On the eve of Smyth’s appearance as a defense witness to discredit Oziel, the former lovers met in a conference room at a Los Angeles law firm. The meeting was an attempt to settle a lawsuit Oziel filed against Vanity Fair writer Dominick Dunne and Smyth. Whom Dunne had quoted extensively (she said she’d had with Oziel “the worst sex of my life”) in an October 1990 article. Oziel settled with Dunne and the magazine, but not with Smyth. As he was leaving the meeting, Smyth charges that Oziel pushed against her suggestively while whispering in her ear, “You slut. You know you still want me.” Witnesses say she spun around and threw a glass of water in his face. Oziel denies making the remarks to Smyth, and his attorney, Raj Patrao, said the incident was not an assault but “an unfortunate touching of the body at a deposition.” A suit stemming from the meeting, seeking unspecified damages, accuses Oziel of battery, negligence and intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

This past January, Smyth filed her third lawsuit against the therapist, alleging that Oziel’s libel suit (which was dismissed in February 1994) had been filed in order to harass her. According to Smyth’s new claim, Oziel’s suit lacked proper Legal grounds and was malicious prosecution. While Oziel continues to deny any wrongdoing, he dosed his Beverly Hills therapy practice and moved back to his hometown of Seattle.


A single jury will deliberate the fate of both brothers in the retrial. At Menendez I, Lyle and Erik each had their own juries because some evidence applied to only one brother. Shuttling the parallel panels in and out of. the tiny courtroom became a logistical nightmare that won’t be repeated.

Even though jurors are instructed not to consider potential penalties, the men on Erik’s panel worried about setting a precedent. Anything less than a first-degree murder conviction, they argued, would lead to the widespread use of the “abuse excuse” defense. One hour into the deliberations, all six women on Erik’s jury voted for manslaughter. The six men voted for the murder charge.

Even though jury deliberations are supposed to be secret, Erik heard within 48 hours that his jury was split evenly along gender lines. Some jurors had shared the information with the owner of a hot dog cart outside the courthouse. The hot dog vendor told somebody else. Within a few hours it was the worst kept secret in Van Nuys.


In early 1994 jurors sympathetic to the defense stayed in touch. Several struck up friendships with the brothers through jail visits and phone calls and one even played chess with Lyle over the phone.

As lawyers began picking the jury for O.J. Simpson’s trial, there was renewed interest from talk show producers in jurors who had served on high-profile cases. Two Menendez veterans were already regulars on the talk circuit, with appearances on Donahue, Oprah and Prime Time Live.

Jude Nelson was an outspoken advocate for a first-degree murder conviction. The unemployed, ponytailed 53-year-old Army veteran with three children told a fellow juror he’d once been a “psychic to the stars.” Judy Zamos, a 55-year-old nurse and teacher married to an attorney, was one of the jurors who believed the brothers. Although she was an alternate juror, other jurors had angrily vented their frustrations during deliberations by telling her what was happening behind closed doors. Nelson 
and Zamos traded insults while appearing on The Maury Povich Show in late August 1994. In the opening minutes of the program, Nelson accused Zamos of trying to get him kicked off the jury so she could replace him. “I feel that she has absolutely no credibility,” he blustered. “If Judy is normal, I wouldn’t want to be normal for anything.”

Lyle laughed and said, “We’ve snowed half the country. Now we have to snow the other half”.

Zamos explained that she had resigned as an alternate juror after becoming troubled when she heard “some of the things that were happening in the jury room.”

Nelson said he had learned from one of the attorneys connected to the case that Zamos was dismissed from the trial for misconduct. Zamos was outraged. The discussion deteriorated into a shouting match as the pair argued about Nelson’s contact with the media. (During deliberations, Nelson had bragged to other jurors that he had talked to “his friend” Ron Reagan that morning.

“Is he a friend of yours?” asked one. “Yeah,” he reportedly replied. “I don’t have much use for his father, but he’s a good guy.” Nelson announced to others seated at a cafeteria table that Reagan was shooting “an MTV segment on the trial.” Several were uncomfortable because jurors were forbidden to talk with the media. Zamos reported Nelson’s remarks to the judge, who took no action after questioning Nelson.

After Zamos accused Nelson of hiring an agent to seek out TV appearances (he denied it), there were more fireworks. As petty insults flew across the studio, the audience roared with laughter.

“Hey, folks—any of you who want to be on a long trial, you think twice,” declared Zamos. “These are people you wouldn’t talk to in your entire life if you had a choice.”

“If they would allow me, I would pull the gas chamber pellets on Lyle,” declared Nelson a few minutes later. “I can’t believe that we have jurisprudence such that—”

At that point Zamos interrupted. “Oh God—he’s learned a three-syllable word I can’t believe this. Do you believe how ignorant he is? Would you want your life to be in this man’s hands?”

“Ignorant?” he replied. “Oh, come on, give me a break, lady!”

“Oh, I need to give you a break.”

Instead, Zamos sued Nelson. In the suit filed by her attorney husband, Zamos declared she was slandered by Nelson’s comment that she’d been “dismissed for misconduct.” In fact, she asserted, she was excused not for wrongdoing but “as a result of her request based on personal and philosophical concerns.” A week later, Nelson’s attorney, Phillip Rose, wrote to Zamos’ husband Jerry: “Mr. Nelson is a man of limited assets and financial means and can ill-afford to bear the legal costs of defending this lawsuit. Unfortunately, Mr. Nelson is not married to an attorney, a distinct and unfair advantage that your client has over my client.”

Ten days after that, Nelson filed a countersuit accusing Zamos of slander for calling him “ignorant” and accusing him of “making a career out of doing talk shows.”

In the ensuing months, the court file grew into two thick volumes. At a hearing in February, the judge presiding over the case said both sides “deserved what they got for appearing on talk shows.”


PLAYBOY JULY 1995: Menendez Confidential: True Crime
Tagged on: