Spending evidence

The prosecution’s theory was that Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents out of greed. In support of that theory the prosecution presented evidence of the brothers’ spending after the murder of their parents.

In hearings prior to the second trial Judge Weisberg initially ruled that 12 items of so-called “spending evidence” could be introduced as evidence in the second trial. These 12 items are:

1. Two Rolex watches and money clips (Both)
2. Marina City Condominium (Both)
3. Porsche (Lyle)
4. Clothing and accessories – New Jersey and New York (Lyle)
5. Private limousine and body guard – New Jersey and New York (Lyle)
6. A patio home (Lyle)
7. A townhouse (Lyle)
8. A restaurant – Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe (Lyle)
9. A million dollar-plus residence in Newport Beach (Erik)
10. Jeep Wrangler (Erik)
11. Private tennis coach (Erik)
12. Pool table (Erik)

With the exception of item 9, all of this evidence had been ruled admissible in some form in the first trial.

I will now briefly go through each item.

1. Rolex watches and money clips (Both)
The witness is Mary Ellen Mahar (trial video 16 at 3:15:18, trial transcript of October 23, 1995).
On August 24, 1989, Lyle and Erik went to Slavick’s jewelry store in Century City where they purchased three Rolex watches and two or three money clips. The total price was approximately $15,000.
Detectives Zoeller and Linehan interviewed Ms. Mahar, on September 11, 1989. Linehan’s report reads in part:
“Ms. Mahar stated during the transactions Lyle called an individual named Carlos at the Bel-Air hotel. Mahar overheard part of the conversation between Lyle and Carlos. Lyle discussed not wanting to wear the gold watch in front of relatives at the memorial service as they wouldn’t understand. He additionally was heard to say, ‘I need $100,000 advance from the company immediately, no matter what it takes.’”

2. Marina City Condominium (Both)
The witness is Valerie Hart (trial video 29 at 14:23, trial transcript of October 25, 1995).
On October 15, 1989, Ms. Hart, an agent working for the developer at Marina City Towers, showed a penthouse with a sale price of $990,000 to Lyle and Erik. Lyle indicated they were interested in the penthouse and wanted to write up a contract on it. Erik made a deposit by check for $29,700. Lyle initialed and signed the contract. The contract was cancelled at the end of the week because the brothers decided to rent two apartments instead.

3. Porsche (Lyle)
The witnesses are Glenn Stevens (trial video 13, trial transcript of October 31, 1995) and Richard Wenskoski (trial video 12, trial transcript of October 25, 1995).
Lyle bought a Porsche for approximately $70,000.

4. Clothing and accessories – New Jersey and New York (Lyle)
The witness is Richard Wenskoski (trial video 12, trial transcript of October 25, 1995).
Wenskoski provided bodyguard services for Lyle from about August 28 until around September 4, 1989. During this time he observed Lyle shop for suits and shoes, shirts, ties, tenns rackets, sport sneakers, outwear. “He purchased, at one time, approximately a thousand dollars worth of shoes, $3,000 worth of clothing, suits, undergarments.”

5. Private limousine and body guard – New Jersey and New York (Lyle)
The witness is Richard Wenskoski, (trial video 12, trial transcript of October 25, 1995).
Lyle hired bodyguards and used private limousines.

6. A patio home (Lyle)
(Trial transcript of November 2, 1995). The parties stipulated that Lyle attempted to purchase a patio home in Princeton; that he placed $26,500 down on this patio home; that the purchase was never completed.

7. A townhouse (Lyle)
(Trial transcript of November 2, 1995). The parties stipulated that Lyle attempted to purchase a condominium in Princeton; that he placed $12,900 down on this patio home; that the purchase was never completed.

8. A restaurant – Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe (Lyle)
The witnesses are Glenn Stevens (trial video 12, trial transcript of October 31, 1995) and Carlos Baralt (trial video 82, trial transcript of October 19, 1995).
The price of the restaurant was $550,000. Lyle was trying to get financing on his own but was unable to do so. He then requested of Carlos Baralt, the executor of the Jose and Kitty’s wills, whether the estate could provide funds for the purchase. Carlos agreed and Lyle received a loan of $300,000 to finance the down payment.

