'Abuse excuse' killers keep the court show rolling

Edward Helmore in Los Angeles looks at the next legal blockbuster to grip the US

As the trial of OJ Simpson begins to wind down, the Los Angeles courts are bracing themselves for a rerun of another headline-grabbing case, the retrial of Erik and Lyle Menendez for the murder of their millionaire parents.

Jury selection begins today but, unlike the first trial, which ended in two hung juries, this time the proceedings will not be televised.

The original trial set the standards for both the OJ-style gavel-to-gavel television coverage and for what has become known as the abuse excuse. The two brothers, now aged 24 and 27, will again present the defence that they shot their wealthy parents in August 1989 after years of sexual abuse during which they feared for their lives.

They testified that on the night of the murders they believed their parents were about to kill them rather than allow the dark secret out.

So they killed them first, as the couple watched television in the family's Beverly Hills mansion.

The prosecution, which is now better prepared for this line of defence, will contend that the defendants' claims of sexual abuse are just the manipulative machinations of two cynical killers who acted out of hatred and greed.

For the retrial, Judge Stanley Weisberg has said that he intends sharply to limit the defence case and does not intend to hear the same parade of teachers, coaches and friends of the defendants who portrayed the Menendez house as a grim place where hugs and smiles were rare.

In spite of the limitations imposed by the judge, the defence, which will again be presented by the lawyer Leslie Abramson, will turn on the question that Lyle Menendez himself asked in a letter to his brother from jail: To what extent are admitted killers responsible for their actions?

The strategy, according to Mr Abramson, is "absolutely authentic and appropriate and legal and real."

The prosecution has that said it will follow a broad theme that it did not stress in the first trial: even if the brothers were abused, was it necessary to kill their parents?

"Any juror would have to wonder how the defendants would claim it was necessary to kill their parents under these circumstances," said deputy district attorney David Conn.

The prosecution will not call the therapist, L Jerome Oziel, to whom the brothers admitted the killings: in the original trial his credibility as a chief prosecution witness suffered after details of his extramarital affairs were made public.

Instead, the prosecution will present an audiotape which was made by Mr Oziel in which the brothers say that they killed their mother to "put her out of her misery" and that their father deserved to die because of his infidelity.

Despite the ruling that the abuse excuse may be used, the trial of the Menendez brothers appears unlikely to deteriorate into the protracted legal wrangling that has characterised the Simpson case.

The Menendez brothers are now broke and are being defended principally by public defenders.

There is one other difference: instead of favouring yellow sweaters to make themselves look warmer and younger, the brothers have elected to wear shirts and ties.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR administrator - London - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Office and HR Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Middleweight Designer

£25000 - £26500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The On-Site division of the UK'...

Sauce Recruitment: Financial Accountant -Home Entertainment

£200 - £250 per day: Sauce Recruitment: 6 month contract (Initially)A global e...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project