Apparently worried there was a new will in the family computer, Lyle Menendez summoned a computer expert just days after his parents' slayings to make sure there was no such document, the consultant testified Monday.
Called by car phone to the Menendez mansion in Beverly Hills, consultant Howard Witkin said he found no new will in the computer in the master bedroom. Lyle Menendez nevertheless asked him to erase everything in the computer "to guarantee that it could never be retrieved," Witkin said, adding that he promptly cleared the computer's memory.
Witkin testified that Lyle Menendez then asked him: "Can you make it look as if you were never here? . . . Can you make it look like no one erased the files?"
He said he could do the first, not the second--and, indeed, another computer expert testified that he knew the files had been erased.
Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, listened to the testimony in Van Nuys Superior Court without apparent emotion. They are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, an entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47.
Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, allege the brothers feared they were being written out of their parents' will and killed for the family fortune. The defense concedes that the brothers killed their parents but contends that it was an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
The computer testimony was given Monday in installments before separate juries--because the brothers met separately with the two consultants.
Later in the day, both juries heard testimony from a jewelry store clerk who sold money clips and Rolex watches worth $15,039 to Lyle and Erik Menendez three days after the slayings.
Testifying before Lyle Menendez's jury alone, Witkin said the older brother called him to the mansion 11 days after the killings.
Witkin said Lyle Menendez asked him to retrieve four files labeled "Lyle," "Erik," "Will" and "Menendez." But Witkin, 29, said he found virtually nothing in the files--merely a 59-character computer code under each entry. "Someone purposefully or accidentally had copied that information over those files," he testified.
Upon finding nothing, Witkin said, he believed he had failed. But Lyle Menendez told him, "Very good," and added he "didn't want to recover the information . . . but wanted to make sure the information couldn't be recovered by someone actively trying to recover" it, Witkin testified.
He said he then "wiped clean" the computer's hard disk with a special program. The entire visit, he said, "made my spine crawl."
Lyle Menendez gave him a $150 check for his labor, Witkin said. It bounced, he testified.
The second computer expert, Edward Hayman, 31, of San Diego, arrived at the house on Sept. 1, 1989. Hayman said he was called by Jose Menendez's cousin, Carlos Menendez in New Jersey, who was curious whether a will was in the computer. His wife accompanied him on the visit and Erik Menendez led him in, Hayman testified.
"He was asking me questions: 'If files were deleted, could they be retrieved?' " Hayman told the younger brother's jury.
Hayman testified he could tell the computer's files had been erased. Hayman said that seemed to make no apparent impression upon Erik Menendez. But his wife, Deborah Hayman, testified that she believed the visit left Erik Menendez "scared and worried."