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Tearful Lyle Menendez Says Fear Led to Slayings : Trial: Brother details alleged sexual abuse. He says his father had threatened to kill him if he told anyone.

September 11, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A sobbing Lyle Menendez testified Friday that he and his brother shotgunned their parents to death four years ago, but not for money nor as a pay-back for years of abuse.

"We were afraid," he said.

Taking the witness stand for the first time in public, Lyle Menendez said no more of the killings, leaving the details of the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings for later testimony. Instead, speaking in a soft voice with a slight New Jersey accent, he talked of his life, and of the sexual and emotional abuse he said he endured--and dished out--within his family.

His father, Jose Menendez, sexually abused him from age 6 to 8, he testified.

And Lyle Menendez said he, in turn, sexually molested his younger brother, Erik Menendez.

His scornful mother, Kitty Menendez, knew his father abused him, but did not stop it, Lyle Menendez said. Instead, Lyle Menendez testified, she said he had to be punished, often telling him that having a child ruined her life.

But Lyle Menendez said he loved both his parents. And through tears, he said of his father: "I was the most important thing in his life."

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder in the slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47. The sons shot the parents in the den of the family's Beverly Hills mansion. If convicted, the brothers could be sentenced to death.

Erik Menendez also cried frequently Friday as his older brother testified. Jurors showed no emotion through the long-awaited testimony.

Prosecutors allege that the sons killed out of hatred and greed and the desire to commit the "perfect crime." The defense calls the killings an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

With one of the defendants scheduled to take the witness stand, would-be spectators began lining up at 4 a.m. outside the Van Nuys courthouse Friday, hoping to get one of the nine public seats in the tiny courtroom.

Wearing a navy blue sweater and a light blue shirt, Lyle Menendez was calm and composed as he testified before both of the juries hearing the case, one for each brother.

Prepared for weeks by his attorneys for this day, he stayed calm as he related the "good memories" he had of his parents. He smiled as he recalled playing with his father and a puppy in the snow. His voice filled with awe as he said his mother tended to injured birds. "She was just amazing with birds," he said.

Visiting with grandparents was a treat, Lyle Menendez said. Jose Menendez's father and mother provided a "never-ending stream of foods we weren't supposed to eat." The grandfather watched TV, climbed trees, clambered after squirrels with the grandsons and told them stories.

"It was like a different world from my house," Lyle Menendez said.

As his testimony turned to the graphic details of that "different world," Lyle Menendez's composure gave way to tears. At times, he could not speak because he was crying so hard, and he frequently buried his head in his hands or against the sleeve of his sweater.

He testified that his father began molesting him when he was 6 with massages and fondling after sports. Jose Menendez would compare the experience to "Greek soldiers having had sex with each other before going into battle so they would have a stronger connection," he said.

Jose Menendez also called the experience "bonding" and said it cemented a "special" father-son relationship, Lyle Menendez said. But his father warned him that "bad things would happen to me if I told anybody," Lyle Menendez said. "And I told him I never would."

Jose Menendez also took pictures of his naked sons, and two photos, one of Lyle Menendez and one of Erik Menendez, were displayed Friday for jurors. Those pictures, Lyle Menendez said, never included the sons' faces, only their bodies from the waist down.

At age 7, Lyle Menendez said, he began to perform oral sex on Jose Menendez.

At age 8, he said, his father would strip his son's pants off and "have what we called object sessions," using a toothbrush or a shaving brush to "just (play) with me."

About that time, Lyle Menendez said through sobs, he would take his younger brother out to the woods where "I played with Erik the same way. And I'm sorry."

It was about then, he continued, that Jose Menendez moved on to forcible anal sex. Lyle Menendez said this hurt him and he asked his father to stop, and also told his mother what had happened.

"I told her to tell dad to leave me alone, that he keeps touching me," Lyle Menendez said. "She told me to stop it and that I was exaggerating--and that my dad has to punish me when I do things wrong. She told me he loved me."

About age 8, Lyle Menendez said, the sexual abuse stopped. He did not say why.

As a child, he said, the only other person he told about the abuse was his cousin, Diane Vander Molen, who testified earlier in the trial.

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