Psychologist L. Jerome Oziel often said that he needed to “control” Lyle and Erik Menendez, and pressured them to tape-record an incriminating therapy session, his former lover testified Monday at the brothers’ murder trial.
With defense lawyers seeking to diminish the impact of the Dec. 11, 1989, tape recording, played in court Friday, Oziel’s former lover, Judalon Smyth, testified that he told her he “needed to get them to say incriminating things on a tape so we would have the tape to protect us.”
Smyth said the therapist gave the brothers a different story: that they could make a tape to “prove to a jury that, you know, they were remorseful or whatever.”
Called as a witness by the defense in a continuing bid to discredit Oziel, Smyth produced perhaps the most bizarre day of testimony in the 17-week trial as she described her relationship with the married psychologist. She even played tapes of her own--made secretly during their stormy affair--opening up for jurors their sex life, her dress size and his Elvis Presley impersonation.
Smyth, 41, also tried to explain why she had gone from being the person who turned in the brothers--tipping police to their therapy sessions with Oziel--to now testifying for the defense. She dismissed her past statements damaging to the brothers by saying that she had been “brainwashed” by Oziel.
Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of their wealthy parents, Jose Menendez, 45, an entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47.
If convicted, the brothers could be sentenced to death.
The brothers testified at length at the trial that they killed their parents in fear and self-defense after years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
On the Dec. 11 tape, however, they told Oziel that they killed their mother to put her “out of her misery” and that their father deserved to die because his infidelity had led to that misery. There was no mention of abuse or self-defense in the taped therapy session.
Smyth, who has filed two lawsuits against Oziel since their relationship soured, testified that she was not in his Beverly Hills office that day, but was there during earlier sessions with the brothers--and tried to undermine his credibility about them, as well.
Oziel, who testified earlier in the trial as a prosecution witness, said Smyth was not at his office on Oct. 31, 1989, when the brothers first admitted the slayings. He testified that she was around the office--but not in it--two days later, when the brothers again spoke of the killings.
Smyth said Monday that she was there both days and heard “bits and pieces” of the confessions from the waiting room.
It was after those two sessions, Smyth said, that Oziel became convinced he had to get their voices on tape, “for our protection.” The brothers were still free at the time and Oziel, who was keeping their statements to him confidential, was worried that they might try to kill him because of what he knew, she said.
After finally getting the brothers on tape on Dec. 11, 1989, “he said he got what he needed,” Smyth added.
Smyth also asserted that Oziel told her it was a “blessing” the brothers had confessed because it meant he could divorce his wife, Laurel Oziel, and marry her.
“Now he could use this to tell Laurel’s family and his family that it was for her (Laurel’s) safety that they were getting a divorce,” Smyth testified.
Instead, about a week after Oziel made the tap, she moved into his house--even as his wife and two children remained there.
Smyth told jurors that he “victimized” her there, that she was “raped . . . beaten . . . isolated.”
At one point, she said, she had “huge blood blisters in the back of my throat from where he rammed the drugs down me.” Smyth said her psychologist lover hypnotized her, using the word “thorns” as a trigger, and tried to persuade her that she was suicidal.
“I wouldn’t call it romantic. But there was sex,” Smyth testified of their relationship in the house, adding that she was “very good friends” with Laurel Oziel at the time.
On March 4, 1990, she said, she “escaped” from the house. The next day, she met with Beverly Hills police, starting the chain of events that led within a week to the arrests of the brothers.
Oziel has conceded that he moved Smyth into his home, and that they continued their affair there. But he has denied any of the wrongdoing she alleges.
In a bid to bolster Smyth’s version of events, the defense played a series of recordings she secretly made of Oziel, mostly of his phone calls.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg did not allow jurors to hear some tapes, including one in which, defense lawyer Michael Burt said, Oziel told Smyth that her mother was a witch who planned to feed her a poison apple.
That tape, Burt said, showed that Oziel had a habit of suggesting theories. But Weisberg said that tape had “virtually nonexistent value” for the murder trial.
Jurors did hear other tapes. Oziel testified that he tried to break off his relationship with Smyth weeks after it began in summer, 1989, but on a Nov. 25, 1989, call, he sings to her in an Elvis Presley-like voice before eliciting that she wears a size 6 dress.
Smyth and Oziel also discuss their sex life in detail, including her purring sounds. At that point, most jurors put down their notebooks--and never picked them up again, through half a dozen more tapes. On one, made two weeks after Smyth went to police, Oziel comments: “We’re going to be stars--not exactly for the right reasons.”
Prosecutors are expected to cross-examine Smyth today.
Defense lawyer Burt had Smyth explain inconsistencies in accounts she has given to police, the press and the courts.
Smyth said she has been in therapy and “worked on sorting out what was brainwashed and what was real.”