LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Jurors in the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder trial heard testimony for the first time Wednesday about sexual molestation, but the judge said outside their presence the issue was being ″blown out of proportion.″
The brothers’ cousin, Diane Van der Molen, testified that when she visited with the family during summer 1976 an 8-year-old Lyle came to her and confided that his father had been sexually abusing him.
″He said he and his dad had been touching each other down there and it was in the genital area,″ she said.
Before she testified, defense lawyers battled with Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg over whether her statements were admissable.
″I think this whole issue is being blown out of proportion, that somehow there’s a linkage between the molestation, if there was one, and the killings,″ the judge said.
Defense lawyer Leslie Abramson told him: ″It does not surprise me to hear the court say that. It horrifies me but it doesn’t surprise me.″
The judge replied: ″The fact there was a molestation doesn’t constitute a legal defense.″
Abramson conceded that but said that for the brothers to prove they shot their parents in self-defense they must show that they feared the parents would kill them. She said the brothers had threatened to go public about years of molestation by their father.
The parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, were killed by shotgun blasts in the family’s Beverly Hills mansion on Aug., 20, 1989. Prosecutors say Erik, 22, and Lyle, 25, acted out of greed and not fear.
Mrs. Van der Molen, who spent the summer of 1976 with the Menendezes when the family lived in New Jersey, said that after Lyle confided the sexual abuse to her he asked if he could sleep in her room, saying ″he was afraid.″
The woman, who was then 17, said she confronted Lyle’s mother about the allegations.
″And what was her response?″ asked attorney Jill Lansing.
″She showed that she didn’t believe me,″ she said.
Asked why she didn’t mention the incident to anyone until recently, Mrs. Van der Molen became tearful. ″I’d convinced myself that I was wrong,″ she said.
She was to be cross-examined Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, Weisberg allowed Mrs. Van der Molen’s sister to talk about her difficult visit with the family, but only after excising large portions of her planned testimony.
The judge said he was trying to follow the law and limit evidence to matters directly related to the killings.
The sister, Kathleen Simonton, said she was sent to visit ″the perfect family″ in 1976, but instead found a tense, grim household.
Erik was ridiculed by his mother for stuttering, she said, and Lyle was berated as stupid for not excelling in athletics. Frequently the brothers were locked in their rooms, she said.
When asked about times Mrs. Menendez yelled at her for failing to do chores, Mrs. Simonton, 32, reddened and appeared to be fighting tears.
″I don’t like to think of the times she yelled at me,″ she said. ″They upset me. ... The intensity of her anger, her rage, could be very scary.″
After two months, Mrs. Simonton said she returned home to Arizona.
″I asked to leave because I was miserable there,″ she said. ″I wanted to go home and have a normal summer, whatever was left of it.″
In an hour-long hearing with jurors absent, Weisberg said he wouldn’t allow jurors to hear much more of such testimony.
″Not everything that happened between the defendants and their parents is relevant and admissible,″ he said.