9. A million dollar-plus residence in Newport Beach (Erik)
The witness is Lawrence Cohen (trial testimony of October 26, 1995).
In February of 1990, Erik contacted Cohen and said he was interested in buying a house. The asking price for the house Erik was interested in was $1.4 million. Erik’s offer was $1.1 million. The offer was countered at $1.35 million. Cohen was never able to present the counteroffer to Erik. He attempted to contact Erik but was unable to do so.

10. Jeep Wrangler (Erik)
The witness is Vicky Rivas (trial transcript of October 26, 1995).
In October of 1989, Erik bought a jeep wrangler for approximately $21,000.

11. Private tennis coach (Erik)
The witness is Mark Heffernan (trial video 28, trial transcript of October 24, 1995).
Around November of 1989, Heffernan began full time employment with the brothers as their tennis coach. Heffernan was paid $5000 dollars a month for coaching one brother, $6000 for coaching both. Lyle left the tennis program in January of 1990 and Heffernan worked with Erik exclusively until Erik’s arrest in March of 1990.

12. Pool table (Erik)
The witness is Mark Heffernan (trial video 28).
Erik bought a pool table in November of 1989.

Additional Spending

The prosecution later sought to introduce additional evidence of spending. In court papers the prosecution listed 13 items of additional spending. These 13 items are:

1. Rental of the Bungalow Suite at the Hotel Bel Aire (Both)
2. Skiing trip to Aspen – Aspen, Colorado (Both)
3. Clothes and accessories – Chicago, Illinois (Lyle)
4. Private limousines – Beverly Hills California (Lyle)
5. Private limousines – Princeton, New Jersey (Lyle)*
6. Private limousines – New York (Lyle)*
7. Private limousines – Chicago, Illinois (Lyle)
8. A state of the art Sony big screen television with speakers, amplifiers and an entire sound system (Lyle)
9. A Saab automobile (Lyle)
10. Vacation trip to Cancun – Mexico (Erik)
11. Skiing and gambling in Lake Tahoe – Lake Tahoe, Nevada (Erik)
12. Traveling Professional Tennis Circuit – Israel (Erik)
13. Investments at Smith-Barney – Florida (Erik)

*It would seem that items 5 and 6 aren’t technically new items of spending. They appear similar to item 5 on the first list of spending evidence.

The defense filed a motion objecting to the introduction of all items of additional spending except number 9, the Saab automobile Lyle had purchased for Jamie Pisarcik as a Christmas gift. The defense motion contained argument as to why each of the remaining items on the prosecution’s additional list should be excluded. The motion reads:

1. Item #1 on the prosecution list reads “Bungalow Suite at the Hotel Bel Aire- Los Angeles, California (Both)”. At the first trial the prosecution sought admission of evidence that the defendants rented a suite (the bungalow part a recent descriptive addition undisclosed in the material the defense has in hand) at the Hotel Bel Aire and proceeded to incur extensive room, telephone and room service charges. An Evidence Code Section 402 hearing was held concerning this evidentiary offer on August 13, 1993 at which defendants’ cousin Henry Llanio testified that he, having decided that the defendants should stay at a hotel accompanied by Lyle Menendez only, engaged the suite at the Bel Aire. He further testified that the suite was meant to be a meeting and eating place for the entire family and served as such. More over it was his belief that LIVE Entertainment would be paying for the suite just as they were paying for his and the rest of the family’s hotel accommodations at the Hotel Bel Age. A Copy of this testimony is attached at Exhibit B1. Based upon this testimony the Court ruled the evidence inadmissible stating, inter alia, at RT Vol. 68, p. 10864

…(It does seem that the evidence is ambiguous, at best, and the probative value of it is substantially outweighed by the potential confusion of issues. It really doesn’t have any relevance in that it doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t establish the state of mind of the defendants in spending large sums of money. A copy of the Court’s ruling is attached as Exhibit B2.

The prosecution offers no new evidence that would undermine the previous ruling of this Court. With the exception of Robin Rosenbloom, the witnesses it lists and the documents it offers (the hotel bill) are the same as those they were prepared to offer at the first trial. As for Ms. Rosenbloom, she apparently has nothing relevant to say on this issue except that Erik and Lyle (whom she does not mention seeing) had a room at the Hotel Bel Air the day of the Memorial service for their parents. One suspects that the only purpose the prosecution has for calling her is not to establish “spending” evidence but to establish “partying” evidence. Copies of the police report statements of the witnesses and the documents designated by the prosecution on this issue are attached as Exhibit B3.

