By Kathy Finn
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Real estate heir and murder suspect Robert Durst pleaded guilty to a federal gun charge in New Orleans on Wednesday, setting the stage for his return to California to face charges in the 2000 death of a longtime friend.
Durst, 72, could be sentenced to seven years and one month in prison under his plea agreement, followed by three years of supervised release. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm after a search of his New Orleans hotel room last March turned up a handgun.
Shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, Durst appeared frail and thin at a hearing before U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt. He told the judge that he could not hear well and was taking many medications.
Engelhardt set an April 27 sentencing hearing, noting that he hoped to have Durst in California by mid-August. Prosecutors there want him in connection with the 2000 killing of writer Susan Berman. Durst's lawyer has said his client is eager to prove his innocence.
Durst's arrest in New Orleans came one day before the series finale of a 2015 HBO documentary entitled, "The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst."
The show chronicled several police investigations of the multimillionaire, including the 2003 dismemberment killing of a male neighbor in Texas for which he was acquitted of murder, and the 1982 disappearance in New York of his wife, Kathleen.
Durst has been jailed in Louisiana since his arrest at a Marriott hotel, where authorities said he was staying under an assumed name with $42,000 in cash, a revolver, about five ounces of marijuana and a latex mask.
He initially pleaded not guilty to the gun charge, claiming the hotel search was illegal. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, based on his 2004 conviction for jumping bail and carrying a weapon across state lines as he tried to flee a murder prosecution in Texas
In the final episode of the HBO series, he was presented with evidence of his handwriting appearing to match that of Berman's likely killer. Durst's voice was captured on a microphone after the interview saying he had "killed them all."
Durst has long been estranged from his family, known for its significant New York real estate holdings. Prosecutors say he is worth some $100 million.
(Editing by Letitia Stein, W Simon and Jonathan Oatis)