For the first time in four days on the witness stand, Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel conceded that his lover was waiting outside his office while he talked with Lyle and Erik Menendez about their parents' slaying.
But Oziel said he did not believe that Judalon Smyth overheard the therapy session that is key prosecution evidence in the brothers' murder trial.
Oziel's testimony came as defense attorneys confronted him with tape-recordings, phone bills and receipts documenting his affair with Smyth in a continuing bid to undermine his credibility.
Oziel insisted that he was never obsessed with the woman--that it was the other way around.
But he said he ultimately moved Smyth into his house. They went on vacation together, he said. And when they were apart, he called her repeatedly, sometimes for a minute, sometimes for hours, his phone records showed.
Oziel grew testy at times under the cross-examination, his voice rising in irritation as he recounted his stormy relationship with Smyth. On occasion, Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, smiled at his unease.
At one point in Oziel's testimony, defense lawyer Leslie Abramson rolled her eyes at the brothers' aunt, who was sitting in the audience. When jurors left, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg told Abramson to "behave professionally."
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. The parents were shot in the TV room of the family's mansion.
Prosecutors allege that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed, and are seeking the death penalty. The defense concedes the brothers killed their parents, but claims it was an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
Oziel has testified that Erik and Lyle Menendez described their roles in the killings during therapy sessions on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, saying they hated their parents and wanted to commit the "perfect crime."
The psychologist said he did not turn them in to police, however, because that would violate the rule of patient-therapist confidentiality. The brothers escaped detection for months, until Smyth tipped police to the confessions in March, 1990. They were taken into custody days later.
Oziel also testified last week that he told Smyth about the confessions shortly after the Oct. 31 session because he feared for her safety. He said he could not recall her being at his office that day.
"I'm positive she wasn't sitting on my desk or rubbing my neck," he testified Monday.
According to an appeals court opinion issued two years ago, Smyth said she overheard parts of the Oct. 31 session.
Oziel acknowledged Monday that Smyth was in the office waiting room Nov. 2, when the brothers filled in more details about the killings. Defense lawyers Michael Burt and Abramson called the testimony surprising--but Oziel retorted that he simply had never been asked before under oath whether she was there.
"She was there pursuant to her own initiative in coming, when I told her not to come," he said.
Burt pursued the issue of what Smyth knew, and when. In a March 7, 1990, phone call--apparently tape-recorded by Smyth--Smyth is heard saying that Oziel asked her to be at the office on Nov. 2, 1989, and that what she heard made her fearful.
Oziel responds: "Judalon, they might have (killed me). Get out of here. You were there."
The defense suggests that Oziel improperly let an outsider eavesdrop on therapy. But Oziel said that Smyth knew only what he told her.
Burt was not allowed to play for jurors the tape of a phone call in which Oziel suggested to Smyth that she disguise her voice, call his wife and say: "Hello, Laurel. This is Erik. You're in trouble. I'm going to kill you."
It's unclear how the tape was made, and Weisberg said that must be explained before jurors hear it.
What is not in dispute, according to phone records, is that Oziel and Smyth talked a lot in the fall of 1989. One call, on Oct. 6, 1989, lasted for 268 minutes, according to records.
Oziel said it was Smyth who was obsessive about the relationship, not him. He also said he was trying to extricate himself from the relationship, but that she was suicidal, and he was worried about her.
Burt said Monday that defense lawyers expect to call Smyth as a witness on behalf of Erik and Lyle Menendez, even though she is the person who led police to arrest them. The defense strategy is to let jurors compare her testimony with Oziel's.