Now, on the other hand, there are bizarre and grotesque facts in this case which you are going to want an explanation for. That's principally where the issue will be joined in this case, over the aftermath of a righteous shooting, the aftermath of a righteous shooting. (Note the repetition of the phrase.) The State has no proof, none whatsoever, to demonstrate to you that this was not an act of self-defense. That's what it was.

(Defense counsel revisits and clarifies the quandry facing the defendant in the aftermath of the shooting.) Now, in order to get there, in order to get an explanation of what occurred, first, you have got to understand that the early mistakes and the first mistake that Mr. (naming the co-counsel who delivered the first portion of the opening statement) has already demonstrated - the trauma, the shock, his friend is shot, is lying on the floor, he's dead in an apartment, a $300 apartment rented by a billionaire in Galveston,Texas, while dressed as a woman. Now, how much stranger does it get than that? Bob Durst stopped to think about that circumstance. He stopped to think about how eccentric the whole situation was, how bizzare it was. And as he sat there with his head in his hands, time passed. And the more time that passes, the more difficult it is to do anything to bring back the situation into the norm.

(Defense counsel explains why, in part, i.e., autism, the defendant acted in an eccentric manner, i.e., retreating and returning to situations of stress.) What did he do? What he started to do then is a pattern that will be repeated over and over again. He retreated and returned, retreated and returned. The first thing he did was simply go away. Now, you have heard on your voir dire examination that we gave to the jurors suggestions of a disease called Asperger's Syndrome.  It is not a terribly serious disease as such. It is a subset of autism. It is a mild form of autism, if you will. Bob Durst has had it since he was a kid. He was never diagnosed with it. Nobody knew what was wrong with him, other than he was eccentric. It explains now, with the benefit of the hindsight, why he didn't assume the leadership of the Durst organization. It explains a lot about his behavior leading up to the time that he had left New York.

(The defense counsel explains the wealthy defendant's bizzare reactions, i.e. retreating, to media coverage as flowing from Asperger's Syndrome.) Mr. (naming co-counsel) has talked to you about big press relative to the 20-year-ago disappearance of Kathy Durst. There was a huge amount of press about that. There are no charges about that. He is not charged here or anywhere else for that. There's talk about allegations about the friend he had named Susan Berman. He is not charged with that here or anywhere else. There are no charges pending. But what you saw there was Bob Durst's attitude toward the press he was getting in New York as he lived there simply because he was Semour Durst's son who did not inherit the leadership of the organization.  What did he do in the face of that kind of press? He retreated. He retreated. How? He retreated to Galveston. He retreated to a place under a phoney name in a $300 apartment when he was a billionaire. He could live anywhere he wanted to. He could have gone to China. He could have gone to Europe. He could have gone to London, anywhere he wanted to. He didn't do that. Now, that's bizarre, strange behavior and is explained to some extent by the symptoms, if you  will, of Asperger's Syndrome. And we will call doctors to talk about that.

(Counsel notes the claims, i.e., incompetency, insanity the defense is not making.) Now, let me continue to say this is not a case where we are pleading insanity. There's no insanity in this case. This is not incompetency. We are not pleading incompetency in this case. On the other hand, what we are pleading, what we will prove -- and it will be proved beyond doubt -- is that he does suffer from Asperger's. It means that he is susceptible to a kind of panic state, that trauma is and of itself brings on a panic state in that kind of personality. It's the kind of personality that runs from trouble rather than trying to come to grips with it and solve problems. And that's what we are going to demonstrate in this case. It is real. This kind of mental ailment is just as real a disease as cancer or tuberculosis or typhoid or any other kind of ailment. And we're going to demonstrate it. You will hear testimony in this case that it's the kind of syndrome that besets normal people under extreme stress. It's the kind of thing that occurs in the Armed Forces after combat action involving force or trauma. But its not always apparent because the trauma in and of itself leads to a state of disassociation. (Query: What figure of speech is this?) And  those people who are weak to begin with, who are broken to begin with, who are troubled to begin with, are much more likely to drift into that kind of state of reaction, an attempt to retreat.

And you're going to hear testimony in this courtroom about a descent essentially not into insanity, not into incompetency, but certainly into madness. I think that's the word to describe it.

(Cousel suggests that the accused suffered from severe depression without becoming incompetent or insane.) Some of the literature uses the phrase, "A Darknesss More than Light." Those of you who have some experience with depression know something about how severe mental illness can become without becoming insanity, without becoming anything close to incompetency.

