Pale and trembling, Erik Menendez testified Monday that he and his brother killed their parents after he had been molested for 12 years.
Acknowledging the killings but leaving his full account of them for another day, Menendez spoke about the abuse in a choking voice, saying his father subjected him to sex and violence from age 6 to 18. Jose Menendez stuck pins and tacks in him and threatened death if the secret got out, he said.
In a halting voice that grew so soft it could barely be heard in the courtroom, Menendez said of the abuse: "I hated it, I hated it, I hated it."
Bursting into tears, he added: "I just wanted it to stop."
Erik Menendez, 22, and his brother Lyle, 25, are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their father, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and mother, Kitty Menendez, 47, in the family's Beverly Hills mansion.
Prosecutors contend that they killed out of hatred and greed. The defense says they killed in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
If convicted, the brothers could draw the death penalty.
Lyle Menendez wrapped up nine days of testimony last Friday. Spectators, who had lined up before dawn for the older brother's testimony, began arriving even earlier, at 3:45 a.m., for Erik Menendez's first appearance on the witness stand in Van Nuys Superior Court.
Wearing a blue shirt and maroon tie, Erik Menendez was obviously nervous. As he raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth, he leaned on a railing with his left hand for balance.
Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson, who often has comforted him through the trial by wrapping her arm around his shoulder, left him alone on his walk to the stand--with the reason becoming clear in a transcript made available Monday afternoon.
Last Friday, in a court session held without jurors present--and outside the hearing of the media and public, as well--Judge Stanley M. Weisberg told Abramson that he had noticed the touching and cautioned her that lawyers must act "as professionals, not as nursemaids or surrogate mothers."
Abramson said she would take "the court's cue."
"Mr. Menendez," Abramson began Monday, "where do you live?"
"Los Angeles County Jail," he said, his voice carrying just a hint of his New Jersey childhood, a gentler accent than his older brother's.
Erik Menendez told jurors that he was pale because he had been out in the sun perhaps 10 times since his arrest nearly 3 1/2 years ago.
He also reminded jurors that he had voluntarily surrendered to police, returning to the United States from a tennis tournament in Israel upon hearing in March, 1990, that his brother had been arrested--even though he knew he too would probably face murder charges that could bring the death penalty.
When the subject of molestation came up just a few minutes later, Erik Menendez could barely choke out the words.
"What do you believe was the originating cause of you and your brother ultimately winding up shooting your parents?" Abramson asked.
"Me telling Lyle that, uh . . . " he responded, his face reddening and eyes welling with tears as he looked up and down, trying to form words.
"My dad, my dad, my dad . . . " he said, then finally getting it out, "My dad had been molesting me."
The molestation, Erik Menendez said, began about his sixth birthday. It continued, he said, right into August, 1989. He said a threatening Jose Menendez ordered him not to tell anyone.
"He told me he'd kill me," Menendez said. "He told me he'd tie me to a chair and beat me to death."
He said the sexual abuse took four different forms, and that he had given names to each: knees, nice sex, rough sex and sex.
"Sex," he said, involved intercourse. He did not elaborate on the other three, although he said there were "pins and tacks that Dad would stick in me and use" while engaged in oral sex.
The last "sex," he said, occurred in May, 1989. But he recalled an incident of "knees" the month of the killings.
Erik Menendez said he knew that the abuse was "extremely abnormal." In high school, he said, he swore his friends would never find out: "I didn't want to be humiliated."
He said he also believed that the abuse was "partly my fault, in that I never stopped him, I let him go on." He added: "I thought I was a coward. I hated myself for it."
Often, he said, he had a nightmare that included a cow, a horse and a green face. They all would get larger while he got smaller, he said, and the green face turned into his father, "chasing me through this darkness," he said.
Only once did he dare resist his father's sexual demands, Erik Menendez said, that being when he was 17. "I just didn't want it anymore," he testified. "I was just in a bad state that day. He walked into the room and I said no."
In response, Jose Menendez "threw me on the bed and went to get a knife and put it at my throat," Erik Menendez said.
The knife was a large, jagged "Rambo knife" that his father acquired as part of a promotion for the Rambo films, and with it at his throat, Erik Menendez said, forced "sex" on him.
His sole hope, he said, was that he would leave his father's house for college. But in early August, 1989, Jose Menendez told his younger son that he would be attending UCLA and living at home several nights a week.
"The one thing I had been living for was suddenly taken away from me and I didn't care about life anymore," the 22-year-old said, adding that he considered suicide, envisioning ways to kill himself: by cutting his wrists, by hanging, by driving off a cliff.
Instead, on Aug. 15, the Tuesday before the killings, he confided in his brother, he said, after seeing his mother rip off Lyle Menendez's toupee.
Before then, his brother's hair looked "always neat, always perfect," Erik Menendez said, but the bald spot made him seem more approachable.
In an account that meshed with his brother's, Erik Menendez said their parents reacted with alarm to Lyle Menendez's threat the following Thursday night to expose a family sex scandal.
His father, Erik Menendez said, was "more angry than I had ever seen him" and threw him down on a bed. He said he grappled with his father, then escaped, ran downstairs and stumbled into his mother, who told him, "I've always known. You think I'm stupid?"
He said he told his mother, "I hate you!" then dashed out to join his brother in the guest house.
He said it was for protection that the brothers bought shotguns in San Diego that Friday.
When the family returned home after a shark fishing trip on Saturday, his mother told him, "If I'd kept my mouth shut, things would have worked out in the family," Erik Menendez told jurors.
What, Abramson asked him, did that mean?
"Things had not worked out in the family, and she was going to kill us," he said, adding: "I thought they were going to kill Lyle and I. It seemed clear."