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Menendez Brothers Plead Innocent in Killings : Court: Grand jury indictment means trial in the deaths of their parents could begin in March.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two Beverly Hills brothers accused in the shotgun deaths of their parents pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of murder and conspiracy.

Lyle and Erik Menendez entered their pleas in response to a Los Angeles County Grand Jury indictment returned earlier this month for the 1989 deaths of entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife, Kitty.

The new charges replace murder charges initially filed by the district attorney in March, 1990, against Lyle, 24, and Erik, 22. By obtaining the grand jury indictment, prosecutors are able to avoid a preliminary hearing, under the provisions of a 1990 proposition passed by voters, and go directly to trial. The trial may begin as early as March.

The grand jury added a conspiracy charge but did not include one of the original allegations, that the brothers intentionally killed their parents for financial gain. The two were the sole heirs to their parents’ multimillion-dollar fortune, and much of the speculation about the case to date has centered on a financial motive.

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“We asked the grand jury to return it, but the grand jury didn’t,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Pam Bozanich, co-prosecutor on the case, said. She did not elaborate.

Money “is not what this case is all about and never has been,” said Jill Lansing, attorney for Lyle Menendez. While police often noted the brothers’ lavish spending habits after the murders, Lansing said those who knew the family said the boys always lived well, and “had all the money they needed before.”

Deputy Dist. Atty. Lester Kuriyama read the charges in Los Angeles Superior Court as the brothers stood handcuffed to each other. They have been in custody without bail since their 1990 arrests.

The four-count indictment alleges that they lay in wait to murder their parents Aug. 20, 1989, and conspired with each other and “with another person and persons whose identity is unknown” to commit the crimes. The brothers purchased two Mossberg shotguns and ammunition shortly before the crime, according to the indictment, and Lyle Menendez allegedly tried to arrange an alibi on the day of the murders.

“How do you want to plead?” Kuriyama asked. Both Erik and Lyle replied firmly, “Not guilty.”

Special-circumstance allegations for multiple murder and lying in wait could bring the death penalty. Prosecutors have not yet determined whether to seek death for the brothers, Kuriyama said, but will announce their decision at a Jan. 12 hearing set by Judge Lance A. Ito.

Ito will also rule that day on a motion by defense attorneys to seal the three-volume transcript of the grand jury proceedings. Attorneys for The Times and the Los Angeles Daily News argued that the documents should be kept open.


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