Erik and Lyle Menendez will claim during their murder trial that they killed their wealthy parents in self-defense out of fear that their mother and father were intent on killing them, one of the brothers’ defense attorneys said Tuesday.
“We will present evidence that our clients believed themselves to be in danger of death, imminent peril or great bodily injury when their parents were shot,” lawyer Leslie Abramson told Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg during an afternoon court session.
It was the first time defense attorneys have disclosed that the brothers will admit shooting Van Nuys video and music distributor Lyle Menendez, 45, and his wife, Kitty, 47, in their Beverly Hills mansion Aug. 20, 1989.
Also for the first time, Abramson, lead attorney for Erik Menendez, confirmed that she will argue that her client, now 22, and his 25-year-old brother were the victims of child abuse.
Earlier in the day, Weisberg ruled for a second time that the brothers--who face the death penalty in the shotgun slayings--will be tried together, with separate juries. The uncommon procedure is used primarily when there is a confession in death penalty cases with multiple defendants.
Erik Menendez is alleged to have confessed to the crime during a meeting with the brothers’ therapist, Dr. L. Jerome Oziel. Weisberg has ruled that Oziel’s audiotape describing the confession is admissible as evidence in the trial.
Under court rules, a confession by one defendant cannot be used to implicate another. Because of this, Weisberg decided last month to use two juries to ensure that the evidence against one brother would not improperly sway the verdict against the other.
On Monday, Weisberg said he was reconsidering the decision, but on Tuesday morning, he reaffirmed it. Deputy Dist. Atty. Pam Bozanich, lead prosecutor in the case, said she decided not to oppose Weisberg’s decision.
“In that we cannot predict what evidence the court will allow in a single trial, we feel we can’t do anything but have two juries in this case,” she said.
Abramson’s remarks about the self-defense arguments to be put forth during the trial came during pretrial discussions about questions to be put to prospective jurors. The screening of jurors is scheduled to begin on Monday.
About 300 potential jurors will be summoned for each of the juries, Weisberg said. The process of picking two panels of 18 people each--12 jurors and six alternates--is expected to take four weeks, with opening statements probably beginning during the second week of July, the judge said.
Abramson said it is necessary to ask the prospective jurors about their views on self defense “because there are persons of strong religious beliefs who do not believe you have the right to take a life in self-defense.”
She also said she wants to make sure the jury understands that their finding that the brothers acted in self defense would mean “complete exoneration” of the defendants.
Prosecutors said they doubt such a defense would work and suggested that the defense would be trying to precondition jurors to accept its arguments.