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Menendez brothers on trial: Evidence of spending spree

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(Court TV) -- Developments in the retrial of Lyle and Erik Menendez from October 23 - October 27, 1995

The prosecution continued to present evidence to support its theory that Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents for money, and went on a wild spending spree after the murders.

Jewelry saleswoman Mary Ellen Mahar testified that the brothers came to her store just four days after the killings and spent about $15,000 on three Rolex watches.

Under questioning by defense attorney Barry Levin, Mahar said the brothers did not act secretive about the purchases, which also included two or three money clips.

Meanwhile, a hearing outside the jury's presence, focused on the relationship between Amir Eslaminia and the brothers.

Eslaminia, a former high school classmate of Erik Menendez, testified that he befriended the brothers after they went to jail and, believing they were innocent, offered to help them in any way he could. But then, in 1991, Lyle Menendez wrote him a letter asking him to lie on the witness stand and testify that Erik had come to him for a handgun to protect himself from his father.

The prosecution wants to present the evidence to the jury, in an effort to show the brothers fabricated their defense that they were afraid of their parents.

Prosecutor David Conn said the letter, dated July 9, 1991, says, "Here is an outline of what we need. It is not crucial your story matches ours perfectly, so you need not worry."

The defense argues Eslaminia's testimony is inadmissible because prosecutors can not link the letter to Erik Menendez. Defense attorney Leslie Abramson also suggested that Eslaminia made up the story in exchange for help with several outstanding warrants.

Neither Eslaminia nor the letter played a part in the first trial. The hearing on the issue is scheduled to continue Wednesday.

The brothers' former tennis coach testified that shortly after the killings, Erik Menendez hired him for $60,000 a year as a personal trainer.

Testifying for the prosecution, coach Mark Heffernan said that the brothers had the potential to become top- ranked tennis players, and wanted to get themselves into peak physical condition. Heffernan said he worked as long as 10 hours a day with the brothers at their homes in an exclusive condominium complex in Marina del Rey.

Heffernan also said Erik purchased a jeep after the killings, as the prosecution continued to present evidence of the brothers' spending habits after the deaths of their parents.

According to Heffernan, Erik Menendez stuck with the coach's highly structured program for several months before his arrest in March 1990, following his return from a juniors tennis tournament in Israel. But Lyle, who had a good shot at becoming a top-ranked player, lost interest in tennis in favor of business pursuits in New Jersey, Heffernan said.

Defense attorneys tried to diminish the impact of Heffernan's testimony, pointing out that he also coached the brothers for wages before the killings, and suggesting that his salary was not exorbitant. The defense also got Heffernan to discuss how Jose Menendez forced his sons to follow an impossibly demanding tennis schedule.

The day's other testimony came from Amanda Grier, the sporting goods saleswoman who sold two, 12-gauge Mossberg shotguns to Erik Menendez two days before the August 20, 1989 murders. Grier testified that Erik used a fake identification, belonging to Lyle Menendez's former friend Donovan Goodreau, in making the purchase.

Prosecutors announced that Dr. Irwin Golden, the coroner who performed the autopsies on Kitty and Jose Menendez, will not testify in the trial.

Golden testified in the first trial that he could not say for sure how many shots were fired or the sequence of the shots that killed the couple. Instead, prosecutor David Conn wants to call a new witness whose testimony is at odds with Golden. Dr. Roger McCarthy has reconstructed the shootings and says he can determine the sequence of shots -- a sequence that shows premeditation and deliberation.

It is virtually unheard of not to call the coroner in a murder trial and the defense says if the prosecution does not call Golden, it will.

Golden performed the autopsies in the O.J. Simpson case but prosecutors did not have him testify because of the mistakes he made on the autopsies of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman.

Meanwhile, a witness testified that Lyle Menendez blamed underworld crime figures for his parents' slayings, and told a security firm that he feared the killers would come after him and his brother.

"He believed it was either the Colombia cartel or the mob - meaning the Mafia," said Richard Wenskoski, Lyle Menendez's bodyguard for a week after the slayings.

Despite his concerns, Lyle Menendez didn't appear to take his safety seriously, the bodyguard said. He had a habit of jumping out of the limousine he rode around New York City and New Jersey and running into clothing and sporting goods stores, leaving his bodyguards behind, Wenskoski said.

