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Menendez Gives Graphic Details of Night of Carnage : Trial: Pressed by prosecutor, he tells of reloading shotgun to shoot his mother as she crawled away.

September 24, 1993|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Saying that his mother seemed to be "sneaking" away, crawling around a coffee table after being shot several times, Lyle Menendez testified Thursday that he reloaded his shotgun and shot her once more.

Recalling again for jurors the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of his parents--but in vivid detail he had avoided in previous days of testimony--Lyle Menendez sighed and bowed his head as he told of shooting his father in the head, then noticing that his mother was still alive.

Dashing outside to reload, then sprinting back, he reached over the coffee table and fired, he said. He told police just hours later that his mother's death was a "great tragedy."

Elaborating on that comment Thursday, he said: "I was feeling bad and guilty about my mother dying."

As Deputy Dist. Atty. Pamela Bozanich neared the conclusion of her cross-examination, many of the day's questions were pointed at the grisly details of that evening.

Lyle Menendez, 25, and Erik Menendez, 22, are charged with first-degree murder in the shotgun slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, 47, in the TV room of the family's Beverly Hills mansion.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, contend that the brothers killed out of hatred and greed. The defense contends that the brothers lashed out in self-defense after years of physical, mental and sexual abuse.

During his first five days on the stand, Lyle Menendez was led through the killings by his attorney, Jill Lansing, saying that he mostly remembered smoke and noise.

During her first two days of cross-examination, Bozanich touched only occasionally on the slayings.

On Thursday, however, as Lyle Menendez seemed to grow tired from the pounding cross-examination, his voice weary, the prosecutor led him again through the killings--this time in detail that apparently was excruciating for the older Menendez brother. He frequently slumped in his chair and sighed loudly. During breaks, his head fell to his chest.

"I really don't have any particular memory of why I did some of these things that don't make particular sense," he protested when Bozanich tried repeatedly to push him beyond vague answers.

"I remember bursting into the room," he said. "I remember some very vague things and then I remember it being over."

Bozanich pressed him again. "When you went into that room and shot your parents, they were eating blueberries and ice cream?" she asked.

The issue of whether there were blueberries and ice cream in the room that night remains in hot dispute. Because the brothers are charged with the special circumstance of murder while lying in wait, the image of the parents enjoying such a desert would serve as a powerful suggestion of an ambush.

Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson objected to the prosecutor's question and Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg sustained the objection without explanation.

Undeterred, Bozanich showed Lyle Menendez a photo of the room taken after the killings, pointing out the items on the coffee table: a glass with liquid in it, a container with a spoon and a white substance, a Michael Jackson cassette tape, a cigarette lighter and some papers from UCLA, where Erik Menendez was due to enroll within weeks.

"What on this coffee table was threatening you?" she asked.

"Nothing," Lyle Menendez said.

Speaking of Jose Menendez, Bozanich said: "He didn't threaten you? He didn't have a weapon? He didn't do anything out of the ordinary?"

"Well, yes, he closed the doors," Lyle Menendez said, meaning the doors to the TV room. That simple act convinced him death was "more than near," he said.

Bozanich asked if closing the doors was the "last straw."

"It wasn't the last straw," he said. "It was the last thing I remember before I panicked."

The brothers ran outside to Erik Menendez's car, loaded their shotguns and ran back in, toward the TV room, Lyle Menendez said.

"I just remember going in, it was dark . . . someone was coming toward me on the right, like a shadow," he said, adding that the figure turned out to be his father. He said he began firing wildly.

Jose Menendez "was not rising. He was standing. I just kept firing," the son said.

Someone else was off to his left. "I'm not sure at what point I realized the person to my left was my mother," he said.

After firing several shots, Lyle Menendez said, he put the 12-gauge shotgun against the back of his father's head and pulled the trigger.

"Was he seated or standing?" Bozanich asked.

"I guess I was over him," he said. "Because I was over a little to the side of the couch."

"I didn't put it up against his head on purpose," he added. ". . . It was just a rush and me firing."

"When you went to the area behind the sofa and unintentionally put the gun against your father's head and pulled the trigger, where was your mother?" Bozanich asked.

"She was sort of sneaking around the side of the coffee table," he said.

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