LOS ANGELES -- Audiotapes on which two brothers allegedly confess to killing their wealthy parents -- not for money but out of sheer hatred and a desire to be free of the father's domination -- can be used against them, a state appeals court ruled Thursday.
In an opinion that details chilling information about the contents of the now-sealed tapes of conversations the brothers had with their psychotherapist following the slayings, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal concurred with a trial court decision last summer that the tapes may be introduced as evidence against Lyle and Erik Menendez.
The brothers are accused of the gruesome shotgun murders of their parents,Jose and Maria 'Kitty' Menendez, who were gunned down in their Beverly Hills home on Aug. 20, 1989.
The brothers, who spent lavishly after the killings, stood to inherit their parents $15 million estate, and early speculation was that they had killed for money.
But on the tapes, pychotherapist Dr. Jerome Oziel says, 'they didn't kill their parents for money, but rather out of hatred and out of a desire to be free from their father's domination, messages of inadequacy, and impossible standards,' the court record said drawing from the tapes.
Jose Menendez, a Cuban immigrant, was the hard-driving chief executive of Live Entertainment Inc. of Van Nuys, a video and music distributor.
The brothers have pleaded innocent, and prosecution of the case has been stalled while attorneys waited for a decision on whether the tapes may be used against the pair during a preliminary hearing and possible trial.
The opinion agreed with the Superior Court judge who ruled last August that the tapes do not constitute privileged patient-therapist communications and therefore may be introduced as evidence.
Defense attorneys who had filed the appeal in an effort to suppress the tapes said they will take the case to the state Supreme Court.
Joel Isaacson, the defense attorney for Lyle Menendez, 23, disputed the accuracy of information on the tapes.
'The substance of the majority of the tapes concerns statements and personal thoughts and impressions of Dr. Oziel and others who were manipulating Erik and Lyle,' Isaacson said. 'The information contained in the tapes only represents a small portion of the story which will be revealed in detail at the trial.'
Prosecutors were pleased with the ruling.
'I think it will be an important piece of evidence,' said Deputy District Attorney Brent Riggs, who handled the appellate case.
The appellate court opinion, signed by Justices Herbert Ashby, Roger Boren and Margaret Grignon, went farther than the trial court ruling, finding it hard to believe there was any evidence of therapy in the tapes that could be considered legally confidential.
The trial court had ruled the tapes were admissible because of the alleged threats against Oziel, citing case law that allows a therapist to reveal otherwise confidential information about clients if there is a danger to anyone.
The appeals court said 'purported therapy' reflected on tapes for four sessions that occurred after the killings between the brothers and their psychotherapist a 'charade.'
The court said that according to tapes of an Oct. 31 1989 session, Erik Menedez, 20, confessed to Oziel during a walk in a park, and when Lyle found out about it, threatened to kill the therapist if he went to the police.
The court said during subsequent sessions on Nov. 2, Nov. 28 and Dec. 11, 1989, Oziel was attempting to protect his life by pretending he was helping the brothers, and that the brothers were simply trying to build a possible psychiatric defense.
'The latter two sessions focus primarily upon topics that might aid the (brothers) should they be arrested and tried for the murders,' the appeals court wrote. 'During these sessions, Dr. Oziel was motived by self-preservation, and (the Menendez brothers) were motivated by self- interest. The purported 'therapy' was in fact a charade.'
The tapes, three of which are of notes allegedly made by Oziel, and one which is an actual session with the brothers, contain information about how the brothers executed the murders then fabricated an alibi, the court document said.
The document said Oziel's notes reveal Lyle Menendez threatened him after he learned of his brother's confession.
Lyle Menendez asked Oziel if he was frightened by a conversation he relayed between he and his brother in which they laughed about the idea of killing him.
Oziel wrote in his notes that ordinarily, he did not choose to live in fear. Lyle Menendez 'looked at me coldly and said, 'Neither did my father,' ' according to the court document.