2. Item #2 reads “Skiing trip to Aspen-Aspen, Colorado (Both)”. The designated witnesses are Mark Heffernan and Brian Andersen. An examination of the prior testimony and all the police interviews with Mark Heffernan reveals no information whatsoever concerning a skiing trip by the defendants to Aspen, Colorado. The only reference to this event by Brian Andersen appears in RT Vol. 133 at page 23038 as follows:

Q. Did you go on a vacation with Erik after his parents were killed?
A. The skiing vacation?
Q. That qualifies as vacation?
A. Uh-Huh
Q. Did you?
A. Yes
Q. Where did you go
A. To Aspen, Colorado
Q. And who else was there?
A. Mark Heffernan and Lyle.

A Copy of this page of the transcript is attached as Exhibit C.

Who paid for this vacation? How much did it cost? Was it planned before the Menendez parents were killed? Did it represent a change in the defendant’s lifestyles or was it like all the other ski trips that witnesses testified they took over the course of their lives? These and other questions are unanswered by the discovery and testimonial records. What is the probative value of this evidence? None.

3. Item #3 reads “Clothes and accessories-Chicago, Illinois (Lyle only)”. The witness is Mark Andersen. A copy of the police interview of this witness is attached as Exhibit D. The crux of the pertinent portion of that statement is that while Lyle was in Chicago in January 1990 he, Mark Andersen and Alan Andersen spent 10 hours at a shopping mall. Lyle charged $3,500 a charge card. Lyle bought suits. No mention of the “accessories” appears. Likewise, there is no itemization of the $3,500 nor the number or price of the suits nor any indication of for whom they were purchased. The jury is to assume that this extravagance without proof that it is. They are to further assume that extravagance equals motive. Like the rest of this type of evidence there is no indication that Lyle was lacking in suits or anything else before his parents died, nor that an overwhelming desire for suits caused him to kill his parents. The real purpose of this evidence (and the other nasty things Mark Andersen is quoted as saying about Lyle’s behavior during the shopping excursion) seems to be the “spoiled rich kid” character attack.

4. Item #4 reads “Private limousines (emphasis added)- Beverly Hills CA (Lyle only)”. The witness is David Cambell. The relevant portions of his police interviews of September 1, 1989 and July 27, 1994 are attached as Exhibit E. In those statements Mr. Campbell indicates that on August 31, 1989, after having dinner with Lyle (at an undisclosed restaurant) he saw Lyle get into a limousine. Was this a $50 lime, a $100 limo? Who picked up the tab for it? Was this in Beverly Hills? How is this conceivably proof of motive? It isn’t/

5. Item #5 reads “Private limousines-Princeton, New Jersey (Lyle only)” – the witness is Richard Wenskoski. IN the attached page of the police report of September 19, 1989, attached as Exhibit F1, the witness states that Lyle used the phones in the limousines that were rented for him. This is during the period of time when Lyle was in Princeton for the funeral of his parents. Everyone there for the Menendez rites was transported in a limousine. The company paid for them.

Similarly in his testimony of July 27, 1993 appearing in RT vol.55 at page 8042, a copy of which is attached as Exhibit F2 the witness only makes passing reference to the fact that Lyle traveled in a limousine in New Jersey.

6. Item #6 is similar to item #5 but here the reference is to Lyle using private limousines in New York. The Wenskoski statement of August 29, 1994 addressing this issue consists again of only a passing reference to the fact that when in New York Lyle went to the U.S. Open and “made a point to use the phone in the limousine”. A copy of that statement is attached as Exhibit G. Neither the information from Wenskoski in support of item #5 nor item#6 proves that Lyle spent anything. The mere fact of using limousines within a few days of his parents deaths, before he received the insurance money, and paid for by persons unknown hardly constitutes the spending of large sums of money that this Court has repeatedly referred to as the justification for admitting spending evidence as probative of motive.

7. Item #7 reads “Private limousines- Chicago Illinois (Lyle only)”. The designated witness is Mark Andersen. There is but one police interview of this witness. It says nothing about limousines. Perhaps the prosecution “forgot” to turn over discovery on this issue. Perhaps they are confused. Perhaps, to paraphrase, they did not “study (the record) carefully so that should they decide to (proffer) any…evidence (they) may do so in an articulate manner with the appropriate (factual) (basis).” (see final paragraph of Conn\Najera letter (Exhibit A2)).

