Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Menendez Brothers

The Tapes

Santa Monica Superior Court Judge James Albrecht ruled that the threats Lyle made to Dr. Oziel erased the patient-therapist confidentiality barrier and ordered that the Oziel tapes be given to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. There were three tapes at issue. Two of the tapes contained Oziel's dictated notes following the October 31, November 2 and November 28 sessions. The third tape was of the December 11 session, taped with the consent of the brothers' attorney at the time, Gerald Chaleff.

Dr. L. Jerome Oziel (AP)
Dr. L. Jerome Oziel (AP)

In California, the law protecting the patient-therapist privilege is well established and remains in effect even in situations where a killer confesses to his therapist that he murdered someone. Even in that situation, the privilege guarantees that the therapist cannot go to the police.

If the therapist goes to the police, he can be sued for malpractice. The reason that the privilege is so strong is because the legislature recognizes that in order for psychotherapy to work, a patient must be free to reveal the most intimate details of his life.

There were several hearings about the tapes and after one of the hearings, the sheriff's department announced that they had discovered that the links in Lyle's ankle chain had been cut. To the sheriff's department, this indicated that Lyle was attempting to escape. At another hearing on the tapes, Erik's nose appeared to be swollen and bruised, the result of a jail beating that the sheriff's department said they were investigating.

On August 6, 1990, Albrecht gave the prosecution a major victory. He said that all of the tapes could be used as evidence against the brothers. The judge said, "I have found by a preponderance of the evidence that Dr. Oziel had reasonable cause to believe that the brothers constituted a threat and it was necessary to disclose those communications to prevent the threatened danger." Leslie Abramson promptly appealed the decision to the California Court of Appeals. On March 2, 1991, the California Court of Appeals overturned Albrecht's decision. The prosecutors then filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court.

Part of the Court of Appeals' decision said that Oziel had not acted as a psychotherapist during the last two taped sessions, but acted out of "self-preservation and that the purported therapy was in fact, a charade." The decision quoted freely from the tapes and was released to the public. For the first time, it was revealed that the Menendez brothers had killed their parents. The effect of this revelation on the Menendez and Andersen families ranged from shock to disbelief. Some family members who had been very vocal in their support of the brothers soon dropped out of sight.

Leslie Abramson working the appeal (AP)
Leslie Abramson working the
appeal (AP)

On June 4, 1992, the California Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue of the tapes. Leslie Abramson and Michael Burt argued for the brothers saying that only the portions of the tapes that dealt with threats to Oziel should be given to the prosecution. The Court issued its ruling in August, deciding that the prosecution was entitled to one tape, the tape that was dictated by Oziel dealing with the October 31 and November 2 sessions. The Court decided that the release of the tape was not barred by the patient-therapist privilege because Oziel believed that the brothers had threatened him during the sessions covered on the tape. The Court barred the release of a tape that covered the November 28 session and the December 11 tape made with Chaleff's consent. In those sessions, the Court ruled that there was "insufficient evidence of threats to warrant disclosure of the tape." To the prosecution, the real loss was the December 11 tape of the brothers discussing the murder. The trial could now proceed.