The night after he and his brother killed their millionaire parents, Erik Menendez slept at the home of a Beverly Hills lawyer--sharing the spare bedroom with a safe the brothers believed might contain their father's will, the attorney's wife testified Wednesday.
The evidence from Klara Wright, whose son played on the junior tennis circuit with Erik, was not offered at the brothers' first trial for the 1989 shotgun slayings of entertainment executive Jose Menendez, 45, and his wife, Kitty, 47.
"Erik Menendez spent the night with the safe in that bedroom," she testified Wednesday.
She told the jury she was unaware that the Menendez parents had been slain when she stopped by the family's mansion on Elm Drive to pick up a tennis racket the morning after the killings.
She saw the yellow tape and the police cars, and then she saw Erik Menendez sitting with brother Lyle in a car parked out front.
"Erik jumped out of the car. He was glad to see me," she said. "I asked him, 'What's going on here?' and he said his parents were murdered during the night."
She described his demeanor as "excited, he couldn't speak fast enough to get the words out." He asked her if her husband handled wills and probate cases.
"I was devastated. I felt so bad for them. I told him I would get ahold of my husband," she said.
"After I saw what happened, I didn't want to bring up the rackets," Wright said. "But Erik said, 'No problem, that's OK.' He went in his house and got the rackets."
The brothers met with her attorney husband at the Wrights' Beverly Hills home that afternoon--less than 24 hours after Jose and Kitty Menendez died, Wright testified. She added that her husband had asked Erik and Lyle Menendez to bring the safe to his home, and the brothers carried it into a bedroom and covered it with blankets. It took both brothers to carry the safe, where they thought their father had stored the will, she said.
"Erik stayed two or three nights in the bedroom with the safe," she recalled.
Eventually, the safe was carried to the Wrights' garage, where a locksmith opened it in front of the brothers and other relatives. It was empty.
Erik, she observed, never slept at her house again.
With Wright's testimony, prosecutors are shifting their focus from the bloody crime scene to the brothers' actions near the time of the slayings. Prosecutors David P. Conn and Carol J. Najera are attempting to show the jury that money-- "financial independence," Conn called it--was foremost in the brothers' minds.
The money motive, Conn contends, proves the brothers acted deliberately and with premeditation in murdering their parents.
The brothers, however, contend they fired in fear that their parents would kill them first for threatening to publicly expose an incestuous family's secrets.
A primary concern, prosecutors say, was whether their father had disinherited the brothers, as he'd threatened. But the defense contends the brothers had known for a year that they had been disinherited.
Defense attorneys Terri Towery and Barry Levin sharply questioned Wright about the details of her story.
In their questioning, the defense attorneys suggested that Randolph Wright was eager to land the lucrative Menendez probate. And they brought out the fact that Klara Wright watched the first trial regularly on Court TV, but didn't come forward until March, 1994, after that trial had ended.
Wright testified that she heard her husband advise the brothers they'd be questioned by police and had better establish their whereabouts. By then, the brothers already had told police they'd gone to see the movie "Batman" the night of the killings.
Randolph Wright is scheduled to testify today.
Klara Wright also told the jury that during a conversation with Erik, he said he "wanted to make sure there wasn't a will" on the family's home computer and asked her if she "knew anybody who was good at working on computers."
The circumstances of how the couple came forward remain cloudy. Details were revealed behind closed doors during a hearing in June. Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg ordered the transcripts of that hearing sealed.
But attorneys said the couple didn't come forward during the first trial partially because of Randolph Wright's concern over attorney-client privilege issues.
Randolph Wright did not handle the probate. The estate, with an estimated worth of about $14 million, now is worth nothing.