He testified that Lyle spent as much as $3,000 a time on his shopping trips. "He seemed carefree," Wenskoski said. "I never seen him cry over his parents."

Prosecutors argue that the bodyguards were part of the brothers' plan to make police think the killings were a mob hit. The scheme included shooting the parents in the knees, Mafia-style, prosecutors allege.

Wenskoski said Lyle Menendez told him about a week after he was hired that his services no longer were needed. "He said his uncle had made a deal with (the Mob) and his brother and him are safe now," Wenskoski said.

Defense attorney Charles Gessler tried to discredit Wenskoski by pointing out that the bodyguard went to a topless bar in Los Angeles with an investigating officer in the case, around the time of the first trial, but denied it in court. Wenskoski said that he denied going to a topless bar with Les Zoeller because, "this was more like a burlesque show we went to."

In other testimony, real estate agent Valerie Hart testified about a $900,000 condominium at the Marina City Club that the brothers discussed buying.

Prosecutors introduced notes allegedly related to an escape plan, which were found among papers seized in 1990 from Lyle Menendez's jail cell.

Although attorneys in the case have long referred to the documents as "escape plans," Judge Stanley Weisberg did not allow proesecutor Carol Najera to call them that in front of the jury. As a result, two sheriffs department deputies only were allowed to testify about finding the papers.

The documents were not shown to the jurors. Prosecutors may show them during closing arguments, at which time, they can argue that the documents were escape plans.

The documents, which were not introduced during the first trial, contain the following entries:

"Change name. Change appearance. Plastic surgeon."

"Need silencer. Need finances. How transfer money? How communicate overseas?"

Another sheet lists "Key Questions," which include the following:

"Where is destination? Lebanon? "Can we blend in? how?"

"Can we eventually move?"

"Can we own properties--businesses?"

The prosecution attacked the credibility of the brothers by introducing portions of a letter in which Lyle Menendez allegedly asked a potential defense witness to testify falsely that the brothers asked for a handgun for protection from their parents.

"Here is an outline of what you need," Lyle Menendez allegedly wrote, instructing Amir Eslaminia to say that he gave the gun to his brother Erik the day before the August 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents.

The letter was sent to Eslaminia, a former high schools classmate of Erik, who befriended the brothers after the murders. The letter was found by police during a search earlier this year.

Eslaminia, whose own father was slain in 1984 during an extortion plot by the infamous Billionaire Boys Club, told the jury that he visited the brothers in jail. The visits, Eslaminia testified, "eventually culminated in a idea of (Lyle) that I would render testimony that would be beneficial to his defense."

The defense vigorously tried to keep the letter out of the trial. Defense attorney Leslie Abramson argued that Erik Menendez did not know about the letter, and therefore it should not be used against him.

The law states that a co-defendant's out-of-court statements can not be introduced if they implicate the other defendant. But prosecutors successfully argued that the brothers participated in a conspiracy to fabricate evidence. Based on the testimony of Detective Les Zoeller, who said Eslaminia told him that Erik knew about it, Judge Stanley Weisberg allowed the letter in against both defendants.

The seven-page letter, dated July 9, 1991, offered detailed instructions. It began:

"You receive a call at your house on August 19, late morning. It was Erik. He sounded very nervous. He asked you if he could meet you outside your apartment to talk with his brother Lyle...We arrived 20 minutes alter in Erik's maroon Ford Escort. It's a two door and Erik was driving. You sat alone in the back. The car was messy. There were all kinds of clothes, shoes and tennis rackets that you pushed behind your seat...

"Erik said we were in great danger and needed two handguns. Both of use seemed jumpy, rushed and nervous. You asked why they were in danger. Erik said he couldn't say why but you would have to trust him...

"Lyle said, 'You don't understand. We don't have time to explain, can you help us or not?' It was clear to you by his tone of voice that he was very serious and afraid..."

The letter continued the scenario: The three drove back to the house. Lyle took the handgun, and said he would be in touch, and the brothers drove off.

"You told nobody about the incident and you were very nervous that we were in trouble. The gun you gave us was loaded... When you heard about our parents' deaths, you were shocked and you realized Lyle and Erik were right, there was real danger."

Two days after the slayings, according to the letter, Erik returned the gun. He still seemed nervous, the letter stated, but said "he and Lyle would be fine, it was obvious whoever it was only wanted his parents." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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