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Menendez Defense Witness Blasts Therapist's Character : Court: L. Jerome Oziel is called 'greedy, malicious, deceitful' by a secretary testifying in murder trial. Much of her attack takes place without jury present.

September 02, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The chief prosecution witness in the murder trial of Lyle and Erik Menendez is "a snake, a back-stabber, a liar" and makes slain cult leader David Koresh "look like a saint," a defense witness said Wednesday.

Resuming their attack on the credibility of Beverly Hills psychologist L. Jerome Oziel, defense lawyers summoned a secretary at a business Oziel with which was once involved and asked--in a hearing without jurors present--whether he was an honest man.

Pamela Lisa LiCausi said Oziel was "greedy, malicious, deceitful. He preys, manipulates and brainwashes vulnerable people. He has no ethics. He has no morals. . . . He makes David Koresh look like a saint. He scares me. He really scares me."

Over prosecution objections, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg allowed LiCausi to offer her opinion to jurors--in toned-down form. She told jurors: "He is extremely dishonest."

Oziel was not in court for LiCausi's comments. He testified earlier in the trial that Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, confessed to him that they had killed their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47.

The sons, who shot the parents Aug. 20, 1989, in the living room of the family's $4-million Beverly Hills mansion, face first-degree murder charges in the shotgun slayings. If convicted, they could be sentenced to death.

Prosecutors, who built their case around Oziel's testimony, contend the brothers killed out of hatred and greed. The defense concedes the brothers carried out the killings but contends they were acts of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Both brothers are expected to testify in their own behalf. Defense lawyer Jill Lansing said Wednesday that Lyle Menendez would go first--perhaps late next week, but possibly not until Sept. 13.

The first two weeks of the defense case have been marked by a parade of neighbors, teachers, coaches and friends, all commenting on the character of Jose and Kitty Menendez or describing what Lyle and Erik Menendez were like as young boys.

Teresita (Terry) Baralt, 53, of West Windsor, N.J., Jose Menendez's oldest sister, testified Wednesday. She said Lyle Menendez was standing up at 5 months, walking at 7 months and riding a bicycle without training wheels by age 3.

At 18 months, she said, Erik Menendez used to walk out of his home and cross a suburban street to get to her house, where he would arrive without his mother's knowledge and "with his diapers halfway down his legs." Jurors laughed at the image.

Though it seemed funny, Baralt said, it showed that Kitty Menendez was not a protective mother. Kitty Menendez had a "theory," Baralt said: "Children, when you leave them alone, they learn to defend themselves."

Amid the descriptions of life in the Menendez house, the defense case has been punctuated by recurring attacks on Oziel's character, prompted by his testimony that Lyle and Erik Menendez confessed to him on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, about two months after the slayings.

Oziel never went to the police. His lover, Judalon Smyth, tipped Beverly Hills detectives to the sessions in March, 1990, and the brothers were taken into custody within days.

A legal wrangle broke out Wednesday over a tape recording made by Oziel of a Dec. 11, 1989, counseling session.

Because of the legal rule of patient-therapist confidentiality, the tape remains sealed. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich urged Weisberg to unseal it.

In a hearing without jurors present, Bozanich argued that the brothers had made their mental state a key issue in the trial by virtue of the claim of self-defense. That, she said, meant prosecutors were entitled to know about their mental state on Dec. 11.

Defense lawyers, who have heard the tape--prosecutors have not--opposed its release.

Weisberg said he wanted to wait until the brothers testify before deciding the issue.

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