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Menendez Jurors View Grim Photos : Trial: Color images of fatal shotgun wounds are introduced over objections of defense, which claims they are too 'bloody and gruesome.' At times, the brothers appear to be tearful.

August 04, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prosecutors on Tuesday displayed a series of graphic autopsy photos for jurors in the murder trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez that appeared to reduce the brothers to tears.

The color pictures show that their father, Jose Menendez, was hit six times and their mother, Kitty Menendez, 10 times with shotgun blasts.

Jose Menendez suffered a fatal shot to the back of his head, a coroner's deputy testified as prosecutors posted a picture of the wound. Another of the photos was a close-up of Kitty Menendez, who was shot in the face, the coroner's deputy said.

Lyle and Erik Menendez seemed unable to look at the photo of their mother's face, but they stole occasional glances as about a dozen pictures went up on an easel just behind their seats and on a bulletin board across the courtroom.

Both appeared to have tears in their eyes. Once, Lyle Menendez, 25, put his head on the defense table. Several times, Erik Menendez, 22, rubbed his eyes, held a hand over his mouth and sighed. In a gesture of comfort, defense attorney Leslie Abramson draped her arm over his shoulder.

The brothers 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, were slain in the TV room of the family's $4-million Beverly Hills mansion.

Prosecutors, contending that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed, are seeking the death penalty. Defense lawyers concede that the brothers killed their parents but say that it was in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Prosecutors expect to wrap up their case by Friday, and the autopsy photos marked the introduction of the most potent evidence against the brothers. The key prosecution witness, Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel, is scheduled to testify today.

Oziel was the brothers' therapist, and Erik Menendez confessed to him two months after the killings, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys tried Tuesday to keep the autopsy photos from jurors. Michael Burt, one of Lyle Menendez's lawyers, argued to Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg that the pictures were too "bloody and gruesome and gory."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich responded: "Those who have committed crimes like these, it ill behooves them to complain of the carnage they leave."

Weisberg ruled that the photos were not "unduly gruesome" and would be "helpful" to the two juries in the case, one for each brother.

Both juries heard from the only witness to testify Tuesday, Dr. Irwin L. Golden, 52, a deputy medical examiner in the county coroner's office who punctuated his testimony by pointing to the pictures.

Golden, who performed autopsies on Jose and Kitty Menendez three days after the killings, said his examination could not settle the questions of how many shots were fired, their sequence or whether the brothers reloaded.

The angle of some shots, he said, indicated that Jose and Kitty Menendez probably were standing up or moving around and were shot from the front at some point during the attack. Burt said those shots came near the start of the shooting.

Since Jose Menendez died "immediately or rapidly" after the shot to the back of his head, and medical evidence showed his five other wounds were suffered before blood stopped circulating, the head wound probably was the final shot at the father, Golden said.

That shot to the back of the head, Golden testified, was a "contact wound," meaning the muzzle of the gun was placed against his hair or scalp as it was fired.

The father's other wounds, fired from a shotgun at least five feet away, were to the upper and lower right arm, the left elbow and left thigh, Golden said.

Previous reports have indicated that Jose Menendez was hit five times. Golden said Tuesday that he found scrapes and a pellet hole in the father's chest, probably from a stray from the blast that hit the right arm, which accounts for the sixth wound.

It was possible, Golden said, that some shots might have passed through Jose Menendez and hit his wife, or vice versa. But there is no way to know for sure, he said.

Any of three wounds could have been fatal to Kitty Menendez, including a contact wound to the left cheek, Golden said. The two others, he said, were "distance shots," one tearing into the right side of her face and the other into the left side of her chest, puncturing a lung.

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