8. Item #8 reads “A state of the art Sony big screen television with speakers, amplifiers and an entire sound system. (Lyle only).” The designated witnesses are Perry Berman and Jamie Pisarcik. The only reference to these items in the discovery record appears in a police interview of March 13, 1995 with Perry Berman which reads “Lyle bought Rolex watches and an elaborate entertainment system that cost between $10,000 and $20,000. The system, that he saw in Lyle’s condo in Marina del Rey (which other evidence showed was rented contrary to the implication here), had an 8 foot Sony Screen, a state of the art equalizer… plus all the speakers to go with it.” A copy of this statement is attached as Exhibit H.

A review of all the prior statements and testimony of Jamie Pisarcik yields no reference whatsoever to these items. Perhaps the prosecution “forgot” to provide the defense with this information. Perhaps they are mistaken about Ms. Pisarcik’s knowledge on this point. Whatever the reason, repeated references in the proffer to witnesses who apparently have no information on the issues makes it unnecessarily difficult for the defense to respond.

As with items #2 through #7 above there is no documentation of the actual purchase of these items, no accurate information of when, where or by whom they were purchased or how much they actually cost.

9. Item #9 reads “A Saab automobile (Lyle only)”. The designated witnesses are Perry Berman and Jamie Pisarcik. The defense does not object to the introduction of this evidence.

10. Item #10 reads “Vacation trip to Cancun-Mexico (Erik only).” The designated witnesses are Charles Dickenson (sic) and David Mraovitch. The first witness’ name is, in fact, Charles Dickerson. His information consists of nothing more than that while he was on vacation in Cancun on November 11, 1989 he encountered Erik Menendez there. David Mraovitch testified that he accompanied Erik to Cancun in November, 1989 and to conversations and activities he and Erik engaged in while there. Mr. Dickerson’s police interview bearing on the subject is attached as Exhibit I1. Mr. Mraovitch’s testimony on this issue, appearing in RT volume 105 at pages 17499 through 17518 is attached as Exhibit I2. As with probative value, if any of Erik Menendez having gone to Cancun in November of 1989, except, as Mr. Mraovitch testified, because he was depressed and needed a friend to cheer him up. On the issue of motive as demonstrated by spending money, relevant facts are totally lacking. Moreover, other testimony at the trial established that vacation trips were a regular feature of the Menendez family’s lifestyle. Given that and the fact that there is no information or documentation of the cost of this trip, the probative value of this evidence is nil.

11. Item #11 reads “Skiing trip to Lake Tahoe- Lake Tahoe, Nevada (Erik only). The witness is Mark Slotkin. A copy of the police interview of March 30, 1993 bearing on this issue is attached as Exhibit J. The only expenditure made by Erik Menendez during this trip in December-January, 1989-90 about which Mr. Slotkin has knowledge is a gambling debt of $4,000 to $5,000. That evidence is not because it demonstrates the spending of a large sum of money such as would be arguably supportive of their motive theory but to portray Erik Menendez in an unfavorable light as a gambler. Even if the court found the amount involved had some slight probative value, in this instance it would be outweighed by its prejudicial effect.

12. Item #12 reads “Professional Tennis Circuit-Israel (Erik only).” The witness is Mark Heffernan. the sum total of Mr. Heffernan’s input on this subject is contained in a police interview dated February 28, 1991, attached as Exhibit K1 and his testimony of August 13, 1993 appearing in RT volume 68 at pages 11066-11067, attached as Exhibit K2. All he can apparently say is that he accompanied Erik to Israel for the latter to play in a tournament. There is no financial information provided at all. The fact of Erik traveling to Israel in February 1990 to , in effect, work, has no probative value on this issue of motive.

13. Item #13 reads “Investments at Smith-Barney-Flordia (Erik only).” The witness is Martha Cano. A copy of the portion of her testimony appearing in RT volume 175 pages 12568-12570 which refers to this issue is attached as Exhibit L. The prosecution’s description of this item contains all the information they have, to wit that Mrs. Cano made investments. How many, how much, in what, how profitable or otherwise is left to the imagination. Moreover, to allow the prosecution to prove the bare fact that some of the Sun Life money was invested at the suggestion of Mrs. Cano would be to permit the most blatant double use of the same facts. The likelihood of misleading and confusing the jury by presenting a false bootstrapped picture of the so-called motive evidence is especially great concerning this proffer.

