Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers

Arraignment

Leslie Abramson(AP)
Leslie Abramson(AP)

The Andersen and Menendez families retained very good and very expensive legal counsel for Lyle and Erik. Selected to represent Erik was Leslie Abramson, a tiny woman with a Little Orphan Annie hairdo, a vocabulary like a sailor and an unstoppable will. Leslie is the granddaughter of an International Ladies' Garment Workers Union organizer and is so imposing that she intimidates many judges with her fierce presence. She lets her emotions show, if she does not like a judge's ruling, she wrinkles her face and shakes her head, daring the judge to find her in contempt. Leslie is a passionate opponent of the death penalty. She is also very successful too, having only lost one client to a death sentence. The Menendez case would be her fifteenth high profile murder case. She is devoted to her clients, so much so that her devotion to Erik would raise questions about her behavior and ethics during his trial. Abramson's fee for defending Erik was $750,000.

The Menendez brothers were arraigned for the murders of their parents on March 26, 1990 in Judge Judith Stein's courtroom at the Beverly Hills Municipal Court. The brothers entered the courtroom seeming not to care that their lives were on the line.

Jamie Pisarcik (AP)
Jamie Pisarcik (AP)

The brothers had been in the Los Angeles County Men's Jail for two weeks, but neither acted as if they had been in jail at all. Generally, a prisoner is contrite, worried and overwhelmed by court proceedings. The brothers were not contrite. They acted smug and arrogant. The courtroom was filled with reporters and supporters of the brothers, including Jaime Pisarcik and Erik's tennis coach, Mark Heffernan, who had been in Israel with him. Maria Menendez was also in the audience, supported by a large number of Menendez family members. The brothers waved and smiled at their friends and relatives and acted as if their defense attorneys would quickly clear things up so that the brothers could join their friends and family for a late lunch.

Erik in court (AP)
Erik in court (AP)

Judge Stein did not seem to be impressed by the two tan young men who sat casually slouched in their chairs before her. She did not seem to appreciate the casual bantering that went on between the men and their attorneys and she did not like the amount of attention the men were paying to their girlfriends, family and friends in the audience.

Stein was a small woman with a nasal voice. She peered out at the brothers through a pair of glasses that sat low on her nose. The brothers apparently found the scene hilarious. Judge Stein ordered the brothers to stand up and face her. They did so and seemed barely able to contain their giggles.

Judge Stein read the charges to the brothers, "you have been charged with multiple murder for financial gain, while laying in wait, with a loaded firearm, for which, if convicted, you could receive the death penalty." "How do you plead?" Erik answered first, almost with a smirk on his face, "Not guilty, your honor." "Not guilty," echoed Lyle. The brothers were held without bail, pending trial, on first-degree murder charges with special circumstances.

Eventually the families retained Jill Lansing to represent Lyle. Lansing is a slender blond woman who had just left the Los Angeles County Public Defender's office to open her own private practice. Unlike Abramson, Lansing was not comfortable in high profile, media-intensive cases. Both Abramson and Lansing hired attorneys to assist them. Abramson hired Marcia Morrissey, forty-three, who had also been a Los Angeles County Public Defender. Morrissey had just finished defending Laney Greenberger in the Cotton Club case. Lansing hired Michael Burt, who was the head trial attorney in the San Francisco Public Defender's office and an expert in death penalty law.

Elliott Alhadeff was to prosecute the Menendez brothers, but he and the District Attorney, Ira Reiner, were not getting along and Reiner replaced Alhadeff and gave the case back to Pam Ferrero. Soon after becoming involved in the case again, Ferrero married another Assistant District Attorney, Peter Bozanich. Pam Bozanich was thirty-nine and a graduate from Wellesley. Bozanich is a petite woman with dark brown hair with an understated, yet professional air, about her. She was in many ways the complete opposite of Leslie Abramson, who was theatrical and flamboyant. Bozanich had recently prosecuted the retrial of the McMartin Preschool molestation case.

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