Speaking in a flat voice and without tears, Erik Menendez testified Tuesday that he recalls little of his parents’ slayings after he and his brother stormed into the TV room of the family’s Beverly Hills mansion armed with shotguns.
“I just remember firing,” he said.
Although he told jurors that he has long had a problem controlling tears, Erik Menendez was calm as he described the killings. But where his older brother last week described in detail shooting both parents at close range, Erik Menendez said he recalled virtually nothing of the scene.
The room was smoky and “real, real eerie,” he said. “It was horrible.”
When his own attorney pressed for details, Erik Menendez stumbled through his answer: “I don’t know. I don’t know. I just walked into the room. I just started firing and I don’t know, and I didn’t think about these things. I didn’t think where was this, where was that. I just started firing, and I don’t know.”
When the shooting was over, he said, it did not register that his “powerful” parents were dead. “The fact that my mom and dad could be killed--it just seemed impossible to me,” he said.
Erik Menendez, 22, and Lyle Menendez, 25, are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47. Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, contend that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed.
In his first two days of testimony, Erik Menendez has been briskly led by his lawyer, Leslie Abramson, through the basics of the defense case--that he was sexually abused from childhood and killed out of fear for his life.
She has had him gloss over incidents that Lyle Menendez spoke of at length, apparently mindful that jurors seemed restless at the end of the older brother’s nine days on the stand.
Abramson spent nights and weekends at the county jail all summer preparing Erik Menendez for his testimony. Prosecutors objected 29 times Tuesday that she was improperly leading him, in effect putting words in his mouth with her questions.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg sustained 21 of the 29 objections.
On Monday, his first day on the witness stand, Erik Menendez testified that he was sexually abused by his father from age 6 until the time of the killings, and that the abuse took four forms, which he called “knees,” “nice sex,” “rough sex” and just “sex.”
On Tuesday, he provided graphic details about the forms, in testimony that apparently caused him so much discomfort that he asked for, and was granted, a 20-minute break.
The abuse began with hand massages with underwear on, then evolved to naked “mouth massages,” Erik Menendez said.
Jose Menendez would tell him that father and son were sharing, just as soldiers had “in ancient times, the Romans and the Greeks,” he said, and that what was happening “was natural and . . . was supposed to happen.”
Lyle Menendez, who testified two weeks ago that he was molested from age 6 to 8, said his father told him much the same story.
Erik Menendez told jurors Tuesday that he at first liked the attention from his father. But soon, “I didn’t like what was going on,” he said. “I thought it was really dirty.”
About age 11, he said, his father began forcing him to perform “knees,” which he explained was oral sex.
“Nice sex,” he said, began at the end of the sixth grade, involving mostly “massages” with hands and mouth.
At age 12, he said, there was forced anal sex.
In “rough sex,” which began at age 13, Jose Menendez would turn out all the lights and light candles, then order his son to perform oral sex, he said. During the act, his father would stick pins and tacks in him and instruct him, as a lesson in absorbing pain, not to cry out, Erik Menendez said.
Whatever form it took, he said, Jose Menendez usually forced him into sex two to four times each month when the family lived in New Jersey, until Erik Menendez was nearly 16.
The sex stopped for a few months after the family moved to California in 1986, then resumed, he said.
Much as Lyle Menendez had earlier, he said the chain of events leading to the killings began Aug. 17, 1989, when Lyle threatened to expose his father as a child molester. But three days later, Erik Menendez said, Jose Menendez again ordered him upstairs to a bedroom.
“I thought he was going to kill me that night,” Erik Menendez said. “And I thought he was going to have sex with me first.”
An argument erupted among father, mother and the sons, he testified.
He said Lyle Menendez screamed: “You’re not going to touch my little brother!”
He said Jose Menendez replied: “I do what I want with my family. It’s not your little brother. It’s my son.”
Kitty Menendez, who has been portrayed throughout the trial as filled with rage and out of control, wore a “stony, sort of hard look” that scared him, Erik Menendez said. “I felt my stomach twist my bowels,” he testified.
In testimony that again mirrored his brother’s, he said their parents then went back into the TV room and closed the doors. Erik Menendez said he believed that his parents had weapons inside the closed room.
“I thought I was going to die,” he said, adding that he thought, “It’s happening now.”
Under California law, murder defendants claiming self-defense must show their own lives were in imminent danger. Defense attorneys have conceded that outsiders might have difficulty seeing the immediate threat in this case, but that the fear was very real to the Menendez brothers.
Erik Menendez said they got shotguns from their rooms and loaded them outside, at his car.
He and his brother sprinted back in the house, he said, and burst into the TV room. He said he believed that his parents were going to grab his gun--this “stupidly big thing"--as he dashed in.
Instead, he started firing at whatever was in front of him in the room, which was lit only by the glare of the TV and the distant hallway lights, he said. “All I remember is firing,” he testified.
Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson asked what was in front of him. “My parents,” he said.
Jose Menendez, he said, was slightly in front of and to the left of the couch, behind a coffee table. To his father’s right was his mother, he said.
Abramson asked him to estimate how far away from the TV set he ended up. “You’re asking me to remember these things I don’t . . . " he said, trailing off and not finishing the sentence.
He said he did remember hearing his mother make a noise. Without describing it, he said “it scared me,” and said he ran out of the room.
So did Lyle Menendez, who went out to the car, reloaded and came back to the TV room, he said. From the hallway, “I just heard Lyle fire the gun,” Erik Menendez said.
When the shooting ended, he said, “I couldn’t really see the condition of the people. I just saw there was a lot of smoke, it was dark, there was light coming in from the hallway and the TV. It was real, real eerie. The TV was making illuminating light. It was horrible.”
The brothers picked up all the shotgun shells, he said. Then, just as Lyle Menendez had testified, Erik said they bought movie tickets for an alibi, ditched the guns off Mulholland Drive, threw their bloody clothes in a gas station trash bin and drove to a food festival in Santa Monica.
Erik Menendez said he believed they had gone to the trash bin after the trip to Santa Monica. But he said he could not be certain which came first.
After looking for Lyle’s friend, Perry Berman, at the food festival, the brothers came home and called the 911 emergency number. Erik Menendez said he could not resist looking at the killing scene one more time.
“I couldn’t stop myself,” he said. “I was drawn to the room. I didn’t want to go in but I couldn’t not go in.”
Seeing his father dead on the couch, his mother in a pool of blood on the floor, he began to scream, he said--the screams recorded on the 911 tape.
“Logically,” he said, “I knew they were dead. But I couldn’t accept that. I couldn’t believe that. I couldn’t believe they were dead. It was just too much for me.
“They were my parents and they had always been my life. And I didn’t think they could die.”