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Menendez Brothers' Attorneys File for a New Trial

Crime: Judge should have allowed abuse defense and possible manslaughter verdict, lawyers contend. Prosecutors expect no reversal.

June 01, 1996|ANN W. O'NEILL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense attorneys for convicted murderers Lyle and Erik Menendez filed legal papers Friday seeking a new trial for the brothers, contending that the judge in the case erred by refusing to allow the jury to consider possible manslaughter verdicts.

The defense claimed, as expected, that Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg wrongly eliminated the brothers' cornerstone defense theory--that they killed their parents in the honest but mistaken belief the parents were about to kill them to prevent disclosure of a family incest secret.

"The court should grant a new trial because the killings here were hasty, impetuous, rash and impulsive," defense attorneys for both brothers claimed in a joint legal motion. "The killings in this case were senseless; they were not, however, premeditated and deliberate."

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Erik Menendez, 25, and Lyle Menendez, 28, were found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances on March 20. On April 17, the jury spared their lives, instead recommending the brothers should spend the rest of their lives in prison with no chance of parole.

Entertainment executive Jose Menendez, 45, and his wife, Kitty, 47, were watching television when their sons burst into the den of the family's Beverly Hills mansion on Aug. 20, 1989, and began firing their Mossberg shotguns.

The defense's motion for a new trial struck on a familiar defense theme from the six-year Menendez legal drama--that the brothers were mentally conditioned to kill their parents by a lifetime of abuse and domestic violence.

"The defendants were abused, tortured and maligned by their parents over their entire lives," the legal papers said. "The cumulative impact of this abuse was sufficient to cloud the defendants' judgment to the point where meaningful premeditation regarding their actions became impossible."

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Prosecutor David P. Conn said he was confident that the first-degree murder convictions will be upheld. Persuading a trial judge to reverse himself on rulings made during a trial is rare, he noted. "It should be an easy one for the judge," Conn said. "He crossed all his Ts and dotted all his I's. I don't think they have anything."

The defense also contended that the judge erred in denying its request for separate juries or separate trials; erred in refusing to move the case from Van Nuys, where they said juries tend to be more prone toward conviction and the death penalty than their counterparts at the downtown Criminal Courts Building; and allowed prosecutors to systematically exclude female jurors from the panel.

Defense attorneys also claimed that Weisberg erred in allowing jurors to hear the Dec. 11, 1989, tape of the brothers confessing the killings to therapist L. Jerome Oziel, and to view so-called escape plans seized from Lyle's cell.

They further argued that Weisberg unfairly limited the defense by refusing to allow them to call about three dozen witnesses to testify about the Menendezes' family life.

Weisberg will consider the arguments on July 2, the same day he is scheduled to formally sentence the brothers to life in prison without parole.

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