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Aunt Tearfully Defends Menendez Brothers

March 28, 1996

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Erik and Lyle Menendez’s aunt tearfully told jurors that the brothers were raised in a household where losing was unacceptable and signs of affection were never shown.

Teresita Baralt was the first witness to take the stand for the defense in the penalty phase of the brothers’ murder trial.

She testified Wednesday that no one seems to understand the conditions inside the troubled family that led the sons to shotgun their millionaire parents to death.

``I can’t see how nobody can see why it happened,″ said Baralt, the younger sister of slaying victim Jose Menendez. ``There have to be powerful reasons for it to have happened. These kids are not killers.″

Baralt was scheduled to resume her testimony today.

Erik, 25, and Lyle, 28, were convicted last week of first-degree murder in the 1989 shooting deaths of Jose and Kitty Menendez. The brothers face either execution or life in prison without possibility of parole.

The eight men and four women on the jury will consider whether mitigating factors _ including years of alleged sexual abuse _ weigh against the ultimate punishment.

The brothers have maintained they acted in fear for their lives, convinced their parents were going to kill them rather than risk a scandal over the dark family secret of incest.

Aunts and uncles, coaches and teachers _ excluded from testifying during the guilt phase of the trial _ have been summoned from around the country to give jurors graphic details of the brothers’ allegedly tormented childhood.

Under questioning by defense attorneys Terri Towery and Leslie Abramson, Baralt painted a picture of two children whose parents never cuddled or soothed them but instead believed ``you had to be tough with them because they were boys.″

Baralt, Lyle’s godmother, said the brothers were under constant pressure to be No. 1 in athletics and were told by their father: ``God loves winners. Nobody remembers second place.″

Kitty Menendez, she said, sometimes did inexplicable things such as allowing the boys to become lost in a shopping mall, then failing to answer calls to retrieve them until she was through with her shopping.

Baralt told jurors that executing her brother’s murderers would mean ``wiping out the rest of my family.″

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