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Movie Called Factor in Menendez Killings : Trial: TV film on Billionaire Boys Club inspired brothers to kill parents, prosecutors say outside juries' presence. Brothers' defense lawyers to begin their case next week.

August 14, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As they neared the end of their case against Lyle and Erik Menendez, prosecutors alleged Friday that the brothers were inspired to kill their parents by a made-for-TV movie about the Billionaire Boys Club.

The prosecution's chief witness had earlier testified that the brothers hatched their plot to kill after watching a TV movie "on the BBC." Police and prosecutors had assumed the initials meant the British Broadcasting Corp., but they were wrong, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Lester Kuriyama.

Kuriyama said outside the jury's presence that just three weeks before the Menendez slayings, NBC aired a movie based on the Billionaire Boys Club, a group of Los Angeles' most privileged young men who turned to murder in the mid-1980s.

The similarities are striking between the fictionalized movie and the real-life killings of Jose and Kitty Menendez, Kuriyama said. Just like one of the on-screen killers, Erik Menendez bought a Jeep and wore a Rolex watch. Watching the movie "sent chills up my spine," Kuriyama said.

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, could not suppress smiles as Kuriyama sought unsuccessfully to persuade Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg to allow the movie played for jurors.

"You going to sell popcorn?" the judge asked with a wry smile. He ruled that Kuriyama could tell jurors that a movie had aired on NBC on July 30 and 31, 1989, that it had the initials "BBC" and that the plot involved a son who killed a father.

That will be one of prosecutors' last unfinished bits of business when the trial resumes Monday in the case against Erik Menendez. The prosecution formally rested Friday in the case against Lyle Menendez. Two juries are hearing the case, one for each brother.

The parents, Jose Menendez, 45, and Kitty Menendez, 47, were slain in the TV room of the family's Beverly Hills mansion. Jose Menendez was chief executive of Live Entertainment, a Van Nuys video distribution firm.

Prosecutors contend that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed, and are seeking the death penalty. The defense concedes that the brothers killed the parents but alleges that it was an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

"We had to fight tooth and nail for every piece of evidence we put in," Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich said. "But we got it in, and it's intact."

So far, prosecutors have presented 25 witnesses, but they have made it plain that their case revolves around Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel, the brothers' therapist. He testified that the brothers confessed to him on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, about two months after the killings.

It was Oziel who said the brothers were inspired by the movie "on the BBC."

Oziel was on the witness stand for six days, ending his testimony Wednesday. For four of those six days, defense attorneys quizzed Oziel about an extramarital affair he had with Judalon Smyth, who tipped Beverly Hills police to the confessions in March, 1990. The brothers were taken into custody days later.

The defense strategy was to turn Oziel's appearance into a trial within a trial--with the focus on the therapist's character and credibility. "The defense tried to put on a cheap edition of Divorce Court," Bozanich said Friday, calling it a mere "diversionary fire."

"And now they're going to put the parents on trial," Bozanich said, referring to the defense case, scheduled to begin Monday. Defense lawyers said in their opening statements July 20 that the father was domineering and aggressive, the mother secretive and suicidal.

"Since (the parents) are dead," Bozanich said, "they can't say much about it, can they?"

Leslie Abramson, Erik Menendez's lead attorney, put it differently. "Now we start talking about what really happened," she said.

Each of the brothers will testify, defense lawyers have said. The defense also plans to call about 90 other witnesses, mostly family members, friends and experts in the field of child abuse and parricide.

Jose Menendez's sister, Marta Menendez Cano, 51, of West Palm Beach, Fla., may be the first defense witness, lawyers for both brothers said.

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