Telling jurors that psychologist L. Jerome Oziel had "implanted" memories in her of "things that didn't exist," Oziel's ex-lover testified Tuesday that she can no longer vouch for the truth of what she said previously about Lyle and Erik Menendez.
Judalon Smyth swore to authorities three years ago that she had overheard the Menendez brothers say they had shot their mother's eye out of its socket. But she testified Tuesday that she had not really heard them say that.
Nor, Smyth testified, did she actually hear "from their own mouths" that they killed their parents or committed the perfect crime, as she once told a TV interviewer.
Oziel, she said, brainwashed her, programmed her and left her victimized, frightened and traumatized. She said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and compared herself to a prisoner of war.
So, Smyth asserted, if there are contradictions or inconsistencies in her testimony, "I can't be responsible."
With Smyth on the stand for a third consecutive day at the brothers' murder trial in Van Nuys Superior Court, little attention was given to the Aug. 20, 1989, killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez--even though it was Smyth who led police to the sons.
Instead, the trial remained stuck on its primary subplot, the stormy affair between Smyth and the married Oziel.
The proceedings turned even more tawdry Tuesday. From the stand, Smyth described once faking a suicide so Oziel could find her. She said she once made him an IOU for 500 sex acts. She once sent him a card inscribed, "If only hugs could be put into words."
Little of it seemed to interest jurors--one of whom doodled on his hand--until, under an insistent cross-examination by Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich, Smyth insisted that she never had an interest in bearing Oziel's children.
"I would not want children that looked like Dr. Oziel," Smyth said, as jurors burst into laughs. Even Judge Stanley M. Weisberg smiled.
The pair met in June, 1989, when Smyth, who had a tape-duplicating business, proposed that they market tapes of his talks on psychology. Both have admitted that they soon were having an affair and that Smyth moved into Oziel's house, even though his wife and two daughters were still there.
They broke up in March, 1990. The next day, Smyth went to Beverly Hills police.
She then told authorities that she overheard Lyle and Erik Menendez, who were still free, confess in therapy sessions with Oziel that they killed their parents with shotgun blasts. The brothers were arrested within a week.
Initially, as prosecutors built their case against the brothers, Smyth worked with them. But she became disillusioned, she said, when they would not file charges against Oziel as well. She alleges that he raped and drugged her during their affair.
Oziel has denied all wrongdoing, and prosecutors said a criminal case against him would be fruitless, pitting her word against his.
In one of the many ironies of the murder trial, Smyth ended up as a defense witness, largely to discredit Oziel, who had testified earlier in the trial for the prosecution.
Under cross-examination Tuesday, Smyth took the opportunity to lash out at the district attorney's office, saying the decision not to prosecute Oziel left her "upset, disappointed, shocked."
She also complained that the tone of Bozanich's questions was "very offensive," adding, "I feel like I'm a pawn and being used and manipulated in this situation."
At another point, Smyth blurted out: "I know Ms. Bozanich would lie, knowing that I would tell the truth."
That comment led immediately to a lengthy conference between Weisberg and the lawyers in the case. When it broke up, he ordered the comment stricken from the record.
In a hearing outside the presence of jurors, defense attorneys acknowledged that calling Smyth to the stand involved risk. "She's a witness with credibility problems, and I grant you, she's got loads of them, just like Oziel has loads of them," said Leslie Abramson, who represents Erik Menendez.
The lead prosecutors said she was a spurned lover now lying out of spite, and relishing "a national forum to slander Dr. Oziel."
When Bozanich repeatedly confronted Smyth with detail-rich statements she had given before, incriminating the brothers, Smyth backtracked. She said she no longer remembers what she heard herself and what Oziel told her--or, as she also put it, as he "programmed" her.
When she was working with prosecutors, Smyth swore out an affidavit in June, 1990, and testified at a July, 1990, pretrial hearing.
In both the affidavit and court testimony, Smyth swore she had overheard Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, therapy sessions at Oziel's office in which the brothers talked of, among other things, blowing their mother's eye out.
Smyth said Tuesday of the affidavit: "I don't know what I was concerned with or thinking of at the time."
She said of the court testimony: "I had like disappeared in the courtroom and I didn't know what was said or done."
She added: "I somehow separated myself. I was there and I answered questions from some element of my consciousness."
In an interview with Diane Sawyer aired Aug. 30, 1990, on ABC-TV's "Prime Time Live," Smyth said of the brothers: "I heard from their own mouths that they killed their parents."
She said Tuesday that was not true.
Because of her own continuing therapy, she said, her memory now is better than it was three or four years ago.