Building a foundation for the defense case, a cousin testified Tuesday that the parents of Lyle and Erik Menendez were violent and would fight with each other, whack their sons with a belt and fling glassware around the kitchen.
The father, Jose Menendez, would whip his sons with a belt until they were bruised, according to the brothers' cousin Brian A. (Alan) Andersen, who lived with the Menendez family for several summers. Jose Menendez also would drag the brothers into their rooms and lock them there for hours, Andersen said.
The mother, Kitty Menendez, had immensely bad rages, Andersen said. She would clench her knuckles and grit her teeth while her neck veins would bulge, he said, standing up to show jurors how she looked. She would go to the kitchen cupboards and whip glass cups and saucers into the sink, he said.
Neither of the brothers, who are on trial in the murder of their parents, showed visible emotion as their cousin testified in Van Nuys Superior Court. "Emotion was something you did not show" in the Menendez household, Andersen said. "It was considered a sign of weakness."
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 shot in the den of the family's $4-million Beverly Hills mansion.
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 asserts it was an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.
Andersen, 31, of Lisle, Ill., the son of Kitty Menendez's brother, said he lived with the Menendez family during three summers in the 1970s, but saw no evidence of sexual abuse. When Lyle and Erik Menendez were young, he said, they did shower with their father after tennis lessons.
And, Andersen said, "as soon as Jose took either one of the boys into their room, the door was locked behind them, and Kitty made clear you did not go down the hallway."
Some of Andersen's testimony covered a period before Erik Menendez was born. He said Erik Menendez was a sweet baby and a happy-go-lucky child of 4--but that he saw a radical difference in him at age 6, when he seemed withdrawn and introverted.
Defense lawyers contend that Jose Menendez sexually abused his younger son from the age of 6 to 18.
Most of Andersen's testimony served primarily to set the scene for what life was like in the Menendez household.
He said he was not hit by either Jose or Kitty Menendez, but was verbally disciplined and sometimes locked in his room. Andersen said the brothers were also locked up and that while helping them clean their room he once found a Tupperware container filled with feces under a bed.
With the defense just beginning its case--Andersen was the third defense witness after four weeks of prosecution evidence--Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg warned the brothers' lawyers to maintain their focus on evidence that is germane to the murder charge.
"Every time someone picked his nose and the father slapped his hand, that's not going to be before the jury," the judge said. He added: "This is not a novel, where someone's life history is put before a jury. This is a trial."
Andersen was not, for example, permitted to testify that Kitty Menendez once made French toast for Lyle Menendez and for Andersen--and used 18 eggs in the recipe.
Defense lawyers Jill Lansing characterized that as evidence of the family's "bizarre rules about food." Weisberg said it was irrelevant to a charge of murder.
Andersen was allowed to testify that dinner time at the Menendez house was tense.
"It was very much like a 'Jeopardy' setting with Jose quizzing the kids with the questions of the day. Answers were needed quickly," he said, snapping his fingers in imitation of Jose Menendez.
"And what if they didn't know the answers?" defense lawyer Jill Lansing asked.
"They were instructed to put down their knife and fork and go find the answer in a newspaper or encyclopedia," he said, adding moments later, "It was a very tense time. I did not enjoy digesting my food at the dinner table."
An activity that Jose Menendez apparently enjoyed, Andersen said, was teaching his sons to box. The brothers--9 and 6 at the time--would use pillows for gloves and throw punches at the 16-year-old Andersen, whom Jose Menendez had ordered down on his knees as a target.
It was a good release for Lyle Menendez, who would otherwise take his anger out on his stuffed animals and rip them apart, Andersen said. Jose Menendez taught his sons to hit in the back or below the belt, Andersen said, and instructed that "the element of surprise was a factor."
But, Andersen said, the primary purpose for boxing was simple: "Self-defense."