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Menendezes' Therapist Accused of Misconduct

July 24, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeking to revoke his license, state authorities Friday accused Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel of misconduct, alleging that he illegally allowed the secret tape-recording of the therapy sessions that led police to arrest Lyle and Erik Menendez for murder.

The State Board of Psychology also accused Oziel of furnishing drugs without prescription to two women and of assaulting both of them while they were his lovers.

Oziel, the key prosecution witness against the Menendez brothers in their murder trial, is due to testify next week. In a statement issued Friday, Oziel's lawyer denied that the therapist had committed misconduct and said the board's accusations were "clearly an attempt to discredit Dr. Oziel's testimony" in the murder case.

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47. The parents were killed in the TV room of their $4-million Beverly Hills mansion.

About two months after the slayings, Erik Menendez confessed to Oziel, according to court records.

Prosecutors, who contend that hatred and greed drove the brothers to kill, are seeking the death penalty.

The defense contends that Lyle and Erik Menendez killed in self-defense after enduring years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

The state board's action came as Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg signaled in court Friday that he is unlikely to allow jurors to consider a screenplay co-written by Erik Menendez about a fictional murder.

The script, titled "Friends," is about a son who murders his parents for a $157-million inheritance. Without jurors present, co-author Craig Cignarelli, 23, testified Friday that he believed the play, written at the start of 1988, had nothing to do with the killings 18 months later.

Prosecutors said the play is proof of Erik Menendez's murderous intent. Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson said it is merely bad fiction written by two schoolboys. Weisberg put off a ruling until Monday but said the play seemed too remote to be relevant to the killings.

The prosecution's case remains strong, Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich emphasized Friday in an interview with The Times.

"We have uncovered no evidence of physical or sexual abuse," Bozanich said. "

"The fact that Mr. Menendez was domineering, controlling, overbearing and very hard to live with is not news to us," she said, referring to testimony this week by Perry Berman, a Menendez family friend called as a prosecution witness who veered off under cross-examination to support defense themes.

"You don't kill people you love," Bozanich said. "We're not saying this family was 'Ozzie and Harriet.' Or even a 'Leave It to Beaver' family. This was more like 'Father Knows Best Meets Godzilla.' "

Jose Menendez was domineering, Bozanich said, and prosecutors believe the control he exerted over his sons was one of myriad reasons for the killings. "Why they killed their mother you will hear from Dr. Oziel," she said.

District attorney's office spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said the state board's complaint would not change prosecution plans to put him on the stand. "The allegations in the complaint are simply that," she said.

But Abramson said after the state board announced its action that the defense awaits Oziel's appearance in court. "We intend to impeach his credibility, his ethics, his competency," she said.

The 16-page accusation relies on complaints made by two women it identified as former patients of Oziel's and only by their initials, J.S. and A.K.

Oziel could not be reached Friday for comment. But his lawyer, Bradley Brunon, said in a statement that neither of the two women was ever a patient of Oziel's and that their charges were "unsubstantiated and outrageously false."

J.S. apparently is Judalon Smyth, who called Beverly Hills police to say the Menendez brothers had confessed to their therapist that they had killed their parents.

Smyth long ago went public about her role in the case.

The state board alleged that after Smyth and Oziel became lovers he improperly supplied her with prescription drugs. It alleged that he beat her, tried to choke her and tried to commit her to a mental institution.

It also alleged that Oziel encouraged Smyth to secretly listen and tape-record sessions he had with both brothers in the fall of 1989. It remains unclear how Smyth could have recorded the tapes or where in Oziel's office she could have done so.

Erik and Lyle Menendez's defense lawyers spent three years fighting unsuccessfully in the state appeals courts to keep Oziel from testifying, charging that his testimony would violate the doctor-patient privilege. The state Supreme Court disagreed.

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