(Counsel poses a rhetorical question and answers it.) So, what happened? The more he waited,the longer hewaited,themore heput it off. He got up finally a few hours later and walked away. He didn't come back. And the longer he stayed gone, the more he thought nobody would believe him. (Defense counsel moves tothe first person present.) "They're not going to believe me under these circumstances. My God, maybe it's not true. My God, maybe this is something that didn't really happen."  He went back,and Morris is stillthere. It did happen. It has happened.

So, he was in by that time, by the time he returned and Morris, still lying there, shot in the face, dead by the time he returned, it's far, far too late to think anybody will believe him.

(Defense counsel begins to offer an explanation for the dismemberment) Now,just crazy mistakes are made, really bizarre activiities are done after that. (Defense counsel reiterates, in a rhetorical question, the central theory that what came after the killing did not change the fact that the killing was accidental while in lawful self-defense in self-defense.) Does it change the fact that the act was in self-defense? No. It's after the event. Does it change the fact that accident played a part in it? No. It's after the event. Is it bizarre? Is it grotesque? Yes. Is it explainable? Yes. And we will explain it to you.

This dissociative state that we are trying to describe to you -- and the doctors will be much more eloquent about it than we -- is the kind of thing that almost amounts to an out-of-body-experience. It's almost about like you hear some soldiers describe it as being up above and looking down on what's going on below, being into a distortion of memory and an inability to recall in sequence what occurred. There's a fog that descends upon the mind. You're able to pick out parts, this and that, of things that occurred.

You're able later to look at documents and whatnot and remember, yes, this occurred at a certain time. To be able to remember and recall at all with precision is impossible. We are going to do our best to demonstrate everything that happened afterward, everything. And that is all that the State's case is about, what happened afterward, but we are going to join issue on all of that.

(Defense cousel now faces the fact that the accused dismembered the body of Morris Black, packed the assorted body parts in plastic bags and discarded the bags in Galveston Bay.) Now, you are going to see the pictures that we described to you of the dismembered body. Morris. Obviously, you can look at Mr. Durst and tell what  ability he had when he decided, "Well, the first thing I have got to do is move Morris out of the apartment. Nobody is going to believe me." He can't move Morris. He is not big enough to carry Morris. And the mistakes keep coming and getting worse and more grotesque. He cut Morris up and put him in grocery bags and threw him in the bay, and that's what happened.

(Defense counsel now makes clear the crucial defensive theory that what the accused did after the killing, i.e., dismembering the body of Black, packaging the pieces in grocery bags and tossing them into the bay is not reflective of a murderous state of mind and are consistent with the defensive theories of self-defense and accident.) Now, this is a horrible, grotesque kind of logic, the kind of paranoid thinking that's going on here. It does not, however mean guilt or guilty conscience, guilty of murder. There's so many inconsistencies -- and we will point then out during the trial of this case -- that there's no way you will come to think that this is a murder. You will think it's strange. (Notice the embedded commands.) You will think it's bizarre, but it's not murder.

So what happened? (Note the rhetorical question.) Retreat, return. (Defense counsel reemphasizes the recurrent theme of Durst's habitual retreating from and returning to scenes.) Morris is still there. Counsel has referred to other retreat, retreat to the San Luis. Things occurred during this period of time. What do you do when your friend is dead on the floor of your apartment? Do you get a haircut? Does any of it make any sense? It happened. It happened. He loaded the garbage bags and went to a pier on the bay side of the island and threw them in the bay, retreated, went back and on occasion after occasion had to see, "Did I really do that? Is Morris really in the bay?" Finally, there was activity. The police were there. He left again.

(Counsel explains that Durst's leaving Galveston was not flight butrather another instance of his pattern of retreating and returning) Now, they want to say, "The guilty flee. Only the guilty flee." But a guy with billions of dollars - did he go to Houston Intercontinental; and get on an airplane and go to Brazil? Did he go across the border into Mexico where money will buy anything? Certainly not. He went to New Orleans. And what did he do? He retreated; he came back. He came back to Galveston to call a lawyer to start to straighten it out. He came back to Galveston. A man with billions of dollars came back here to get a pair of galsses worth less than a couple of hundred dollars. It doesn't make any sense. It doesn't make any sense. (Notice the repetition of sentences.)