In their response motion, the prosecution offered brief argument as to the admissibility of the additional spending evidence. The motion reads:

1. The party at the Bel-Aire hotel – In the first trial, spending at the Bel-Aire Hotel was excluded after the defendants presented the testimony of their cousin Henry Llanio, who testified that he helped select the accommodations at the hotel as a meeting place for the family immediately after the murders, and that he assumed the bill would be paid by LIVE Entertainment.

In fact, the People will show through the testimony of Robin Rosenbloom and others that the defendants used the suite to entertain their friends, and that they threw a party immediately after the memorial service in which, in the words of Ms. Rosenbloom, “no adults” were in attendance. The defendants rented the most expensive suite, ordered caviar and champagne, and Lyle Menendez paid for the accommodations.

The People seek to present evidence of the lavish accommodations available to them following the murders of their parents, as well as the use they made of such accommodations. This evidence is relevant to their state of mind immediately after the murder of their parents, and is circumstantial evidence of their state of mind at the time of the murder of their parents.

2. The Aspen ski trip- Testimony will show that the defendants took a vacation shortly after they killed their parents. The issues raised[ by the defendants in their response in regard to this evidence are matters which may be the proper, subject of cross-examination, but such matters do not go to the admissibility of the evidence.

3. Shopping in Chicago, Illinois- This evidence of spending is similar to the evidence of spending already ruled admissible by this court through the testimony of Richard Wenskowski and Glenn Stevens. Here again, issues raised by the defendants in their response in regard to this evidence are matters which may be the proper subject of cross-examination, but such matters do not go to the admissibility of the evidence

4. Limousine rentals in Beverly Hills – The rental of limousine for personal transportation is similar to the evidence previously ruled admissible through the testimony of Richard Wenskowski. This evidence is admissible for the same reason that limousine rentals in New Jersey and New York were ruled admissible in the first trial.

5. Limousine rentals in New Jersey – Lyle Menendez’ rental of limousines was ruled admissible in the first trial, and should be ruled admissible once again. Also admissible is Lyle Menendez’ interest in pricing bullet-proof limousines.

6. Limousine rentals in New York – Lyle Menendez’ limousine rental in New York was ruled admissible in the first trial, and should be found to be admissible once again.

7. Limousine rentals in Chicago. Illinois – This evidence is admissible for the same reason that limousine–sine rentals in New Jersey and New York was ruled – admissible in the first trial.

8. The Sony Entertainment System – The People have provided the defendants with a statement by Perry Berman in which he discusses his personal observations and knowledge of a purchase of an elaborate and expensive Sony sound system by Lyle Menendez. The defendants argue that this purchase cannot be proven without documentation. While documentation may be one way to establish the purchase, the testimony of a witness having personal know1edge of this matter is an equally valid way to establish the disputed fact.

9. A Saab Automobile – Lyle Menendez’ purchase of a vehicle for Jamie Pisarcik is relevant and admissible to show the defendant’s use of his ill-begotten gain. This evidence is not challenged by the defendants.

10. The Cancun, Mexico vacation – Here again the defendants offer no proper reason why this evidence should be ruled inadmissible. Here again also, documentation is not the only way to establish the expenditures of the defendant, and the testimony of a percipient witness can establish this fact. Nor is it relevant that the parents of the defendants took the defendants on similar vacations before the defendants killed them. That the defendants may have been accustomed to living well does not defeat evidence of motive; to the contrary, it demonstrates what the defendants were afraid of losing if they were to be cut out of the will. For that reason, it establishes motive all the more.

11. The Lake Tahoe ski trip- Evidence of a vacation and gambling, in Lake Tahoe, including the fact that the defendant borrowed money from Mark Slotkin is additional evidence of the defendant’s state of mind, and there is no proper reason to exclude it.

12. Professional tennis circuit-Israel – The defendant argues that this is evidence of “work,” – an argument to which only the privileged could relate. In truth, this is evidence of the defendant’s pursuit of his personal goal of becoming a professional tennis player, a pursuit made possible with the bloody money of his dead parents.

13. Investments at Smith-Barney Florida – This evidence of Erik Menendez’ spending is comparable to the purchase of a restaurant by Lyle Menendez and should be ruled admissible on the same basis. Both are relevant to the defendants’ motive for committing the murders.