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MENENDEZES MARK SIXTH YEAR IN JAIL.

Byline: Anne Burke Daily News Staff Writer

As a jury deliberates murder charges against them, Lyle and Erik Menendez prepare to mark personal milestones - six years behind bars at the Los Angeles County jail.

Before their March 1990 arrests in the shotgun slayings of their wealthy parents, Lyle and Erik Menendez zipped around town in fast cars and jetted around the world on the junior tennis circuit.

Now, as they await verdicts in their second trial, home is in a "high-power" module in the Men's Central Jail downtown - reserved for celebrities, snitches and anybody else who needs to be segregated from the general population, said Joseph Koch, senior deputy with the Sheriff Department's legal staff.

Their cells are spartan, just a bed, sink, toilet and ceiling light. Lyle's walls are decorated with a dozen or so personal snapshots and a picture of a bird.

It's not easy to get to know the neighbors in high-power, Koch said. There are no group activities and little opportunity to socialize, he said.

The brothers take their meals alone in their cells, where they also watch the hallway television. Other than that - except when they're in court, as they have been since October - they pass the time reading, talking on the telephone, writing letters, working out or talking to visitors.

Lyle was 22 when he was arrested March 8, 1990. Erik was 19 when he turned himself in three days later.

With the passing of time, the brothers have matured, said William Vicary, a psychiatrist who has treated Erik for many years.

"They're dramatically different because of all the counseling and the isolation and the opportunity to think over their lives, why they did what they did," Vicary said.

The brothers are seeking manslaughter verdicts in the Aug. 20, 1989, shotgun slayings of their father, Jose, 45, a wealthy entertainment executive, and acquittal in the killing of their mother, Kitty, 47. Their first trial ended in deadlock.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, contend the brothers killed to win their independence and inherit their parents' $14 million fortune.

The brothers claim they killed out of fear and anger following years of physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

Never mind that the brothers' chief prosecutor, David P. Conn, calls them cold-blooded killers, Koch said the brothers are "always polite" to him.

Erik, who not too long ago earned Brownie points wiping tables and mopping floors, gets along well with his jailers, Vicary said.

"He's a less threatening, naive kind of guy," Vicary said. "Some of them even feel sorry for him."

Lyle does all right, sheriff's officials said, but there have been a few problems.

In November, Lyle spent time in "the hole" for hoarding jail jumpsuits, sheets and other items, according to a source. The hole is a cell with no privileges - phones, TV or exercise yard.

In 1991, prosecutors claim jailers found an elaborate escape plan, containing mention of foreign hideaways, in Lyle's cell.

Defense attorneys claim the documents are nothing more than Lyle's fantasy about what he would do as a free man.

Lyle also got into trouble for sneaking food from the snack cart, a source said.

Depending on the jury's verdicts - assuming there are any - and the outcome of a possible penalty phase, the brothers could be off to state prison, Death Row or home, wherever that is. (Their parents' Elm Drive mansion has been sold.)

Their departure will mean the end of a long acquaintance for Koch and the brothers. Will he miss them?

Koch paused.

"Not in the classical sense," he said. But "I'll remember them."
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 4, 1996
Words:598
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