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Brothers Called Selves Sociopaths, Therapist Says

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lyle and Erik Menendez described themselves to their therapist as “sociopaths” but the judge in the brothers’ murder trial ruled Friday that it’s such a loaded buzzword that jurors won’t hear it.

Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg said the label sociopath , which came up in a session with therapist L. Jerome Oziel two months after the brothers killed their parents, was so prejudicial it might endanger their right to a fair trial.

In a hearing Friday without jurors present, Weisberg ruled that Oziel may testify that the brothers viewed the killings as being planned and premeditated, not an act done in the heat of passion. Oziel also may testify, Weisberg ruled, that the brothers told him they “get turned on with planning the murder.”

Oziel, the key prosecution witness in the case, is scheduled to testify Tuesday against his former patients.

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Lyle, 25, and Erik, 22, are accused of first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47. The parents were slain in the TV room of the family’s $4-million Beverly Hills mansion.

Prosecutors contend that the brothers were driven by hatred and greed, and are seeking the death penalty. The defense concedes that the brothers killed their parents but says it was an act of self-defense after years of mental, physical and sexual abuse.

With Oziel’s testimony Friday, the trial came to the end of its second week. The media frenzy created by the case shows no signs of abating

On Thursday night, the Menendez case was a part of ABC-TV’s “Prime Time Live,” CNN’s “Larry King Live” and the syndicated “Hard Copy.” This week, Century Cable, which serves about 200,000 subscribers in Santa Monica, Marina del Rey and the Westside, began airing trial coverage each night from 5 p.m to 11 p.m. on a local access channel.

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Blaming the publicity, Oziel’s lawyer said Friday that the therapist has recently received a “rash of threats.” In a closed hearing, attorney Bradley W. Brunon asked Weisberg to keep Oziel’s testimony from being televised, sources said. The judge denied the request, they said.

In open court, Oziel testified for a second day about two sessions he had with the Menendez brothers, on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, about two months after the killings. According to court documents, Erik Menendez confessed to the killings at the Oct. 31 session.

Oziel said he described for Lyle and Erik Menendez the difference between a crime of passion and a sociopathic crime done as “a means to an end.” The brothers, Oziel testified, “looked at each other and said: ‘We’re sociopaths.’ ”

Though Weisberg ruled that inadmissible, he said Oziel could testify that the brothers told him in detail about planning the killings. The therapist testified Friday that the brothers, speaking in the present tense, told him:

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“We just get turned on by planning the murder. Once we plan it, nothing gets in the way. Once we start, nothing will stop us. . . . And we can’t change the plan because it’s already formed perfectly.”

Prosecutors said outside the courtroom that they accepted the judge’s ruling. “I’m sure that by the end of the trial, the jury will know what a sociopath is,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich said.

Bozanich said prosecutors hope to conclude their case by the end of next week. The defense case is scheduled to begin Aug. 9.


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