Prosecutors in the retrial of the Menendez brothers on Monday previewed a high-tech reconstruction of the Beverly Hills mansion crime scene that shows Jose and Kitty Menendez were executed by their sons, who then shot them in the knees to make the killings look like a mob hit.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David P. Conn said he hopes to show the jury the reconstruction--which includes a CD-ROM slide show and gruesome autopsy photos--to prove that the killings were premeditated, and that Erik and Lyle Menendez waited until they could catch their parents by surprise.
The intent is to undercut the brothers' self-defense claim that resulted in two juries splitting between murder and manslaughter convictions in the first trial. For example, while testimony during the first trial did not present a total number of shots that hit the parents, the prosecution now contends that Jose Menendez was shot just three times and his wife, Kitty, nine.
If, as they have claimed, the brothers killed their parents out of fear for their own lives after Lyle threatened to expose his father's sexual abuse of Eric, "why would someone who was supposedly afraid of their parents have to fire so many shots at Kitty?" Conn asked outside the courtroom during a break. "There were just two kinds of shots--shots to the head and shots to the knees," he said.
The defense is seeking to block the reconstruction of the crime, contending that prosecution witness Roger McCarthy, a mechanical engineer who heads the Menlo Park-based Failure Analysis Associates, is not qualified to give expert ballistics or crime scene testimony. McCarthy's company has also provided reconstructions of the Oklahoma City bombing and the Brandon Lee shooting on the movie set of "The Crow," McCarthy testified during a hearing Monday.
Defense attorney Barry Levin predicted that Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg will not allow McCarthy's testimony. "The guy's a poet, that's all he is. He's a poet getting dangerous with a computer," Levin said.
The retrial is scheduled to begin Oct. 11, but it remains uncertain whether the second trial will receive the same gavel-to-gavel television coverage as the first. Weisberg said he will rule later this week on a motion by lawyers for Lyle Menendez to keep the cameras out.
Erik and Lyle Menendez, now 24 and 27, respectively, face the death penalty if found guilty of the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun murders of their parents. They claim they killed in self-defense, afraid after years of psychological and sexual abuse that their parents would kill them rather than risk a public airing of dark family secrets. The first trial ended in 1994 with hung juries.
At the first trial, prosecutors did not dwell on crime scene evidence because the brothers admitted shooting their parents. But the battle over the reconstruction represents the prosecution's new look at old evidence. McCarthy's reconstruction differed radically from versions of the crime scene during the brothers' first trial.
Among the crucial differences:
* McCarthy testified that the parents were seated on a couch in the TV room when the first shots were fired--contradicting earlier trial testimony by the brothers and Deputy Coroner Irwin Golden that they were standing.
* The fatal shot to the back of Jose Menendez's head came early in the sequence of shots, rather than later as Golden had testified.
* Kitty Menendez was standing when she was first shot, then lying on her back when she was shot in the face, contradicting testimony by elder son Lyle Menendez that she was moaning and crawling around a coffee table.
* And, finally, McCarthy concluded that both parents already had suffered fatal wounds when they were shot in the knees.
Deputy Dist. Atty. David P. Conn said McCarthy's reconstruction showed Erik and Lyle Menendez methodically "massacred" their parents rather than firing randomly in fear. The final shots to the couple's knees, Conn said, are "consistent with the defendants immediately saying it was a Mafia hit."
McCarthy demonstrated his reconstruction on a large screen, using a CD-ROM slide show that featured autopsy photos and computer models of the couple and the angles of the shots fired.
Both brothers averted their eyes from the most gruesome photographs, and Erik Menendez appeared to become upset. Lyle Menendez studied juror questionnaires and other legal papers.
At their first trial, both brothers initially said they remembered little except shooting and smoke. Later, they gave up other details under cross-examination. But McCarthy testified Monday that the wounds, the pools of blood and other evidence showed this scenario:
Jose and Kitty Menendez were seated on the couch when the first shot was fired from Jose's left. Buckshot pellets passed through Jose's left and right arms and into Kitty's left breast. "It's the only shot that makes sense," McCarthy said.
The second shot was a contact shot to the back of Jose's head. Death was immediate. The third shot, fired at where Kitty had been sitting, missed and passed through a French door and lodged in a tree. Kitty was standing when caught by the fourth shot, which came from the right and destroyed much of her face. She fell to the floor, and the fifth shot hit her right arm and hand. The sixth shot was fired from the same angle as the fifth, striking her in the clavicle.
The seventh shot was to Jose's left knee, and the eighth, ninth and 10th were fired at Kitty's knees.
The 11th and 12th shots, McCarthy said, were birdshot, indicating that the brothers had reloaded. Those shots were directed at Kitty's head--to the back of the ear and into her cheek.