Menendez brothers' trial hinges on tape: Two rich young men who shot their parents have gained supporters as their bizarre story unfolded. Now the two juries must decide, reports Phil Reeves

DESPITE mountains of evidence and scores of witnesses, the trial of Erik and Lyle Menendez, accused of murdering their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion for their dollars 14m (pounds 9.5m) inheritance, could hinge on a tape recording.

The defence wound up its case last week after trying for three months to convince jurors that the brothers were not guilty of first-degree murder, an offence which could send them to the gas chamber.

The young men shot dead their father, Jose, 45, the multi-millionaire head of a Los Angeles video distribution company, and their mother, Kitty, 47, a former beauty queen, while they were eating blueberries and ice cream in the family room in August, 1989.

Every twist in the trial, broadcast daily on cable television, has been watched by thousands of viewers, intrigued that a family could have every trapping of the American Dream - self-made success, a dollars 4m mansion - and yet self-destruct.

Until days before the trial the brothers denied carrying out the shootings, at first believed to be the work of the Mafia. They then admitted the shootings, after a legal ruling which allowed the court to hear details of a confession they made to a therapist.

When the case began, it was hard to find any Menendez sympathisers. With their Armani suits and sports cars, they seemed sociopathic yuppies, whom greed and parental indulgence had turned into monsters.

But, as the evidence unfolded, the brothers began to attract supporters. They claimed they shot their parents because they thought their parents were about to kill them. They described a tortured household dominated by their father, who sodomised them and forced them into oral sex while their mother did nothing to stop it. Both said he abused them as young boys: Erik claimed this continued until the end; Lyle said his father stopped when he was eight.

Three days before the killings, Lyle Menendez, a 25-year-old Princeton student, claims he challenged his father over abusing Erik, 22, warning him that he would expose him if he continued. Jose Menendez, who hoped to be the first Cuban-born US senator, responded: 'What I do with my son is my own business. Don't throw your life away.' When they were ordered to their rooms on 20 August, they were convinced their parents were about to murder them. So they got out their recently-purchased pump action shotguns.

The 'battered child' defence hinged on persuading the court that they could reasonably fear a threat to their own lives - even if it did not exist. For weeks, the brothers seemed to be gaining ground.

Defence witnesses yielded abundant evidence that Jose Menendez was an insufferably domineering father, whose motto was 'cheat, steal, lie - but win'. Health experts testified that 'the boys' killed out of genuine fear.

Then came the bombshell. Judge Stanley Weisberg ruled that the court would be allowed to hear a tape-recording of a session between the brothers and a Beverly Hills therapist, Jerome Oziel. They were heard explaining that they killed their mother because they wanted to 'put her out of her misery', caused by their father's repeated infidelity. There was no mention of sex abuse, no mention of fearing their imminent death.

As in every good soap, there is a sub-plot. The defence said Mr Oziel made the tape for extortion purposes. It was not he, but his ex-lover, Judalon Smyth, who reported the confessions to the police, promoting the brothers' arrest. Ms Smyth hoped the police would respond by bringing charges against the therapist, whom she accused of raping her. When these did not materialise, she switched sides and testified for the brothers, accusing Mr Oziel of brainwashing.

As two juries (one for each brother) prepare to begin their deliberations, they may draw another comparison with soap operas: they contain very few nice people.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living