THE GAY QUESTION
Prosecutors tried to turn Erik’s sexual identity into one of the lingering mysteries of Menendez I. In a closed hearing the last week of the trial, deputy D.A. Lester Kuriyama hoped to prove Erik was gay. He asked permission to bring in a county jail inmate who would testify that he’d performed oral sex on Erik in the jail’s shower room.
Kuriyama also sought testimony from a photographer who’d shot a modeling portfolio of what prosecutors considered to be suggestive pictures. Although the photo contact sheet contains mostly headshots, there are also pictures of a shirtless Erik in an open jean jacket and another of him wearing only white cotton briefs—a takeoff of the Calvin Klein ad. “It offends me that a molested child is being blamed this way for the perversion of his molester,” said Abramson. After an angry debate, Judge Stanley Weisberg denied Kuriyama’s requests.
Dominick Dunne interviewed the photographer, Philip Kearney, looking for evidence of what he called Erik’s “possible homosexuality.” Kearney said he’d shot the portfolio in 1988 when Erik was considering becoming a model or actor. “Did you have an affair with Erik?” Dunne asked Kearney. “Spiritually, yes. Physically, almost,” he replied. Vanity Fair reportedly paid $10,000 to run the underwear picture.
Although the controversial evidence wasn’t allowed in court, Kuriyama suggested in dosing statements that Erik’s homosexuality was the real Menendez family secret. “Homosexuality is a personal choice,” he said. Over defense objections, Kuriyama then hinted that Erik was gay. “If Erik indeed engaged in consensual homosexual activities, that would account for his ability to describe the sexual encounters with his father,” Kuriyama said.
Lyle reportedly told a friend that he worried that Erik was bisexual. Erik insists he’s not gay.
CLASH OF THE TITANS
The caustic feud between Vanity Fair’s Dominick Dunne and Leslie Abramson began early in the trial. The day after opening statements, Dunne appeared on Good Morning America. Shortly before the morning session began, the diminutive writer approached the equally diminutive Abramson and asked, “Did you see the plug I gave you this morning on TV?” “Nicky, I don’t need any plugs,” Abramson replied coolly.
The day after the mistrial, Abramson described him as “the little puke, the little closet queen” in a post trial interview she set up with jurors sympathetic to the defense. Dunne had become a cheerleader for the prosecution, keeping the anti-Menendez media juggernaut going strong for months following the mistrial.
No one could accuse Dunne of being an uninvolved reporter when he wrote: “If Jose did stick needles and tacks into his son’s thighs and buttocks, why didn’t Erik bleed? I tried sticking a thumbtack into my buttocks and I bled.”
Dunne feigns disdain for Abramson but loves to write about her continuing criticism of his credentials. In various Menendez articles, he quotes a speech in which “she called me a liar and said that I had made up facts,” retells an insult about himself from a BBC documentary and reprints every mention she made of him during the course of the trial. Fie even published an excerpt from the book proposal for Abramson’s forthcoming autobiography
Dunne has also tweaked her for making a reported $4000 a day as an O.J. commentator for ABC News. Of course, Dunne may be envious_ He’s providing courtroom play-by-play for the less prestigious Good Morning America and the local CBS affiliate in L.A. But Dunne still has clout. He and Joe McGinnis—an author whose controversial journalism has resulted in best-sellers about Ted Kennedy and convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald—have been given front row seats for the Simpson trial. Local newspapers are seated several rows behind.
“Here you have southern California’s three leading newspaper companies relegated to the cheap seats while the front row is reserved for Judith Krantz in pants and Ted Kennedy’s unauthorized mind reader” complained Copley News reporter Paul Pringle to the Los Angeles Times. “Dunne’s a professional gossip, and it seems like McGinnis ought to be able to read 0.J.’s mind from anywhere in the courtroom.”
“It’s perfect? chortled Abramson. “Judy and Judas together in the front row. What a team.”
As for the brothers, March 8 marked the fifth anniversary of Lyle’s arrest. While Erik has been busy writing, Lyle needs more energy around him. When possible, he spends hours on the phone chatting with relatives, supporters, girlfriends and strangers who’ve written him letters.
Before the trial, Lyle served as a jail trustee, delivering meals and distributing mail to fellow prisoners. He preferred it to being locked in a cell all day. At one point, Lyle Menendez became a tourist attraction, a popular diversion when visitors would tour the jail.
“They used to bring me out as a spokesperson,” he says. “They would bring me around the corner and sort of parade me like the Elephant Man or something. People were shocked. I don’t think they actually expected to meet me. The kids would all be excited, and I actually didn’t mind it.”
“They would recognize me immediately and I wouldn’t be handcuffed or anything,” he said. “I would just stand there with a few deputies and we would joke around. They allowed them to ask me questions and then they would say, ‘What’s it like? It must be a big switch for you, being in jail. How do they treat you in here?’ Obviously, I couldn’t say that they beat me down every day or something.”
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