Conceding that he had lied repeatedly to cover up his role in the shotgun slayings of his parents, Lyle Menendez nonetheless insisted Tuesday that he was telling the truth in court--that he and his brother killed out of raw fear.
Under a piercing cross-examination, Lyle Menendez admitted that he had lied when he called 911 to report that he had stumbled upon the bodies, lied frequently to police, lied to his tennis coach, lied to newspaper reporters and even lied for years to his family.
His father's motto, he recalled, was, "Lie, cheat, steal but win." Testifying with his life at stake, however, Menendez said he was now being honest: "The decision was made to say exactly what happened, the bad details as well as the good things. There were times I lied to people. I hope people understand."
Lyle Menendez, who had spent weeks being prepared by his lawyers for this day, had an answer for every question. He spoke in a calm, steady voice. He never lost his poise. He also acknowledged that jurors may judge his answers as lacking.
"We may go off to prison--very likely," he said.
Lyle Menendez, 25, and his brother Erik, 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 sons shot the parents in the den of the family's Beverly Hills mansion.
The defense contends that they killed their parents in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse. Prosecutors say they killed out of hatred and greed.
Defense attorneys left the courthouse Tuesday without comment. Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich said, "I think the points that need to be made have been made, and will continue to be made."
Lyle Menendez is due back on the stand today for further cross-examination.
Under defense questioning the previous five days, he described his father as dominating control freak, his mother as disturbed and his childhood as miserable.
Getting her turn at him at last, Bozanich fired off bursts of short, sharp questions that challenged his version of events.
"You almost got away with it, didn't you?" the prosecutor asked.
"You characterize it that way," Lyle Menendez responded. "You think it's funny. But my brother's and my life was miserable before we got arrested. It's obviously not great now. . . . In some ways, being arrested is a relief."
He admitted, however, that "not every moment" of life in the Menendez household was burdensome.
He said he and his brother enjoyed country clubs, private schools and vacations around the United States and in Europe.
He said he had gone to a speech pathologist and had a hairpiece. As a teen-ager, he said, he never held a job. Always, he said, he was funded by his father with "no concern for money."
In the summer of 1989, he said, his life was going better than ever. But that Aug. 15, he said, Erik 18, confided to him that he had been abused by their father since the age of 6.
Lyle Menendez testified last week that his father molested him from age 6 to 8 and his mother sexually abused him from age 11 to 13.
Prosecutors contend that the abuse is a fiction. "Is there anything I can ask you or say to you that's going to get you to say those allegations are untrue?" Bozanich asked at the start of her cross-examination.
"They are true," Lyle Menendez retorted.
Bozanich quickly reminded jurors the brothers had killed "the two people who could come in and say they're not true."
Lyle Menendez said he confronted his father Aug. 17, 1989, threatening to tell outsiders about the abuse. But he left the conversation feeling as if his father would kill the sons rather than endure public humiliation, he testified.
"It seems impossible to believe my dad would choose to get rid of his sons," Lyle Menendez said. "But that's what we believed. . . . He was willing to kill me to preserve what he had built for himself."
"You were your father's proudest creation?" Bozanich asked.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You were his namesake?"
"You were a Menendez?"
"You really believed your father was going to destroy you?"
On Aug. 18, the brothers went to San Diego and bought shotguns for protection, he said. The night of Aug. 19, they went on a family shark-fishing trip, convinced their parents would kill them at sea.
He said they believed Jose Menendez would arrange the killing so it would be a "silent thing" and explain his sons' disappearance by saying they had run away.
Lyle Menendez said the options seemed limited. "Nobody in my family would stand up to my father. I didn't want to go to the police. I didn't want to run away."
On the night of Aug. 20, the brothers were again convinced the parents were about to kill them, Lyle Menendez testified.
Frantic, he said, they shot first. Jose Menendez was shot six times, once in the back of the head. Kitty Menendez was shot 10 times, once in the cheek.
"I loved my mother," Lyle Menendez testified Tuesday.