There is only a twisted sort of sense to his activities after Morris was dead, but it has absolutely no bearing on how Morris died. (Again counsel emphasizes the defense position of a disconnect betwen the circumstances of the killing of Black and the the dismemberment and disposal of Black's body by Durst.) And there will be no disputing the proof of the case as to how Morris Black died. (Defense cousel says that there will be "no disputing the proof of the case as to how Morris Black died." Is this true? Isn't there an enormous dispute about how Black died? Isn't the prosecution contending that the killing was done by the accused with an intent to kill, not accidentally and not under circumstances giving rise to the right to use deadly force in self-defense?)

(Defense counsel deals with the issue of the accused's flight after arrest - bond jumping.) So he was arrested. He made a bond immediately. A man with his wherewithal can make bond immediately. He made a $300,000 bond overnight and then again left and began drifting across America. And, as counsel pointed out, there is a remarkable fact. You know you are charged with the murder of Morris Black. "Well, I will use Morris Black's name." Does it make any sense -  a person with that much money, with that wherewithal, with the ability to do anything? It makes no sense at all. He went to the place where he grew up. He contemplated suicide during that period of time. He had a gun, started to kill himself with it, didn't, went to his brother's house, parked in the driveway, thought about killing himself there, didn't do it, eventually went back to his old college town and was arrested for stealing a less than $3 chicken salad sandwich.

(Defense Counsel now deals with the capture of the accused and his suicidal tendencies after he jumped bond.) And now we come to his capture. So with the chicken salad sandwich and a band-aid,he is taken into custody in Pennsylvania. After he was taken into custody, he was put immediately, of course into suicide watch because he attempted it at that time by ramming his head into plexiglass, by attempting to hang himself with a jumpsuit. He was put into suicide watch, was medicated, and was put into a structured environment very quickly. And (name co-counsel) and I both went to see him in Pennsylvania, we being Texas lawyers, and it would be a Texas case. We found he had been caught with plenty of pictures of his past, pictures of him in a Cub Scout uniform and his dog, pictures of Kathy Durst, his first wife, and a chicken salad sandwich.

(Defense counsel deals with the issue of incompetence to stand trial and insanity as a defense to criminal responsibility, making clear that neither is an issue in the case; also, defense counsel emphasizes that this is a murder trial, not a trial for bond jumping.) Now, this is not the gun that was used to kill Morris Black. The prosecutor is correct. Morris Black was killed by a .22 automatic that was found in a trash can in back of the house. The efforts to clean up that apartment were pitiful. And after all of these things happened -- and here we get into the strangest part of all; and that is after he was back in custody. he went into another kind of hell because he was a beneficiary of the Durst trust. And because the trust instrument says if one is found incompetent, one cannot inherit. There was a struggle over Bob's welfare going on between his wife and members of the organization. And it was during this time that (name co-counsel) and I were summoned -- one of us was called by the wife's side -- and we came together to New York. And I say this because there were tape recordings made between Bob and his wife discussing whether they ought to hire me or they ought to hire (name of co-counsel) or they ought to hire both of us or what they should do. I don't even know if all of this is going to come into evidence. It is something that we did not anticipate as this case developed, the recordings that were made in the Pennsylvania jail. If they come into evidence,it may be that you are in the unique situation of hearing testimony by the lawyers in the case. That's me and (name of co-counsel). I don't think so. I don't believe it will get to that, but it may be because what's being discussed is advice that we are giving them to get an evaluation, depending on where it was going to be done and who was going to do it, whether is was going to be done in Pennsylvania or done here. Independent from one another, we both insisted that it be done because of what we knew about the case from just reading in the newspapers or reading the indictment in the case. We knew those were the kind of allegations, but at no time did anyone ever suggest, either (name of co-counsel) or I, that Bob Durst is insane or that he is incompetent. He is responsible for what occurred in this case, that is true. But he is not on trial here for abuse of a corpse. He is not on trial for jumping bond. He is on trial here for murdering Morris Black, and that he did not do.

(Defense counsel says that if the accused had not made mistakes after the killing , it would clearly have been ruled an accidental/self-defense homicide; the defender reemphasizes that the evidence the prosecution will present to the jury will be focused on what happened after the killing, not what happened immediately before and during the killing.) If Bob had been a strong individual, if he had not been hiding, cowering in Galveston, hiding from responsibility, hiding from nameless threats that were out there -- let me hasten to say that he is not charged with any other murder anywhere. There's not even enough evidence to have a trial about anything. But if he had not been here and had not made the mistakes that he made after Morris was dead, we would not be in this court. (As to absence of motive, counsel promises that there will be no proof indicating that Durst had any motive to kill Black.) Therefore, you are going to hear the case talked about mainly on those issues -- and that's all this case is about -- and our response to it. And after it's over with, the only evidence, the only evidence that you are going to see is that there is absolutely no motive other than self-defense/accident for the killing of Morris Black.

