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Sons Named in Double Slaying in Beverly Hills : Crime: One arrested. Entertainment chief Menendez and wife were initially thought victims of a gangland hit.

March 09, 1990|RONALD L. SOBLE and JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The eldest son of slain entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife was arrested Thursday on suspicion of murdering his parents last August in their Beverly Hills mansion.

The couple's younger son was being sought in Israel, where he has been playing in an international tennis tournament.

The gruesome shotgun murders shocked the Hollywood community and initially touched off widespread law enforcement speculation about a possible organized crime hit.

But from the outset, Beverly Hills detectives said Thursday, they suspected the Menendez sons, Lyle, 22, and Erik, 19, who stood to share exclusively in an estate valued at $14 million.

Lyle, who had been under police surveillance, was taken into custody Thursday afternoon as he left the family home on Elm Drive, and was booked at the West Hollywood sheriff's station. The district attorney could ask for special-circumstances allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

A murder complaint has also been issued for Erik, a professional tennis player who has been competing in a tournament in Israel.

Beverly Hills police said they believe they have a strong case against the two sons.

"We're on real solid, solid ground," Lt. Russ Olson, the Beverly Hills chief of detectives, said after the arrest. But he would not elaborate.

"I've been in this business for over 33 years and I have heard of very few murders that were more savage than this one was," Beverly Hills Police Chief Marvin D. Iannone told a news conference.

As for the motive, Iannone said it was not determined if "there was a sole motive or several motives."

He noted, however, that it was "no big secret that the Menendezes had an estate that was worth millions of dollars" and that the two brothers were the sole beneficiaries.

Iannone said 'there were all kinds of theories" about the murders which led to the gathering of "a lot of evidence," much of it "very circumstantial."

But "just recently," he said, detectives found "the glue, if you will, to bind (the case) together. . . . And I feel we have a very tight case."

He would not elaborate.

It was revealed on Thursday that police had served search warrants to seize the records of a psychologist who had seen the entire Menendez family. Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said the arrest was "based on newly discovered evidence and did involve some conversations." Reliable sources said those conversations were with the psychologist.

Lyle Menendez's lawyer, Gerald Chaleff, was sharply critical of Beverly Hills police and the prosecutor for seizing the psychologist's records. "It is very troublesome," he said.

Suggesting that state law could have been violated, he said he was "astounded that the district attorney's office would violate the psychotherapist-patient privilege."

Chaleff declined to comment on any other aspects of the case until he had a chance to study the evidence.

The Menendez brothers are tall, handsome, athletic competitors whose easy self-assurance seemed to mark them for success. Lyle, in particular, was regarded as intimidating, with a deep self-confidence that bordered on arrogance. Friends and relatives described both brothers as articulate young men who seemed sure of their futures, even in the wake of the tragic deaths of their parents.

Their father, Jose, 45, chief executive of Live Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a video and music distributor, and his wife, Kitty, 44, were killed instantly by more than a dozen close-range blasts from two 12-gauge shotguns as they were watching television in the first-floor library of their home about 10 p.m. last Aug. 20.

There was no sign of forced entry into the home. Nor was there any indication of a robbery, and no murder weapons were found.

The Menendez sons reported finding their parents' bodies when they returned from a night out.

"From the very onset we had suspicions of the boys' involvement," Olson said in a telephone interview. "As more evidence developed, it pointed only in one direction."

Olson and his two lead detectives believe that Lyle Menendez orchestrated the murders and that Erik could have been intimidated into going along. "Lyle was the heavyweight in this," he said.

Menendez, in the event of his and his wife's simultaneous death, left his entire $14-million estate to the two children. After estate taxes and other items were subtracted, Lyle and Erik stood to net $3 million each.

Additionally, a $400,000 personal life insurance policy on Jose Menendez already has been distributed to Lyle and Erik.

Initially, Beverly Hills detectives appeared to focus much of their investigation on the possibility that the slayings were the result of a dispute with characters having organized crime connections.

That was because Menendez's company, Live Entertainment Inc., had links to the pornography video business before it was acquired by Carolco Pictures Inc., a studio that produced the Rambo films.

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