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Menendez Brothers Indicted in Slaying of Parents : Court: Judge sets a date for them to be arraigned in the shotgun killings of the wealthy couple. They have been held since 1990.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than three years after the brutal slayings of their parents in Beverly Hills, Lyle and Erik Menendez are one step closer to trial on murder charges in the wake of a Los Angeles County Grand Jury indictment.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Lance A. Ito on Tuesday scheduled for Dec. 29 the arraignment of Lyle Menendez, 24, and Erik Menendez, 22, after the secret grand jury indictment on Monday.

The brothers are accused of firing fatal shotgun blasts into entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife, Kitty, in August, 1989, at their mansion. The sons have been held without bail since their arrest in March, 1990.

The case was delayed more than two years by legal battles over whether prosecutors could seek to use potentially incriminating audiotapes made by the brothers’ psychologist--an issue resolved by the California Supreme Court only in the last month.

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Deputy Dist. Atty. Lester Kuriyama said prosecutors sought the indictment to avoid a long preliminary hearing, at which a judge would decide whether there was enough evidence to warrant a trial. Under the provisions of Proposition 115, passed by voters in 1990, defendants have no right to a preliminary hearing after a grand jury indictment.

“We thought we could do it a lot quicker,” Kuriyama said.

But defense attorneys challenged that, saying prosecutors delayed the case by not accepting their offer, made more than a year ago and repeated as recently as nine days ago, to waive the hearing.

“A waiver would have gotten them there sooner,” said Jill Lansing, attorney for Lyle Menendez.

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But Kuriyama said prosecutors waited for the Supreme Court decision on the disputed tapes. The ruling said the district attorney could seek to admit as trial evidence recorded notes of two sessions in which the brothers allegedly admitted murdering their parents. The court concluded that the tapes were not barred by therapist-patient privilege because psychologist L. Jerome Oziel believed the brothers were threatening him.

“We got the tapes on Dec. 3 and the indictment came down on Dec. 7. There’s no way it could have been done any sooner,” Kuriyama said.

Lansing and Leslie H. Abramson, attorney for Erik Menendez, said they were glad the delays were over.

“These boys have been waiting two years and eight months,” Abramson said. “We’re glad it’s moving at last.”

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The defense attorneys also jointly filed a motion to seal the indictment to avoid “prejudicial pretrial publicity.”

“It is very difficult to find jurors who don’t have an opinion,” Lansing said. “The opinions are shaped by media coverage. It’s not always a fair presentation. We would like to tell our story to 12 people who are listening.”

Ito signed an interim order to seal the transcripts, pending a hearing on Dec. 29.

The murders were reported to police on Aug. 20, 1989, in a frantic call by one of the brothers, who said they had discovered their parents’ bodies upon returning from an evening out at a restaurant and a movie. Police said there was no sign of forced entry at the home, nor was there any indication of a robbery.

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Although speculation immediately after the killings centered on the possibility of an organized crime hit, police said they were soon investigating the sons. They were the sole heirs to their parents’ estimated $14-million estate.


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