(Counsel makes one last swipe at Black's character.) You're going to hear what kind of raucous character Morris Black was. You are going to hear what a threatening kind of individual he was. It's going to make a person squirm, what occurred relative to the gun. You are going to hear what a miser he was. Although he had tens of thousands of dollars in his own account, he wouldn't spend the money to buy a little portable TV. And they got into a fracas, and that fracas led to an unfortunate death. So after you have heard it all, after you have looked at all the evidence. -- and it will take a long time because there will be a lot of medical testimony. (Counsel reiterates that all the evidence is going to be about what happened after the killing.) There will be a lot of contradictory and a lot of scientific proof, all of it dealing with what happened "after."

(In conclusion, defense counsel reiterates the theme that what happened after the death of Morris Black, i.e., the dismemberment, does not reflect what happened before and during the event resulting in Black's death.) Although there will be a lot of grotesque pictures of a dismembered body, none of it reflects upon the guilt or innocence of Bob Durst at the time Morris was shot in self-defense as they struggled over a gun and fell to the floor. With that said, we appreciate your attention.


Defense Opening Statement
Robert Durst Murder Case
Lawyer Dick DeGuerin
Lawyer Mike Ramsey

Edited and Annotated
copyright  © 2005 Ray Moses
all rights reserved

Robert Alan Durst

Parts of Mr. Durst's life are featured
in the HBO series,
"The Jinx" (2015).
Episodes: 1, 23, 4, 5, 6

On the date of the last installment of "The Jinx,"
Bob Durst, having made several damaging admissions to himself after his final TV interview when he thought he was unmiked, was arrested in New Orleans for the CA murder of his former spokesperson
Susan Berman
(1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

A search by authorities of Durst's New Orleans hotel room resulted in the finding of a handgun.
Durst, a convicted felon, was subsently charged in Louisiana with the federal offense of possession of a handgun by a felon. In February of 2016, he agreed to plead guilty for 85 months - a very stiff sentence
for a 72- year-old man. He is to serve his sentence in a federal correctional institution in California, where he may stand trial for the murder of Ms. Berman. (1 - this article
suggests that the defense may have bungled a 27-month plea bargain by not formalizing it before Durst agreed to plead guilty) (2) (3)

Morris Black

The dismembered body parts of Morris (minus the one above) were found floating in tightly wrapped garbage bags in Galveston Bay.

Durst admitted the butchering and claimed that the decapitated head was also deposited in the bay.

The trauma to the head could have been crucial evidence in determining if Black was executed by Durst or killed in self-defense. Durst fled to New Orleans. Some wondered if the missing head might have found its way to a final resting place somewhere in in the swampland surrounding New Orleans.

The Dursts

The Durst family saga
is a fascinating story of
an older brother,
(Robert) (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6),
being supplanted as patriarch
of the family real estate empire by a younger brother (Douglas) who parlayed his position into an estimated family net worth of $4,400,000,000.00 (Forbes).

The Defense of Self-Defense
in Texas

To understand the acquittal of Robert Durst, one must understand the way self-defense works in Texas.

Most importantly, once the issue of self-defense is raised by some evidence (the burden of production), the burden of convincing the jury (the burden of persuasion) then shifts to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused did not act in self-defense - a difficult task for experienced prosecutors and one which the Galveston prosecutors, who seem to have been out-witted, out-played, and out-lasted by Ramsey and DeGuerin, simply were not up to.


      Dick                   Mike

A Few Thoughts
About Opening Statement

Reading a transcript requires you to imagine the methods of effective communication that the advocates are employing. As you read the words of the two defenders, Dick DeGuerin and Mike Ramsey, in Durst, your mind's eye  should imagine these models of the lawyers' physical presence that are calculated to develop good rapport with the
audience of jurors:

appearance - dress to impress your message; dress for church, i.e., conseratively, but not for a funeral; Ramsey dresses like a bank president; DeGuerin affects the Stetson hat worn by Texas ranchers.
(I think he owns a couple of them - ranches, that is.)

stance - feet apart and firmly balanced, with one foot slightly in front of the other, not in the military attention feet-together
style, but with erect posture, head balanced over the trunk
of then body; do not rock
back and forth.

position - stay within an informal conversational distance, e.g.,
5-10 feet from the jurors;
do not pace back and forth;
touch the rail only when you are trying to ignite attention.

movement - always with a purpose; don't roam; find anchor points from which to discuss specific subjects.

body language - understand microexpressions (1)(2)(3) , yours and the jurors; also known as kinesics (1).

hands - show em your hands
not clasped behind your back,
not in your pockets, and
not in a fig leaf over your
private parts.

hand gestures - give, show,
chop, in a comfortable zone

arms -  avoid little T-Rex arm movements.

eye contact - show all the jurors your eyes.

voice - pitch, tone, volume,
pace, pause, etc.

attitude - enthusiastic, but remember that the jurors have thin emotional commitment to the case at this stage (before any evidence has been presented).

