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Menendez Brothers' Therapist Loses License

Inquiry: L. Jerome Oziel allegedly broke confidentiality rules and had sex with patients. He admitted no wrongdoing.

January 04, 1997|ALAN ABRAHAMSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Erik and Lyle Menendez's Beverly Hills therapist, who heard them confess to killing their parents and then became a key witness in the first of the brothers' two murder trials, was stripped of his psychology license Friday.

L. Jerome Oziel, who had been accused by a state panel of breaking confidentiality rules and having sex with female patients, surrendered his license to the state Department of Consumer Affairs' Board of Psychology.

In a deal that was agreed to Sept. 16 but became final Friday, Oziel admitted no wrongdoing.

Oziel agreed to the arrangement because he no longer lives in California and has not practiced psychology for the last few years, according to his attorney, Bradley W. Brunon.

"It just made no sense to come back to California and spend many thousands of dollars defending a license he doesn't use in a state he doesn't reside in," Brunon said Friday.

Oziel, 50, received his doctorate in clinical psychology from Arizona State University in 1972. He lived in South Carolina for two years, then moved to Beverly Hills, where he began a private practice while teaching for a while at USC.

He became an expert in phobias of various sorts but, as he related in court, the majority of his professional articles dealt with sex-related disorders.

And, he testified, in Beverly Hills there was no shortage of would-be patients.

With his Beverly Hills cachet, Oziel was a natural for TV shows seeking experts in psychology. He said in court that producers sought him out for appearances on programs ranging from "The John Davidson Show" in 1980 to "48 Hours" in 1990.

The Menendez family also sought him out, he testified, after Erik Menendez was implicated in a pair of burglaries in Calabasas in 1988.

At the time, Oziel's license was on probation for what the State Board of Psychology considered an improper "dual relationship." According to court documents, Oziel had once exchanged therapy for work done around his house by a patient, a construction worker.

On Aug. 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik's parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, were shot and killed in the family's Beverly Hills home.

In sessions a few months later, the brothers confessed the slayings to Oziel.

At the brothers' first trial, in 1993, Oziel testified about the confessions for the prosecution. He then endured a withering cross-examination designed to undermine his credibility and deflect attention from the slayings--most of it having to do with the stormy details of his extramarital affair with a woman named Judalon Smyth.

Later in the trial, Smyth took the stand to relate more tawdry details--such as the IOU she once made him for 500 sex acts.

The first trial proceeded before two juries, one for each brother, and ended with both panels deadlocked.

In July 1993, just a few days before Oziel had taken the stand for the prosecution, the state board alleged that he had allowed Smyth to surreptitiously listen in on his therapy sessions with the Menendez brothers.

It also alleged that he allowed her to audiotape sessions he had with the brothers and make copies of those tapes, and that he improperly gave her prescription drugs and assaulted her.

The state board further accused Oziel of engaging in a sexual relationship with another woman who served as a baby-sitter, of improperly giving her prescription medicine and of assaulting her. When the board's complaint was filed, Oziel denied all charges. He could not be reached Friday for comment.

At the second trial, which played out before one jury, prosecutors did not put Oziel on the stand--denying the defense the opportunity to focus the case on him.

Instead, prosecutors played a Dec. 11, 1989, audiotape of the brothers confessing the killings to Oziel. Among the comments on the tape was one in which Lyle Menendez allowed that he missed his parents but added, "I miss having my dog around, if I can make such a gross analogy."

Jurors convicted both brothers of first-degree murder last year. Superior Court Judge Stanley M. Weisberg sentenced Lyle Menendez, now 28, and Erik Menendez, 26, to life in prison.

In a brief filed with an appeals court, defense lawyers claimed that Weisberg erred in allowing jurors to hear the Dec. 11, 1989, tape. The appeal is pending.

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