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Did Not Kill Parents for Money, Menendez Testifies : Trial: Brother says he believed he had been written out of family's will. He admits offering to pay an ex-girlfriend to lie for him.

September 21, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Seeking to blunt the most damning evidence against him, Lyle Menendez testified Monday that he and his brother did not kill their parents for money, conceded that he confessed the slayings to his therapist and admitted he tried to bribe a girlfriend to lie for him.

Wrapping up five days of questioning by defense attorneys, Lyle Menendez confirmed that he offered his onetime girlfriend a "large sum of money" to be a defense witness and perjure herself by claiming that his father had made an unwanted sexual advance toward her. She declined.

Further aiming to soften the impact of the wide-ranging cross-examination set to begin today, the elder Menendez brother said he believed that he had been written out of the will--meaning he would not profit from the slayings. And he said that although he trusted therapist L. Jerome Oziel enough to confess the killings to him, he did not trust him enough to confide the sexual abuse claims at the core of the defense case.

Summing up his testimony so far, Lyle Menendez said he and his brother, Erik, felt "this incredible pressure and fear" before the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47.

"Then, suddenly, it was over," he said, after the brothers shot them in the den of the family's Beverly Hills mansion. "My parents were taken away. It was just my brother and I. We never got our act together in any way up until the time we got arrested."

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder. If convicted, they could draw the death penalty. Erik Menendez is due to follow his brother to the witness stand.

Prosecutors say the brothers killed out of hatred and greed.

The defense contends that the killings were an act of self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

Erik Menendez, defense lawyers have said, was abused by his father from ages 6 to 18. Lyle Menendez testified that his father abused him from ages 6 to 8 and that his mother abused him from ages 11 to 13.

Prosecutors, who have suggested that the claims of abuse are made up, had planned to play for jurors an interview they taped in November, 1992, with Lyle Menendez's former girlfriend, Jamie Pisarcik.

In a preemptive tactic, defense attorneys Monday played the powerful evidence that prosecutors have hinted at in court papers. According to a transcript of the tape, Pisarcik told prosecutors that Lyle Menendez asked her to lie and claim that Jose Menendez "made a pass" at her.

If she would do so, Pisarcik said, "there was going to be a large sum of money placed in my bank account," adding, "It was a bribe, I guess."

She said she told Lyle Menendez: "If that ever happened, I'd go right to the police."

He responded to her rejection by suggesting that a former attorney, Joel Isaacson of Beverly Hils, was at least aware of the offer. "That's what I thought you would say, and that's what I told Joe you would say, you would never do that," Lyle Menendez said on the tape.

Isaacson could not be reached for comment. Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg told jurors in court that they were not to infer any lawyer impropriety.

Lyle Menendez was asked Monday only one question about the tape--whether it related his conversation with Pisarcik accurately. He said it was accurate.

After court ended, defense attorney Michael Burt said the defense played the Pisarcik tape to head off the damage it could cause on cross-examination. "It's much better to take evidence that's controversial and deal with it in a very forthright fashion," he said.

For most of Monday afternoon, the defense sought to deal with Oziel's key testimony for the prosecution.

Oziel, who spent six days on the witness stand, said the brothers told him in therapy sessions on Oct. 31 and Nov. 2, 1989, about two months after the slayings, that they sought to commit the "perfect murder." Lyle Menendez said: "We never talked about the perfect stuff."

Oziel said the brothers killed their father because they hated him. "I said I hated him for dying and there were times I hated him for some of the things he did to my mom," Lyle Menendez said.

Oziel also said the brothers killed their suicidal mother because they pitied her. Lyle Menendez said the brothers said no such thing, contending that it was Oziel who told them "we'd probably done her a favor."

Lyle Menendez said the brothers made a calculated decision not to tell Oziel about claims of sexual abuse--a fact the prosecution has cited as evidence that this version of family history has been fabricated for the trial.

But Lyle Menendez said Monday: "I just didn't want to," adding that he now felt he had "betrayed my dad to some extent" by relating the allegations of sexual abuse in court.

He insisted that he and his brother never told the therapist they killed for money because they thought "we were out of the will."

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