Displaying a gruesome photo and a bloodstained pair of tennis shoes, prosecutors began building their case Wednesday against Lyle and Erik Menendez, accused of murder in the 1989 shotgun slayings of their parents.
The photo, posted on a bulletin board for jurors to examine, shows the brothers' father, Jose Menendez, slumped in the corner of a white couch, his head at an odd angle and his white shirt covered with blood.
At his feet, on the floor of the den in the family's $4-million Beverly Hills mansion, lies Kitty Menendez, the brothers' mother, fallen in a pool of blood. The shoes were hers, prosecutors said.
Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, sat staring straight ahead, showing no emotion as the picture and shoes were displayed.
The brothers are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, the chief executive of a Van Nuys video distribution firm, and Kitty Menendez, 47.
Two juries are hearing the case, one for each brother. Some evidence is admissible against only one of the brothers.
Defense lawyers said Tuesday in opening statements that the brothers admit firing the fatal shots, and said Lyle and Erik Menendez killed in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The killings grew out of a series of confrontations that began three days before, when the brothers threatened to go public with the abuse, embarrassing their parents, defense lawyers contend. Prosecutors allege that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed, and are seeking the death penalty.
Along with the photo and the shoes, prosecutors on Tuesday produced a taped interview that Beverly Hills police conducted with Erik Menendez about three hours after the slayings, at 1:20 a.m. Aug. 21, 1989.
On the muffled tape, played in court while jurors followed with a transcript, Erik is heard talking about what had happened. Prosecutors contend the brothers crafted an elaborate alibi, a claim the defense sharply disputes.
"I don't understand why--why--there was blood everywhere, ah, there was blood everywhere," Erik Menendez said on the tape. "I didn't even hear anything and I don't understand why the hell nobody came out of the house when I came home. About three or four hours later, I mean."
Prosecutors plan today to play the tape of Lyle Menendez's first interview with police. Neither brother was in custody during the Aug. 21 interviews.
Other testimony Wednesday dealt with a shark fishing expedition the Menendez family took the night before the killings.
Bob Anderson, who ran the charter out of Marina del Rey, testified Tuesday that the brothers, soaked from ocean spray and waves and shivering in the breeze, stayed in the bow of the 31-foot boat for virtually the entire seven-hour trip, well away from their father in the stern.
Only a few times, Anderson said, did the brothers venture to the back of the boat, within what defense lawyer Jill Lansing called Jose Menendez's "reaching distance."
Defense lawyers did not elaborate in court. But, later, outside the courthouse, attorney Leslie Abramson told waiting TV camera crews that the brothers were "afraid this boat trip was a setup to kill them."
Lansing and Abramson complained Wednesday to Judge Stanley Weisberg TV crews were ambushing them on their way into the courthouse and crowding around in a pack, seeking interviews. Weisberg said he would remove the sole TV camera from the courtroom if crews "can't behave in a more appropriate fashion."
The media frenzy Wednesday even enveloped one of the leading luminaries of American letters.
On ABC-TV's "Good Morning America," author Dominick Dunne, who is writing a Vanity Fair magazine piece about the trial, said he found it unusual during Tuesday's opening statements that "nothing happened" on the faces of Jose Menendez's mother and two sisters, who had been sitting two rows in front of him.
One of the sisters, Marta Menendez Cano, 51, of West Palm Beach, Fla., marched downstairs during the Wednesday lunch recess and told TV reporters the sisters "had a hard time holding (back) tears" and their mother was "practically in a fetal position." She added, "I am just very angry."
Dunne, interviewed Wednesday afternoon, said he meant no offense. "I said they showed no emotion," he said. "That didn't mean they didn't feel it."