Defense Rests in Menendez Trial : Courts: Last of 56 witnesses says that although the brothers told their therapist of murdering their parents, they did not trust him enough to disclose details of abuse.


Remaining true to the strategy of branding Lyle and Erik Menendez’s psychologist and parents as the real villains in the case, the defense in the brothers’ murder trial finally rested Thursday.

After three months of testimony and 56 witnesses, the defense concluded after calling an expert who insisted again that the brothers killed their parents in fear and self-defense, even though they never mentioned either in a taped session with their therapist.

Ann Burgess, an expert on child abuse, told jurors that Erik and Lyle Menendez had agreed before the Dec. 11, 1989, session with the psychologist, L. Jerome Oziel, that they would not trust him with the most painful details of their lives.


As the defense case ended, however, prosecutors also stuck to their strategy--portraying the brothers as self-serving liars and continually bringing witnesses back to the gory details of the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of Jose and Kitty Menendez.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich challenged Burgess to explain Lyle Menendez’s seemingly callous statement to Oziel that although he missed his dead parents, “I miss not having my dog around.”

Burgess, a University of Pennsylvania professor, responded that the comment, which originally drew gasps in the courtroom, merely spotlighted “the isolation of this family.”

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder. Prosecutors contend that they killed their parents out of hatred and greed.

The brothers testified that they killed in fear after years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. And, as legal experts have stressed throughout the trial, their fate is likely to depend on whether jurors find that believable.

The defense began with a parade of witnesses telling horror stories about the Menendez household, had the brothers take the stand to tell of being the victims of incest and then brought in mental health experts--including Burgess--to back their accounts.


“All I know is we put on as much of the truth as we were allowed to,” Erik Menendez’s attorney, Leslie Abramson, said after court Thursday.

Along the way, the defense faced two dramatic challenges to the brothers’ credibility.

The first arose after both testified that they had gone to a Big 5 store on Aug. 18, 1989, to buy handguns. Prosecutors confronted them with the fact that the chain stopped selling handguns in 1986.

Then, earlier this month, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg unsealed the tape of their Dec. 11, 1989, therapy session with Oziel, saying it was relevant evidence after Lyle and Erik Menendez made their mental state a central issue in the trial.

The brothers’ statements on the tape--which defense attorneys had spent four years trying to keep secret--seemed to contradict much of what they said on the stand. They told Oziel they killed their mother to put her “out of her misery” and their father because his infidelity made her miserable.

One legal expert watching the trial, Southwestern University law professor Robert Pugsley, said Thursday that the tape “explodes much of (the brothers’) plausibility and credibility.”

Abramson, who hugged Erik Menendez at the end of the day, declined to assess the impact. “Everybody wants us to do Monday morning quarterbacking and we don’t want to,” she said.


The defense case opened Aug. 16 and initially featured three dozen teachers, coaches, neighbors and relatives, who portrayed Jose Menendez as a domineering power freak and Kitty Menendez as a suicidal enigma. No detail seemed too small to share.

One of the teachers, for instance, said Kitty Menendez showed up for a conference at school with unwashed hair. A neighbor complained that Jose Menendez showed pornographic films--though the example she cited was an award-winning Brazilian documentary about street urchins.

The brothers testified for a combined 19 days. Lyle Menendez said his father molested him for two years. Erik Menendez said he endured 12 years of horrible abuse.

Their testimony was laden with details. Erik Menendez said he was stuck with pins and tacks while performing oral sex on his father.

Lyle Menendez said the immediate chain of events leading to the killings began Aug. 17, 1989, when he threatened his father, saying he would tell outsiders about the abuse. Three nights later, the sons shot the parents to death, hitting Jose Menendez six times, Kitty Menendez 10. Both brothers said they feared they were about to be killed first.

Under cross-examination, Lyle and Erik Menendez also said that they had lied repeatedly to the police, their family and the press about their role in the killings.


Four defense experts told jurors that the brothers’ could be believed.

When Burgess first testified last month, she cited research on snails that, she said, led scientists to believe that long-term exposure to fear rewires the brains of human trauma victims. As a result, Erik and Lyle Menendez acted as if they were on autopilot, she said.

Prosecutors belittled such testimony as “psychobabble.”

But their attempts to impeach the defense experts were mild compared to the defense’s assault on Oziel, to whom the brothers confided that they killed their parents. Oziel testified for the prosecution that they boasted of committing the “perfect crime.”

Defense lawyer Abramson asserted that Oziel had the “credibility of a doughnut hole,” especially after Weisberg admitted the Dec. 11 tape.

The defense called as one of its final witnesses Oziel’s onetime lover. She provided details of their sex life and even of his Elvis Presley imitation.

“What started out as a murder trial turned into a psychological malpractice, palimony and child abuse trial,” prosecutor Bozanich said Thursday.

Prosecutors now are expected to present at least a week’s worth of rebuttal evidence, intending to call such witnesses as the Menendez family maid, who lived in their Beverly Hills house, and Kitty Menendez’s brother.


During rebuttal, prosecutors hope to “paint a different picture” of Jose and Kitty Menendez, Bozanich said, adding: “They’re not the monsters portrayed.”

It is unlikely, however, that prosecutors will bring their own experts to rebut the claims of those called by the defense. “By calling expert witnesses, we would only be dignifying their experts,” Bozanich said.

Then the defense will get one more opportunity before jurors get the case.