Menendez Tells of Fear Before Slaying Parents : Trial: He says he and his brother were sure their father planned to kill them after confrontation over abuse claims.
Saying that he “just freaked out,” Lyle Menendez testified Friday that he and his brother shotgunned their parents to death after a week of escalating tension that left them sure their parents were about to kill them.
Recounting the details of the slayings for the first time in public, Lyle Menendez said that he and his brother, Erik, burst into the den of the family’s mansion late on Aug. 20, 1989, and started firing.
“Things were shattering, the noise was phenomenal,” he said, adding that he recalled little but a dark room, glass breaking, noise from the booming guns and smoke everywhere.
“It was just chaos. I couldn’t tell who was firing at who,” he said. “I was just firing my gun.”
Delivering his matter-of-fact testimony in a steady monotone, Lyle Menendez showed emotion only once, crying as he described the shooting scene. Jurors showed no emotion. One spent most of the afternoon looking at her fingernails.
At the end of the day, Lyle Menendez, 25, walked back to where his 22-year-old brother was sitting, rubbed his back and tousled his hair. The brothers are charged with murder in the slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47.
If convicted, Lyle and Erik Menendez could be sentenced to death.
Prosecutors contend that they killed out of hatred and greed and the desire to commit the perfect crime. The defense contends that the killings were an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
Under the laws covering self-defense, the Menendez brothers must show that they faced an imminent danger to their lives. Not once Friday did Lyle Menendez indicate that there loomed an overt threat from either parent.
Defense lawyers argue that a lifetime of mistreatment at the hands of the Menendez parents instilled a fear that altered the sons’ perceptions of what harm seemed imminent.
Jill Lansing, Lyle Menendez’s lead attorney, left the Van Nuys courthouse without comment Friday afternoon.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich, who last week compared Lyle Menendez’s testimony to the acting of Sir Laurence Olivier, said after the session ended: “The level of acting has fallen from Laurence Olivier to Sylvester Stallone, and is falling fast.”
With her cross-examination of Lyle Menendez expected to begin Monday, Bozanich added: “Stay tuned.”
Interest in Lyle Menendez’s testimony has been phenomenal. Just as they had last Friday when he first took the stand, spectators seeking the nine public seats in the courtroom began lining up outside the Van Nuys courthouse before dawn.
During his four days on the witness stand, Lyle Menendez has portrayed his father as a cold and calculating tyrant and his mother as a wrathful enigma. He testified that his father sexually abused him from the ages of 6 to 8 and that his mother invited him to her bed and allowed him to touch her “everywhere.”
He told jurors Friday that the killings culminated a week of building fear that began with a confrontation with his mother.
On the night of Aug. 15, the Tuesday before the killings, Kitty Menendez, worried about her ill father, began screaming at her oldest son, Lyle Menendez said.
Speaking frequently of his mother in the present tense, he said: “When my mom goes off . . . she works herself into this frenzy where she’s out of control.” That night, he said, she was “as bad as I’d seen her.”
Raging, she ripped his toupee off his head, Lyle Menendez said. He said he cried in pain and trembled in embarrassment--because his younger brother, who had arrived in the room, saw his balding head for the first time.
Jose Menendez had bought the hairpiece two years before upon noticing that Lyle Menendez, then 19, was losing his hair--saying it was necessary for the political career he envisioned for his eldest son.
Later that Tuesday night, emboldened after learning of his brother’s secret, Erik Menendez shared with him his own secret: “He told me those things with his dad were still going on,” Lyle Menendez said.
Eight years before, Lyle Menendez said, he had confronted his father and told him to stop sexually abusing Erik.
And so that night, Lyle Menendez continued, he initially was disbelieving and hostile.
“I had dismissed what had happened to me as something that happened to little boys,” Lyle Menendez said, adding that he asked his brother a series of accusatory questions about whether he had “liked it,” why he hadn’t told of the ongoing abuse long before, and why he hadn’t fought back.
In response, Erik Menendez cried, he said.
Abruptly convinced by the tears and reasoning that his brother had no reason to lie, Lyle Menendez said, he hit upon a plan: He would confront the father again and order a stop to the abuse.
