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Menendez brothers on trial: Erik testifies he feared parents

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(Court TV) -- Developments in the retrial of Lyle and Erik Menendez from December 11-15, 1995

The week leading up to the slayings was filled with signs that Jose and Kitty Menendez were about to do something terrible to their sons, Erik Menendez told jurors.

"I was sure mom and dad were going to do something, it was just a matter of when and how," Erik said, recalling the events before the August 20, 1989, slayings. The younger brother said his father angrily vowed to keep Lyle from exposing a dark family secret - that Jose Menendez had been molesting Erik since childhood.

The brothers have claimed a motive of imperfect self-defense, meaning that they had a genuine but misguided fear that their parents were going to kill them.

Erik said the week before the slayings began with alarming news from his father. Even though he had been accepted at UCLA and was moving into a dormitory, he would have to spend several nights a week at home, he said. To Erik, that meant that his father intended to keep molesting his younger son.

Two days later, Erik said he witnessed an angry confrontation between his mother and brother, during which Kitty Menendez pulled off Lyle's hairpiece. At first, Erik, who said he never knew Lyle wore a toupee, thought his mother had pulled Lyle's hair right out of his scalp. Later that day, Erik said, he told Lyle that their father was still abusing him. He said Lyle promised to confront their father.

Two days later, Erik said Lyle confronted their father and threatened to reveal the family secret unless Jose Menendez stopped the abuse. Later that night, Erik said, his father burst into his room and screamed at him for telling Lyle. Then, Erik said, his mother admitted to him that she had known about the abuse. Erik said he was devastated that she never did anything to stop it.

It was that night, Erik said, that he and his brother began to think their parents would kill them. He said he and Lyle stayed awake all night and discussed whether to go to the police, talk to relatives or get weapons.

On August 18, 1989, Erik said he and Lyle decided to purchase handguns to protect themselves. They purchased shotguns instead because of the two-week waiting period for handguns.

Erik then testified about the fishing expedition the family went on the day before the killings. Erik said he and Lyle were afraid the trip was a set up by their parents to kill them. They spent the entire trip on the front of the boat - as far away from their parents as possible.

Erik Menendez told jurors how he and his brother burst into the den of their Beverly Hills mansion and took five seconds to end their parents' lives.

He recalled that he fired first, and that his brother, Lyle, continued firing after he had emptied his shotgun. Lyle, he said, fired the shot to the back of their father's head. And Lyle, he said, reloaded and fired the final shot into their mother's face.

The scene Erik created for the jurors was one of utter chaos. He said he ran into the den, illuminated only by a TV set, saw the shadow of his father standing by a coffee table, and fired. He said he believed his parents were firing back.

Erik said he did not remember much except for the sounds -- the sounds of the shotgun blasts, the sound of shattering glass and the sounds of his dying mother.

"It was a sound of pain, a sound I continually hear in my mind," he told jurors.

Erik said that when the shooting stopped, he and brother sat in the foyer of their home mansion and waited for police to come. Minutes passed, and when they heard no sirens, the brothers decided to try an establish an alibi. They drove to a Century City movie theater, dumped the shotguns off Mulholland Drive, tossed bloody clothes in a trash bin, and drove back home.

When the brothers returned home, Erik went into the den while Lyle called police and went upstairs.

"I remember staring at my father in particular and just being in shock that my dad could die, and he was sitting in front of me, dead. I remember thinking how wrong this looked," Erik said.

As for his mother, he said, "I just wondered if she knew it was me, if she was scared. Did she understand? Was she hurting.? I just felt really bad, like a bad person. I just wanted to know what she had thought when I entered the room."

It was then that he looked for his parents' rifle. When he found none, he said he knew he had "made a mistake."

Erik Menendez started testifying about his relationship and conversations with his one-time psychologist Dr. Jerome Oziel, who later provided police with enough evidence to arrest Erik and his brother for the murder of their parents.

