Self-Defense Claimed in Kyle Death

Times Staff Writer

Ricky Kyle's defense attorneys admitted for the first time Tuesday that their client fired the gunshot that killed his millionaire father, but they said the fatal shooting occurred after the elder Kyle first fired a shot at his son.

In his opening statement to the Los Angeles Superior Court jury hearing the younger Kyle's murder trial, attorney Michael P. Gibson called the shooting of Henry Harrison Kyle "justifiable homicide."

"A tragedy--not a crime--occurred on July 22, 1983," Gibson dramatically told the jury. "Henry Kyle set in motion the circumstances that resulted in his own death."

The defense team's first explanation of its case came as the trial entered its 10th week.

Prosecutors Lewis Watnick and John Moulin called nearly two dozen witnesses before resting their case Tuesday. They charge that Ricky Kyle, 22, shot his father in the dining room of the elder Kyle's Bel-Air mansion because he feared being cut from the real estate and movie production tycoon's will.

Three witnesses--young Kyle's half-sister, her former fiance and Ricky Kyle's brother-in-law--testified for the prosecution that young Kyle had confessed to them that he shot his father in the back at close range. None said that the defendant's actions came after his father had fired a shot.

Told Him of Intruder

According to those witnesses' accounts, Ricky Kyle roused his father before dawn and told him that an intruder was inside the house.

After the two, both reportedly armed with handguns, searched unsuccessfully through the house, Henry Kyle went to the dining room en route to his upstairs bedroom.

As he turned in the dining room, Ricky Kyle shot him, the witnesses said.

But Gibson told the jury Tuesday that, as the two were in the dining room, "Henry Kyle . . . turned with a .357 magnum and, fully erect and his arm extended, fired in the face and in the direction of Ricky Kyle."

"In the flash and the sound of that bullet that went past his head, he (Ricky) reacted . . . and, in the ensuing struggle with his father, discharged his weapon two or three times," Gibson said.

Gibson said the younger Kyle told police that an intruder had shot his father because he was "scared, not knowing what to do."

During the rest of the trial, defense attorneys said, they will attempt to show that Henry Kyle was "volatile, violent, a sort of Jekyll-and-Hyde personality," Gibson said.

Described Violent Acts

The first two defense witnesses Tuesday described violent acts they said Henry Kyle aimed at them.

Mary Ann Viola of Dallas, a former girlfriend of Henry Kyle, said that in April, 1975, she arrived at his Dallas condominium to take him to the airport. He asked her if she wanted anything to drink, began walking toward the kitchen, then suddenly wheeled and struck her across the eye and nose with his hand.

Viola said the blow broke her nose. Although she said she was afraid of Kyle, she told prosecutor Watnick on cross-examination that she remained Kyle's friend after the incident.

Another witness, Walter James Wainwright of Reynolds, Ga., said that several years ago he saw Henry Kyle punch Ricky Kyle in the jaw, knocking the young man down. On other occasions, Henry Kyle snapped a bullwhip at him and at Ricky, Wainwright said. Neither of the young men was struck, he said.

Questioning of the remaining witnesses is expected to take about a month, prosecutors and defense attorneys said.

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