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Old friend of real estate heir Durst speaks in murder case

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, real estate heir Robert Durst sits in a courtroom during a hearing in Los Angeles. Before a judge even decides if there's enough evidence to try Durst on an old murder charge, prosecutors plan to start taking testimony. In a rare hearing Tuesday, Feb. 13, two witnesses will be called to the witness stand against Durst in Los Angeles Superior Court to preserve their testimony in case it is needed later.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, real estate heir Robert Durst sits in a courtroom during a hearing in Los Angeles. Before a judge even decides if there's enough evidence to try Durst on an old murder charge, prosecutors plan to start taking testimony. In a rare hearing Tuesday, Feb. 13, two witnesses will be called to the witness stand against Durst in Los Angeles Superior Court to preserve their testimony in case it is needed later.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, Pool, File)

LOS ANGELES — A onetime close friend of real estate heir Robert Durst testifying in Durst's murder case says that Durst's wife told him she was afraid of her husband before she disappeared.

The witness, Nathan "Nick" Chavin, is a New York advertising executive who was a longtime friend of Robert Durst and his wife Kathleen Durst. He was also a friend of Susan Berman, whom Durst is charged with killing.

Chavin on Wednesday described watching Durst's marriage deteriorate before his wife, who went by Kathie, mysteriously disappeared in 1982.

Kathie Durst had confided in Chavin with her worries about her husband, but didn't discuss any violence.

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

Robert Durst is not charged in Kathie Durst's disappearance, but prosecutors contend that he killed his best friend Berman in 2000 because she was going to talk to police about the case.

Chavin testified that he did not think Durst was responsible for his wife's disappearance at the time, but that line of questioning was interrupted by the court's recess for the day.

When he returns to the stand Thursday, he'll address Berman's death. Prosecutors have said Chavin will give testimony that will "bury" Durst.

Before he took the stand, Chavin's identity had been kept a secret, and he entered the courtroom through a back door with a personal security detail.

Prosecutors have suggested that with Durst's estimated $100 million fortune, he could have witnesses knocked off. The defence said that suggestion is absurd and have pointed to Durst's frail condition and the fact he's in jail where his phone conversations are recorded. Durst has pleaded not guilty.

But the judge allowed Chavin to testify in a rare proceeding to record testimony from a few elderly witnesses and those who fear for their safety and may not be alive to testify at trial. Durst has yet to even be ordered to stand trial.

Chavin, 72, said he once considered Durst his best friend.

He told of two violent incidents Durst described to him, including one that involved kicking a man in the head who had flirted with his wife.

"The guy pissed him off," Chavin said and he noted that Durst never showed any regret for the incident or distress after being sued.

In another incident, Durst said he had run over a female police officer in the San Francisco Bay Area while creeping through traffic.

Chavin asked why he wasn't in jail.

Durst replied: "What's she going to do, go to her superiors and say, 'He ran over me at 1 mph?'" Chavin said. "I think he did it in a prankish way."

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