, +++

There are certain persuasive devices that may be found when reading a transcript. Here are some that you might discover:

timing of when to deliver your opening - in many jurisdictions,
e.g., Texas, the defense has the option of giving its opening statement immediately after the prosecution or waiting until the beginning of the defense case-in- chief.
Note: The most common practiceis for the defense to give its opening back-to-back, rather than deferring until later; it's risky to leave the plaintiff's
or prosecutor's opening unanswered for a substantial period of time; jurors start forming opinions from the opening bell.  

central case theme -  the short pithy words that briefly describe the case.

the elephant in the corner -
facing the weaknesses in your case - the facts beyond change here reflect that the defendant Durst butchered the body of the victim, Morris Black, with newly purchased saws and then double-wrapped the various pieces which Durst then threw into Galveston Bay.
All but the decapitated head of Black floated to the surface and were recovered by the authorities. Lawyer Mike Ramsey's job was to handle that delicate part of the defense story of the case

introducing yourself one more time - The people who teach the mock trial courses at some schools seem to teach students to reintroduce themselves to the jury immediately after delivery of the hook. I question the efficacy of this practice in the real world if you have already been introduced by the court and/or by yourself at the jury voir dire stage.

introducing your client - If you want to introduce your client to the jury early on it is okay to have the client stand up and tell the jury a bit of biographical information about him. Some lawyers like to go over and stand by the client when introducing him.  

primacy - what the jurors hear first, i.e., the hook, grabber or attention- getting device used at the beginning of the opening.

recency -  what the jurors hear last, i.e., the strong wrap-up at the end.

exit , closing or dismount line,
i.e., the very last thing you say
in opening statement; the  principle of recency says that
the jurors will remember it well.

visuals - any tangible documents or exhibits, real or demonstrative, 
you might display during your opening (by moving to preadmit them and securing permission of the trial court); typically only a couple of key exhibits; if you don't display a visual, you can foreshadow its importance with words.

labels - how the lawyers name the actors. Does the defense refer to the defendant as "Bob" or "Bob Durst"? Note that a good defense lawyer won't label his client with the impersonal generic "my client." Do the defenders refer to the defendant as "Morris Black"?

language or word choice - the right words (verbals) in the right order; graphically descriptive words that create vivid mental images of the events in question without hyperbole (overstatement).

triads - consider packaging your message in groups of threes (words, phrases or sentences)
In my trial advocacy course, I
ask that students first plan, prepare and perform; then they review, reflect, and revise
(or refine).
The Rule of Three (1) applies to oral statements as well as writings.

use of the present tense - to bring the jurors into crucial events you are describing by making them

use the first person (I) - when you ask the jurors to view the situation from the standpoint of a particular character in the story.

active or passive voice
In a sentence using the active voice, the subject of sentence performs the action, e.g. John cut the apple.  In a sentence using the passive voice the subject receives the action, e.g., The apple was cut by John.
Circumstances vary (1), but if you want the action in your story to move, don't live in the passive voice; use the active voice when you want the story to move.

use of elements of storytelling - the story you tell in opening statement shows why you should win the verdict; remember that
a good story often involves interesting circumstances of time and place, a protagonist (hero, champion, leading actor, victim), antagonist (opponent, adversary, provocateur, villain) and conflict, capped by a simple, common sense, morally proper solution to the conflict; a good story also has an emotional content that appeals to the feelings of the listener.
Note: If you don't provide the
jurors with a story of the case,
they will construct their own.

repetition - using different words, help the jurors to hear and remember your key points by repeating them in different ways and in different mediums. 

cultivate a feeling of ethos (good or bad character or credibility) re the victim or accused - introductory description of the background of a principal character, e.g., introducing the victim/defendant to the jury to humanize the person you champion and denigrate the opposing claimant.

tell the jurors, in story form, what the evidence will show rather than reciting a boring litany of what the evidence
will be.