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2nd Menendez Son Returning to Surrender

March 10, 1990|RONALD L. SOBLE and JOHN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Erik Menendez, accused along with his older brother, Lyle, in the shotgun murders of their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion, is returning to Los Angeles to give himself up to police, an attorney for his brother said Friday.

"It's my understanding that he wants to turn himself in as soon as possible," said defense attorney Gerald Chaleff, who is representing Lyle, 22.

Erik, 19, had been in Israel playing in a professional tennis tournament, and was reported to have flown to London before transferring to a Los Angeles flight.

Lyle was arrested by Beverly Hills detectives Thursday and booked on suspicion of homicide.

Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner is expected to announce Monday that both brothers will be charged with homicide under "special circumstances," which would mean that the pair could receive the death penalty if convicted.

"I would expect special circumstances because of the grotesqueness of the crime," said the chief of detectives of the Beverly Hills Police Department, Lt. Russ Olson.

The suspects' father, Jose Menendez, 45, chief executive of Live Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a video and music distributor, and his wife, Kitty, 44, were slain in a barrage of shotgun blasts at close range while they watched television in the first-floor library of their Elm Drive home last Aug. 20.

As police and prosecutors busied themselves Friday preparing for a Monday arraignment hearing, there were these other developments:

It was learned that police have obtained a 12-gauge shotgun shell casing that was found by a friend in one of Lyle's jackets. His parents were murdered with two 12-gauge shotguns, law enforcement sources have said.

Asked whether he considered the shell casing important evidence, Olson said, "I think it will be."

Although the killers--police said there were two--picked up the shell casings before leaving the house on the night of the murders, investigators later found shotgun wadding--material expended with the shells--at the scene.

At a minimum, sources said, the casing in police custody could be used as circumstantial evidence that Lyle had some familiarity with guns. It was not immediately clear whether the wadding matches the single shell that was recovered.

Also, tape recordings between a psychologist and the two brothers, made after the murders, have been seized by Beverly Hills detectives and, if admitted into evidence, could bolster the prosecution's case, sources said.

Police served search warrants Thursday on the psychologist's office and home. The tapes that were seized are now being stored pending a court hearing on the admissibility of the evidence.

There are believed to be several tapes, although Olson declined to say what was on them.

Before the seizure of the tapes from the psychologist, police had been trying to poke holes in the alibi of the two sons.

The brothers said they had attended the movie "Batman" on the night of the murder and then had gone to a food festival at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Finally, they said they had made plans to meet a friend at a Beverly Hills restaurant called the Cheesecake Factory.

Sources said police found some inconsistencies in the alibi, but not enough to be critically damaging to their defense.

Police also were interested in the sons' behavior after the murders.

Friends said Lyle went on a spending spree that included the purchase of a new Porsche, residential property in Princeton, N.J., and, most recently, a Princeton restaurant that specialized in chicken wings.

Erik dropped plans to enter UCLA after the murders and launched a professional tennis career.

Both brothers traveled extensively, often on the exclusive MGM Grand airline, according to sources.

Police said they had been developing a considerable amount of circumstantial evidence but that only recently did they find "the glue" that enabled them to move against the brothers. "The things that came from the psychologist are quite helpful," said Olson. "But it (the case) was there without it."

Conversations between a patient and a psychologist are considered confidential except in some unusual circumstances.

One is in the case of a person who tells his therapist he intends to physically harm someone. Then the therapist has a duty to report it. Another exception is when a person tries to enlist the therapist to help him elude prosecution.

Sources declined to say under which exception authorities are hoping to use the tape recordings.

Some investigators have said greed could be a motive. They pointed out that the two sons were the sole heirs to the $14-million Menendez estate. But others who saw the gruesome pictures of the victims said rage must also have been involved.

Lyle had been under surveillance in recent days. In the last week, as police moved closer to an arrest, they traveled to Princeton and visited one of Lyle's recent acquisitions--a restaurant called Chuck's Spring Street Cafe.

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