This time, though, “we held all the cards,” Lyle Menendez said. If the abuse did not cease, the brothers would disclose the wrongdoing to outsiders. “This is something that could ruin my dad,” Lyle Menendez said.
In a dress rehearsal Wednesday night, Lyle Menendez said, he confronted his mother. “All I remember is her saying, ‘Erik is lying,’ ” he testified.
Nevertheless, he said, when his father returned home from a business trip late Thursday, he met his father in the study and told him he knew “everything that was going on between him and Erik, and it had to stop.” He said Jose Menendez responded: “You listen to me. What I do with my son is none of your business. I warn you: Don’t throw your life away. Just stay out of it.”
Lyle Menendez said he called his father a “f----- sick person,” warned him that if the abuse didn’t stop, he would “tell everybody everything about him,” mentioning the police and other relatives.
He said Jose Menendez responded: “We all make choices in our life. Erik made his. You made yours.”
That remark was ominous, Lyle Menendez testified: “I thought we were in danger. I felt he had no choice. He would kill us. He’d get rid of us in some way. Because I was going to ruin him.”
Lyle Menendez said he and his brother thought of running away, but “there was no place my parents could not find us.”
They thought of going to the police for help too but, “we were in Beverly Hills,” Lyle Menendez said. “My dad is a rich guy with a lot of power,” and the brothers did not believe that “the police could protect us.”
On Friday, he said, he and Erik Menendez decided to buy guns for protection. They ended up driving to San Diego--a city Lyle Menendez knew from playing tennis tournaments--and bought two shotguns, using a driver’s license of Lyle Menendez’s onetime roommate for identification.
On Saturday, they went on a shark-fishing trip that they believed “was how they were going to kill us.” The brothers stayed in the bow of the boat for hours, cold and soaking wet, but made it back to shore safely.
When they all returned home late Saturday night, he said, their mother told Erik Menendez: “If he had kept his mouth shut, things might have worked out in this family.”
Lyle Menendez said that comment indicated to the brothers that “something was going to happen,” that the parents had “made their decision” to kill them.
On Sunday, Lyle Menendez said, he talked with his father about an upcoming tennis camp. He said Jose Menendez replied: “What does it matter anymore?”
“I took it to be my dad’s sarcastic way of saying, ‘You’re dead,’ ” Lyle Menendez testified. “ ‘You’re not going to be around to go to (tennis) camp.”
That night, he said, Kitty Menendez told the brothers they could not go to the movies and Jose Menendez ordered him to wait alone upstairs. Guiding Kitty Menendez by the hand, Jose Menendez led her into the den and locked the doors, he said.
“I was sure that was it,” Lyle Menendez continued. “I just freaked out. . . . I thought they were going ahead with their plan to kill us.
The brothers went to Erik Menendez’s car, loaded their guns, returned to the house and “burst through the (den) doors,” he said.
After the first few wild volleys, Lyle Menendez said, he shot his father again in the back of the head. When his mother did not die right away, he said, he went outside, reloaded and came back in.
“I just reached over and I shot her close,” he said.
An autopsy report presented earlier in the trial indicates that Kitty Menendez was hit in the left cheek with a “contact wound,” meaning the gun barrel was on her skin.
When the firing ended, Lyle Menendez said, the brothers were surprised that the police did not arrive immediately.
So they picked up the empty shells and drove up to Mulholland Drive, he said, where Erik Menendez ditched the guns. They went to a gas station and dumped the shells and their bloody clothes in a dumpster.
For an alibi, they bought movie tickets at a theater in Century City, then drove to the “Taste of L.A.” food festival in Santa Monica, looking for Perry Berman, Lyle Menendez’s friend.
Unable to find Berman, they drove home, where Lyle Menendez called 911 to report the killings--and sobbed. “By then I was really raw,” he testified. “I was crying for crying’s sake.”
Early on Aug. 21, Beverly Hills Police interviewed both brothers. Neither confessed. “We had decided before that we wouldn’t,” Lyle Menendez testified.
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