LOS ANGELES -- Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents, then confessed to a therapist that they were driven by hatred and the desire to be free from their father's "domination and impossible standards," prosecutors said as the brothers went on trial for murder.
In their opening statements yesterday, defense attorneys countered that what the brothers wanted to be free from was physical, emotional and sexual abuse. After threatening to expose the abuse, the brothers killed their parents in the living room of the family's $4 million Beverly Hills, Calif., mansion, fearing their parents were about to kill them, defense lawyers said.
"This case will take you behind the facade of rich houses, fancy cars, wealthy friends and impressive social engagements" of Beverly Hills, said Jill Lansing, Lyle Menendez's lead attorney. The Menendez house, she claimed, was like a "war zone."
Prosecutors took a different view. "But for a few mistakes, this was almost the perfect murder," said Pamela Bozanich, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney.
Lyle Menendez, 25, appeared to show no emotion as Ms. Lansing alleged his father had sodomized him and his mother had chased him around the house with a knife. But, later outside the courtroom, Ms. Lansing said Lyle Menendez had cried softly. Erik Menendez, 22, repeatedly wiped tears from his eyes and stared intently at the floor.
Both are charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of their parents, Jose Menendez, 45, the wealthy chief executive of a Los Angeles video distribution company, and Kitty Menendez, 47. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.