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Mystery witness to testify against Robert Durst of ‘The Jinx’

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Robert Durst, the real estate scion tied to several slayings explored in HBO’s series “The Jinx,” returned to a Los Angeles courtroom on Wednesday to face a prosecution witness whose identity was being kept secret until taking the stand.

Durst, 73, is charged with first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of a writer and longtime confidante of his, Susan Berman, in December 2000, and prosecutors say the secret witness fears his or her life may be put in danger by testifying.

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Berman was found slain execution-style in her Los Angeles home not long after police in New York had reopened an investigation into the disappearance and presumed killing of Durst’s spouse, Kathleen, two decades earlier.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles say they suspect Durst killed Berman, 55, because of what she knew about his wife’s unsolved demise in 1982.

The judge has given approval for Wednesday’s witness to testify well in advance of the actual trial, with questioning and cross-examination by both sides videotaped and preserved in the event anything should prevent the person from appearing in court later.

An 85-year-old retired dean of the New York City medical school attended by Durst’s wife before she vanished was permitted to testify under similar conditions on Tuesday due to his advanced age.

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Durst has pleaded not guilty in the murder case and said he had nothing to do with the fate of either woman. He was questioned in the probe of his wife’s disappearance but has not been charged, and her body has never been found.

His ties to both cases, and his 2003 acquittal in the killing and dismemberment of a Texas neighbor, were chronicled in the popular multi-part HBO documentary “The Jinx” last year.

Durst was present again for Wednesday’s hearing, walking haltingly into court wearing khaki pants, a light-blue collared shirt and black-rimmed glasses. He stopped briefly to look over the audience of reporters and spectators in the room.

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Durst was formally charged with the Berman killing a day after HBO aired the final episode of its series, in which Durst was recorded muttering to himself off-camera: “What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.”

Durst told authorities after his arrest that he smoked marijuana daily and was high on methamphetamine during his appearance on “The Jinx,” according to court records.

Although Durst has long been estranged from his New York family and their significant real estate holdings, prosecutors have put his estimated net worth at some $100 million.

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(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)


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Scientists shed light on how brains turn pain up or down

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Pain perception is essential for survival, but how much something hurts can sometimes be amplified or suppressed: for example, soldiers who sustain an injury in battle often recall not feeling anything at the time.

A new study published in Cell Reports on Tuesday honed in on the brain circuitry responsible for upgrading or downgrading these pain signals, likening the mechanism to how a home thermostat controls room temperature.

Yarimar Carrasquillo, the paper's senior author and a scientist for the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), told AFP the region responsible was the central amygdala, which according to her work appeared to play a dual role.

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US House passes Hong Kong ‘Democracy Act’

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The US House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday sought by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong that aims to defend civil rights in the semi-autonomous territory, prompting an angry response from China.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which will now move to the Senate before it can become law, has drawn rare bipartisan support in a polarized Congress.

The law would end the Hong Kong-US special trading status unless the State Department certifies annually that city authorities are respecting human rights and the rule of law.

China expressed "strong indignation" over the passing of the act, which also requires the US president to identify and sanction people who are responsible for the erosion of autonomy and serious abuses of human rights in Hong Kong.

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2020 Election

Rising star Warren weathers attacks at Democratic White House debate

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Surging White House hopeful Elizabeth Warren faced a barrage of attacks from fellow Democrats at the party's fourth 2020 debate Tuesday, cementing her status as a frontrunner in the race to challenge Donald Trump.

The president himself loomed large as the dozen Democratic contenders trained their fire on him, calling for his impeachment and assailing a Syria troop pullout that Joe Biden slammed as "shameful."

"The impeachment must go forward," thundered Warren, the progressive senator who is neck and neck with former vice president Biden at the head of the 2020 nomination race -- a stance loudly echoed by her fellow Democrats on stage.

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