Sexual Warfare Entangled Menendez Jury -- Men Were Sexist, Insulting, Say Women Jurors In Erik's Trial

LOS ANGELES - A war between men and women on Erik Menendez' jury doomed the chances for a verdict, a group of female jurors said yesterday, suggesting that homophobia and sexism influenced the deliberations.

"It was hostile in there," said juror Tracy Miller, 27, a bookstore clerk. "There were insults, sexual comments. They tried to outshout us."

"We were called ignorant asses and empty-headed and `those women,' " said another juror, a 36-year-old secretary who asked not to be identified. "We had one juror who would put on his sunglasses and be balancing his checkbook and cutting out coupons when the women were talking."

Hazel Thornton, 36, a Pacific Bell Co. engineer, said the jury even had trouble choosing a foreperson because of sexual politics.

"The guys would never have voted for any of us," she said. "So we took the least offensive man," a college professor.

The female jurors made their comments while meeting with a reporter. Included in the meeting were four jurors and two alternates from Erik's jury and an alternate from the jury of his brother, Lyle.

Attempts to get comment from male jurors were unsuccessful.

Erik, 23, and Lyle, 26, were charged with first-degree murder in the Aug. 20, 1989, slayings of their wealthy parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez. Prosecutors said the brothers killed out of greed and hatred; the brothers testified they were sexually and mentally abused by their parents.

Erik's jurors deliberated for 106 hours over 19 days before they deadlocked Jan. 13. Lyle's jury deliberated for 139 hours over 25 days before they deadlocked Friday.

A show-of-hands vote on the first day of deliberations indicated the jury was evenly split, the female jurors said yesterday: six women for manslaughter convictions, six men for first-degree murder. Ultimately, five men voted for first-degree murder, one for second-degree. The women all voted for voluntary manslaughter.

When homosexuality was raised, Miller recalled that several male jurors showed new interest.

She said the male jurors became fixated on whether Erik was homosexual and one suggested Erik and Lyle were homosexual lovers.

"He just made that up," she said in exasperation. "It wasn't evidence. . . . He said Jose and Kitty found out that Erik and Lyle were having a homosexual affair and that's why they had to kill them."

Miller called the prosecution's innuendos about Erik's sexuality a desperation ploy.

"It was the last straw for the prosecution," she said. "They couldn't prove hatred or greed. So they played this dirty little trick at the end and the guys fell for it."

The female jurors did not say the male jurors voted for harsher convictions simply because they were homophobic, but they did think homophobia influenced their decisions.

Betty Burke, an alternate on Erik's jury, said she, too, had a preconceived notion before the trial: "I looked at Erik and thought, `There's a killer.' " But she said his testimony turned her around. "No one could make up lies like that," she said. "I went home and thought, `I could kill Jose myself.' "

Another of Erik's jurors, Linda Scheker, 37, a mother of two sons, said she held back tears when Lyle was testifying.

In deliberations, she said, some of the men believed that the defendants had been abused, but not sexually.

She, like other jurors, said she was disappointed with the quality of the prosecution evidence. Her judgment of the state's star witness, psychologist Jerome Oziel: "I think he was probably the worst human being I'd ever seen."

Thornton agreed. "We all thought he was slime," she said. "We took a vote on it. It was one of the few things we agreed about."

After Erik's jury deadlocked, all of them said they believe the brothers should be allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and not be tried again.

"It's futile," said Judy Zamos, an alternate on Lyle's jury. "They're not going to find a jury in our lifetime that could agree to convict them of first-degree murder."