Several former jurors also lined the hallway. As Abramson approached the courtroom door, she saw Nelson—atypically wearing a suit and tie—offering to shake hands. Pausing, she recognized him before withdrawing her hand and walking by. “She evidently doesn’t like my point of view,” he said to no one in particular. “That’s fine with me. I don’t like hers, either.” A few weeks later, Nelson was back, patiently waiting again at the courtroom dom. “Good morning, Miss Abramson,” he said cheerfully. “Good morning, Mr. Nelson. I see you still haven’t gotten a life yet.”


For the retrial Garcetti replaced the original prosecution team. David Conn, the 44-year-old acting head of the D.A.’s special trials unit, was named the new lead prosecutor. The New York native joined the district attorney’s office in 1978 after graduating from Columbia University Law School. Conn previously served in the sex crimes, special investigations and organized crime divisions.

Joining Conn is 36-year-old Carol Najera, a ten-year-veteran deputy district attorney. Both Conn and Najera have prosecuted death-penalty cases, but Najera’s appointment was not popular within the D.A.’s office. Garcetti urged his staff to “get behind” the new team, but moments later seemed to undercut Najera: “David Conn is the person assigned to the case. He will be handling 95 percent of it. lie asked that Carol be assigned to the case. I said, ‘Yes, she will be a fine assistant for Dave.'”

Within weeks, there was already significant animosity between Abramson and the new prosecution team. At one hearing, Conn accused Abramson of wanting to delay the start of the trial because of her “financial arrangement” to provide commentary on the O.J. Simpson case for ABC News. When a police witness asked to have a picture taken with Abramson, Najera said, “That’s disgusting—this hero worship of you.” Abramson replied, “As much as you hate me now, you’ll be apoplectic at the end of trial.” The witness’s mother turned to Najera and told her, “You’re the rudest person I’ve ever met.” A delighted Abramson maintains that Najera is “the greatest asset of the defense case.”


The ability of the Menendez case to attract controversial characters continued with the emergence of Martha Jane Shelton, a Falls Church, Virginia woman who became hooked on Court TV’s coverage of the trial. Shelton wrote to Lyle after watching him testify. She too was an abuse victim. When Lyle phoned her, she told him details of her life she’d never revealed before. The 30-year-old single mother was so dedicated, she even began raising money for the defense fund at a Falls Church bar in addition to urging friends to pray for the brothers.

But the night of the mistrial declaration, Shelton says she heard a different side of Lyle during a phone call from jail. He was arrogant, cocky. At one point, Shelton claims, Lyle laughed and said, “We’ve snowed half the country. Now we have to snow the other half.”  She was shocked.

A few days later she phoned A Current Affair. She told them about Lyle’s comment and offered to tape some of her phone conversations with him for the show. Then Shelton called Court TV reporter Terry Moran, who had covered the trial, and said she was sympathetic to Lyle but felt she should do something. She confessed one other thing to Moran: She had served time for check fraud.

“You have a record and now you’re dead,” Moran told her. “My advice would be to stay out of this.” Shelton didn’t take that advice. The next day she phoned Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne. Dunne was more than happy to feature Shelton’s account of Lyle’s “snowed half the country” remark in his next Menendez article. However, he made no mention of her criminal past. Shelton was described as “a working single mother, with a two-year-old son, who had been in constant telephone contact with Lyle Menendez throughout the trial.” Lyle told his attorneys he had only two conversations with Shelton and insisted he never uttered the “snowed” line.

Meanwhile, A Current Affair reportedly provided Shelton with recording equipment and paid her $1000 for taping her conversations with Lyle. Shelton denies she received money from the show. The calls were taped, she says, because otherwise no one would believe somebody with a criminal record. On March 16, 1994 the show introduced a story about “a call that could possibly turn Lyle Menendez into a convicted murderer.” In an interview with reporter John Johnston, Shelton’s story changed slightly from the one she told Vanity Fair. Now, Lyle said, “We have half the jury snowed.” In other revelations. Shelton claimed Lyle called Erik “a pussy who just shot up the bookcase.” And there was more.

“If my phone calls from jail had been monitored, the jury never would have come back hung,” she claimed Lyle told her. “If 1 go to prison for the rest of my life, my brother is going with me.” Johnston reported that Shelton’s tapes were now at the center of the prosecution case.” In a parting shot, Shelton turned to the camera and addressed her former confidant: “I hope you get what you deserve.” (Because of legal concerns, the TV show didn’t broadcast any of the tapes.)

But in another interview a month later, Shelton told reporter Harvey Levin the “snowed” line had been said only in jest while Lyle was “joking around” the night of the mistrial. Shelton said she “felt guilty” about taping many of her phone calls but since she had “a police record as long as a DC-9 airplane,” she fretted, “who’s going to believe me?” At the request of California officials, Shelton was pressured in Virginia to turn over her audiotapes to the Beverly Hills police. The tapes were never played publicly—there was nothing of importance on them.

Shelton also had recorded several calls with Abramson while trying to raise money for the defense fund. “Miss Shelton was not a developed witness,” declared Abramson at a pretrial hearing. “She is reaching out for her 15 minutes of fame.”


During the pretrial hearings, the courtroom presence of Menendez family members and friends dwindled to one faithful advocate: Norma Belly Novelli. The native of England and mother of four grown children had lived in southern California for 15 years. She published Mind’s Eye, a small monthly newspaper circulated in local jails and state prisons. In June 1990 Lyle wrote the newspaper to comment on an article critical of Pope John Paul II.

“From your various articles and your paper’s structural tone, I believe we would get along quite well,” he added in a personal postscript. Norma and Lyle became friends through a series of letters and phone calls. She cheerfully served as a telephone operator for him, setting up conference calls with his friends. In those early conversations, Lyle frequently boasted he would soon be out of jail. His plans included moving to Florida and buying a Ferrari. He asked Novelli to save all the media coverage—someday he wanted to show everything to his grandchildren. To Novelli, Lyle frequently seemed more preoccupied with his media image than with the case against him.

At one of the pretrial hearings in early 1993, Novelli displayed a valentine card with a shiny, mirror-like front she was sending her favorite prisoner. “It’s good for shaving,” she said. “They aren’t allowed to have mirrors in jail.” When a friend noticed that Lyle appeared to be developing dark circles around his eyes, Lyle asked Novelli to bring him makeup. She advised him that it wasn’t such a good idea. Lyle also complained about the preppie way the defense team made him dress. It just wasn’t him. His pre-jail clothes–including the expensive Italian loafers his attorneys didn’t want him wearing in the courtroom—were in storage. Novelli says that he requested a copy of GQ so he could offer his attorneys a fashion lesson.


PLAYBOY JULY 1995: Menendez Confidential: True Crime
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