Erik Menendez said he grew so depressed after he and his brother killed their parents that he dreamed of the peace of suicide, then sought help from his therapist--and, on the spur or the moment, confessed to the slayings.
Testifying in his defense for a third day, Erik Menendez said Wednesday that he could not shake the smell of gun smoke and the lingering images of his dead, bloodied parents in the TV room of the family’s Beverly Hills mansion.
Without telling his older brother, Lyle Menendez, he decided to ask his therapist, Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel, for help in overcoming his depression, he said. And then, on the spur of the moment, he decided to confess.
“I told him Lyle and I walked into the room with two shotguns and killed our parents,” Erik Menendez said. “And that’s why I felt so guilty.”
Ultimately, that confession led to the arrest of Erik Menendez, 22, and Lyle Menendez, 25, who are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, 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. The defense contends that the brothers killed in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
In his first two days on the witness stand, Erik Menendez provided graphic testimony that he was molested by his father from the age of 6 to 18, and said fear led the brothers to kill their parents.
On Wednesday, he wove more details of the abuse among stories of his childhood and adolescence--and eventual confession to Oziel.
During the years of abuse, Erik Menendez said, he gave himself a nickname: “The Hurt Man.” He said he told relatives and friends about it but never what it meant.
He said he did tell his first cousin, Andy Cano, about the sexual abuse. The defense is expected to call Cano later in the trial.
Erik Menendez was composed on the witness stand throughout the day, in contrast to earlier teary episodes, even when he said his father had a private name for him: “faggot.”
Jose Menendez, he said, ridiculed homosexuals and insisted that what was going on between father and son had nothing to do with homosexuality.
Erik Menendez said he never dared respond to his father’s name-calling. But once, he said, he imagined a retort in his own mind: “I’d say, ‘Then what the hell are you?’ ”
He said Kitty Menendez ordered him onto a closet for hours on end, threw cake at him, slapped him when he bit his nails and dunked him in cold water when she nabbed him sleepwalking.
His testimony about Oziel is significant because the prosecution used the psychologist to cast doubt on the defense’s assertions of long-term abuse. Oziel testified that the brothers never said one word to him about being molested, even though they confided they were killers. He said they wanted to commit the “perfect crime.”
Erik Menendez said Wednesday that he simply could not bring himself to talk about the humiliating past with the therapist. “I just didn’t want to discuss it with him,” he said.
What he wanted was help in dealing with suicidal tendencies, he said.
Erik Menendez visited Oziel on Oct. 31 and the therapist later called Lyle Menendez to join them. Both brothers returned Nov. 2.
Oziel never went to the police. But in March, 1990, his girlfriend, Judalon Smyth, told Beverly Hills police that the therapist had taped notes from the two sessions. Police seized the tapes and the brothers were arrested days later.
When he went to see Oziel, Erik Menendez said, he had been having recurring visions of the yellow haze of smoke that filled the TV room after the shooting.
“Whenever I’d hear a car engine and smell smoke or fumes, sometimes when someone was cooking, any time there was smoke, I smelled it and thought about it,” meaning the killings, he said.
His mind kept flashing back to the image of his parents, his father’s body on the couch, his mother’s on the floor, he said.
“I wasn’t able to stop myself,” he said. “Anything could spark it. Anything would remind me, and I would see them in the room. I couldn’t stop it.”
He said, “I was feeling very bad about killing my parents. . . . It was confusing--the guilt. Thinking about what kind of person I was tore me apart and gave me a lot of pain.”
Over and over, Erik Menendez said, he had a dream in which he would wake up remembering only that he had killed himself in the dream and “how peaceful it felt afterward.”
But when he first started talking to Oziel, he said, “I was having trouble telling him why I was suicidal because I hadn’t told him I killed my parents. He wasn’t getting it.”
Erik Menendez suggested a walk. Outside, he testified, he made a decision. “I decided I needed to tell somebody and I decided to tell him right then.
“I really wanted him at that point to tell me I wasn’t this terrible person. . . . He couldn’t do that unless he knew I had killed my parents.”
Erik Menendez said he told Oziel what he and his brother had done.
“He seemed very interested in the details,” Erik Menendez said. “He cut me off when I was talking about my depression, my suicide and said, ‘Just tell me what happened.’ ”
He contradicted Oziel on some points, backed him on others.
The younger Menendez brother said he told the therapist that he and Lyle Menendez had been talking about the killing “that week.” Oziel testified that they hatched a plot to kill several weeks before the slayings after seeing a movie “on the BBC,” which the prosecution contends is the Billionaire Boys Club--a murderous group of wealthy Westside youths.
Erik Menendez said it was the psychologist who suggested a motive for the slayings at the Oct. 31 session, theorizing that Jose Menendez was so “ferocious” in his control and domination of his sons that “nobody could live under those circumstances.”
Erik Menendez did not say whether he led Oziel to believe that was true. He said that by confessing to Oziel, “I knew I had really betrayed my brother’s trust.”
The day was marked by yet another contentious exchange between Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg and Erik Menendez’s lawyer, Leslie Abramson.
“Counsel, we’d move a lot quicker if you wouldn’t ask these leading questions,” the judge said.
“Well, maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t,” she retorted. After a moment, she asked for a recess. He denied it--then, when she fumbled with some papers--sighed and called for a break.
Erik Menendez is due back on the witness stand today.