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Erik Menendez Tells of Years of Torment : Trial: Younger of brothers testifies about sexual abuse and says his father punished and berated him frequently.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With a pained expression and often fighting tears during his second day of testimony, Erik Menendez told the jury Thursday at his murder retrial what it was like to grow up a Menendez.

“It was cruel at times,” he said, as his older brother, Lyle, looked on from the defense table. Often, he said, his father called him a sissy or coward and told him he wasn’t worthy of the family name.

In his family, Erik Menendez told the jury, his father groomed him for success--and for sex. He pushed him to excel at sports. And, from the time he was 6, he testified, his father bonded with him during sex sessions behind closed bedroom doors.

But it was Lyle who first penetrated him with a toothbrush as they played in the woods when he was 5, Erik Menendez testified, choking with emotion.

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Initially, he said, he enjoyed his father’s touching and massages because it was the only time his father was nice to him. By the time he was 11, though, he said he would vomit after oral sex, “when I felt really icky and dirty.”

The brothers, ages 25 and 27, are charged with murder and face the death penalty in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their millionaire parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, at the family’s Beverly Hills mansion.

Prosecutors contend that Erik and Lyle Menendez ambushed their parents to gain control of their millions, then concocted the tales of abuse to “trick” jurors at their first trial. That trial ended last year in a deadlock when juries for each brother could not decide between murder and manslaughter convictions.

Once again at the retrial, the brothers’ defense is contending that a lifetime of abuse fed a fear so profound that the brothers believed they had to kill or be killed. Erik Menendez suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, his lawyers say, which skewed his perception of danger.

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As he had during his first trial, Erik Menendez described his upbringing, its harshness hidden by the family’s achievements and country club lifestyle.

Defense attorney Barry Levin is slowly leading his client through his life story, attempting to show the jury that the domineering parents instilled a fear in their sons that eventually led to parricide.

Deputy Dist. Atty. David P. Conn frequently objected to the testimony as irrelevant. And, at one point, Conn requested a recess when Erik Menendez seemed about to break down in tears. The request was denied.

Conn said he sought only to avoid an appeal to jurors’ emotions. But the gambit angered defense attorney Leslie Abramson. “I’m outraged. I think he’s a punk,” she later told reporters of Conn.

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Abramson said Erik Menendez is tearful because he is reopening painful wounds on the witness stand. In his family, Erik Menendez testified, love commingled with incest and fear. He grew up trusting no one.

While seducing him, his father taught him that friends were a sign of weakness, Erik Menendez testified. He was punished for crying, which made him cry more. Once, Jose Menendez misspelled his name--writing “Erick"--in a card from Germany admonishing him not to cry.

His mother, he added, constantly called him “stupid,” and told him he was “born dumb.” She also kept track of his misdeeds, and forced him to present lists of his childish transgressions to his father. One such list read in court included such supposed sins as refusing to eat tuna and spinach and not putting on his pajamas in time for bed.

His punishment, he said, ranged from harsh words to a beating with his father’s belt.

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