Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson has sent supporters of the Menendez brothers an unusual solicitation letter in hopes of raising more than $1 million for the brothers' retrial.
In a letter dated March 11 and sent from her law office under the banner "Erik G. Menendez Legal Defense Fund," Abramson urges "all those who expressed support for Erik," meaning those nationwide who have sent him about 3,000 letters, "to contribute what they can."
The letter, which an expert said was unusual but within the guidelines of legal ethics, also says: "If I were rich I would gladly represent Erik again for free. But the harsh reality is that I support a family and am already seriously in debt because of the inadequacy of the fee I received to represent Erik in the first trial."
It adds: "We need to raise over $1 million to finance the case solely with contributions."
The letter formalizes a money-raising campaign that Abramson launched in TV interviews moments after the first trial of the Menendez brothers ended in January with separate juries, one for each brother, deadlocked between murder and lesser manslaughter charges.
Erik Menendez, 23, and Lyle Menendez, 26, admitted on the stand that they used a shotgun to kill their parents Aug. 20, 1989, in the TV room of the family's Beverly Hills home.
The brothers said they killed out of fear after years of abuse. Prosecutors contend that the brothers murdered out of hatred and greed for the parents' $14-million estate.
Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg has scheduled an April 15 hearing to set a new trial date.
Meanwhile, prosecutors apparently are pursuing possible new evidence relating to Lyle Menendez.
At the first trial, one of the older brother's former girlfriends, Traci Baker, testified about a dinner at which family members seemed afraid that Kitty Menendez was trying to poison their food. A letter purportedly written by Lyle Menendez to Baker details the dinner and says, "We will decide later around what date this incident occurred."
That letter surfaced too late for prosecutors to use in the first trial, but they ordered Baker to appear this week before a county grand jury, sources said Friday.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David Conn, the chief prosecutor in the case, declined Friday to confirm a grand jury investigation. He did say that prosecutors obtained warrants and searched Baker's apartment, her lawyer's office and even the lawyer's briefcase as he sat outside the grand jury room.
Conn declined, however, to comment on the searches. Baker's lawyer, Santa Monica attorney Paul Gabbert, could not be reached Friday for comment.
Abramson did not return phone calls Friday seeking comment.But she has said repeatedly since the trial ended that she needs more cash to stay on the case.
In legal briefs, Abramson has asked taxpayers to pay her $100 per hour, up to $250,000, for the retrial. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Cecil Mills, who supervises the county's criminal courts, turned her down two weeks ago, saying she still has a valid contract.
According to court records, the parents' estate has paid her $740,000 in fees and expenses; an aunt paid her $50,000 more from an investment account maintained for Erik Menendez.
The estate also paid $740,000 for Lyle Menendez's defense. Two public defenders will represent the older brother at the second trial.
Last week, Abramson asked Mills to reconsider. He said he would hear her request on April 5.
Acknowledging in the fund-raising letter that her prospects for public funds are uncertain, Abramson says: "If we have to rely on court funding alone it is clear that we will not have enough money to do in the next trial what we were able to do in the first and we may lose for want of funds."