Big 5 – handguns

One of the most dramatic moments in the first trial was when Erik Menendez was caught in what was arguably the biggest mistake – or lie – of the trial. This came about when Erik was cross-examined about how he and Lyle allegedly went to a Big 5 sporting goods store in Santa Monica on Friday, August 18, 1989, to buy handguns.

Lyle was first to testify about going to the Big 5 in Santa Monica. See trial video 51 at 2:50:28 – 2:52:44. Lyle testified that he and Erik went there to buy handguns that they could carry around but were unable to do so. They inquired about the handguns, “but basically we were in the process of trying to pick a handgun and buy one, and then we were told that we weren’t gonna be able to leave the store with them,” because there was a two-week waiting period to buy handguns.

Lyle was also briefly cross-examined about going to the Big 5 in Santa Monica. See trial video 53 at 3:26:54 – 3:28:19.

Erik’s testimony on direct examination concerning going to Big 5 in Santa Monica was extremely brief. See trial video 58 at 2:59:08 – 2:59:25. Erik basically stated that he and Lyle went to a Big 5 in Santa Monica and inquired about buying handguns, and were told that there was a two-week waiting period.

Cross-examination of Erik about the Big 5 in Santa Monica was more extensive – and explosive. See trial video 63 at 53:11 – 1:02:17.
The “Perry Mason moment”:
Kuriyama: Did you truly go to the Santa Monica Big 5 store on the morning of August 18th to buy these handguns?
Menendez: Definitely. Without a doubt I did.
Kuriyama: You and Lyle did?
Menendez: Yes.
Kuriyama: You and Lyle looked in this case and you selected these guns and you were told you couldn’t leave the store with these handguns because there’s a 15-day wait?
Menendez: Yes.
Kuriyama: Mr. Menendez, did you know that Big 5 stopped carrying handguns in March of 1986?
Menendez: No, I don’t know that. Mr. Kuriyama, there were guns there and we did look at them and he did say we could not carry them anymore.

On redirect examination, defense attorney Leslie Abramson picked up the pieces. See trial video 67 at 37:30 – 55:20. Erik now said he was no longer sure it was a Big 5 store he and Lyle had entered.

The matter dominated the remainder of the examination of Erik. Trial video 67:
Recross – 1:08:20 – 1:20:24
Further redirect – 1:23:00 – 1:26:05
Further recross – 1:26:05 – 1:28:30
Further redirect – 1:28:30 – 1:29:34

The defense then called Armando Lopez to testify. See trial video 68 at 2:04:55 – 2:16:20. Lopez was a private investigator who had taken photos from the Santa Monica Big 5 at the request of defense attorney Jill Lansing.
Lopez also arranged for a former employee at the Santa Monica Big 5 to come testify at trial.

Prior to that employee testifying, the defense had called a series of expert witnesses to the stand. One of those experts, Dr. Ann Burgess, testified that the Big 5 handgun story was credible because “It didn’t have to be revealed”, and the name of store was merely a “peripheral detail.” Burgess noted that school records indicated Erik suffers from a learning disabilities called “dysnomia,” a condition in which he has trouble naming things. See trial video 76 at 1:20:35 – 1:23:32.

Jon Nickel was the employee that private investigator Lopez had arranged to come to court. Nickel was the last witness called regarding the Santa Monica Big 5 store. See trial video 83 at 57:05 – 1:06:31.

The fact that Big 5 had stopped carrying handguns in March of 1986 wasn’t established until the last day of testimony. It was established by means of a stipulation that prosecutor Pamela Bozanich read into the record. See trial video 106 at 21:28 – 21:48. All parties stipulated that, “The Big 5 Sporting Goods chain shipped all of its handguns out of the Santa Monica store referred to in the testimony by March of 1986, and the chain stopped selling handguns in all of its southern California stores by November of 1986.”

Second trial
December 11, 1995: Erik Menendez – Direct examination
December 20, 1995: Erik Menendez – Cross-examination
January 31, 1996: Gabriel Friederichson testimony
February 22, 1996: Prosecution’s opening argument
February 27, 1996: Erik’s closing argument
February 29, 1996: Prosecution’s closing argument