Erik said he went to Oziel because he thought that killing himself was the only way to escape the guilt of shooting his parents. Erik said that when Oziel did not seem to understand his suicidal tendencies, he confessed to him on October 31, 1989. After the confession, Erik said Oziel still did not listen to his cries for help and only wanted to discuss the details of the shootings.

Erik also began refuting key points in the prosecution's case. He said he thought he had been disinherited before he killed his parents and it didn't really bother him. Erik said he learned he'd been written out of the will from his father, who felt that his younger son was not living up to his expectations. The prosecution claims the brothers killed for money.

It was only later that Erik said he learned that he and Lyle were still in their parents' will. But when the money started coming in, Erik said he was guilt-ridden, suicidal and depressed over what he had done. Erik admitted that that he bought a Jeep, a Rolex and clothes, and gambled away several thousand dollars. But he said he wasn't even sure he wanted his parents' money, and did not feel right spending it.

On October 31, 1989, depressed and suffering from a bad ulcer, Erik said he went on a walk with Oziel. "I said, Dr. Oziel, 'We did it,' " Erik said.

"I primarily wanted to hear him tell me that I was not a bad person," he said.

The prosecution set out to portray Erik Menendez as a liar by pointing out that he lied for six months to police, family and friends before he and his brother were arrested for the murder of their parents.

Prosecutor David Conn started his cross-examination by questioning Erik's claim that he never told anyone about the sexual abuse by his father because he did not want to "let the family down."

"You didn't feel that you let your family down the day you shot your mother and father to death?" he asked.

"I didn't think about that," Erik replied, adding he did not tell about the abuse out of compassion for his dead parents and his relatives.

"Did you show compassion to your mother before you shot her to death...And if you have so much compassion for your grandmother, why did you shoot her son to death?" Conn asked.

"My compassion for my grandmother has nothing to do with my relationship with my father," Erik answered.

Conn spent much of the day trying to show that Erik lied repeatedly in the past and would do so again about his father molesting him. The brothers did not admit they killed their parents until after their arrest in March 1990.

The brothers say they shot their parents because they thought their parents were going to kill them to prevent exposing the family incest secret. Prosecutors say the brothers killed out of hatred and greed for the family's $14 million estate.

Erik insisted that he was not lying anymore but conceded that he did not want to spend the rest of his life in jail.

"A murder conviction would put me in jail for the rest of my life," he said.

"So, you'd rather have a manslaughter?" Conn asked.

"That's the only way I can go home," Erik answered.

Earlier in the day, Erik finished his direct testimony by explaining the circumstances surrounding a tape-recorded therapy session with Dr. Jerome Oziel, his former psychologist. On the tape of the December 11, 1989, session, Erik and Lyle discussed the killings but did not say they shot their parents out of fear after a lifetime of abuse.

Instead, the brothers agreed with Oziel's assessment that they killed their father because he was a controlling person and their mother because she wanted to die anyway. Erik said he did not tell Oziel of the abuse because he did not trust him.

Erik concluded his direct testimony by saying the first person he told about the sexual abuse was his priest. The priest, the Rev. Ken Deasy has been in court during Erik's testimony,.

The defense indicated that it wants to play a videotape of Lyle Menendez's testimony from the first trial.

The videotape would allow the jury to hear the older brother's tearful testimony without subjecting him to a potentially damaging cross-examination.

Attorney Leslie Abramson said the defense will request the videotaped testimony in a motion next week. The prosecution is expected to object.

The defense strategy is to have Erik call Lyle as a witness. Lyle would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to testify. Because Lyle would then be unavailable to testify, his previously recorded testimony should be used instead.

Also Friday, Judge Stanley Weisberg indicated that he may order Erik to submit to an examination by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz. Dietz has testified for the prosecution in numerous high-profile trials, including those of would-be presidential assassin John Hinckley Jr. and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Meanwhile, there was no testimony because a juror was sick. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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