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BEVERLY HILLS CASE MIRRORS DUNNE NOVEL

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The murder trial of Erik and Lyle Menendez, sons of the Beverly Hills entertainment elite, resembles a Dominick Dunne novel about the secret lives of the troubled rich.

And Dunne is among the pack of journalists, camera crews, book authors and movie writers covering the saga of two privileged brothers killing their parents in the $4 million family mansion.It was self-defense, say the brothers' lawyers, alleging hideous sexual and psychological abuse by their father and complicity by their mother. Prosecutors insist it was cold-blooded murder with but one motive: greed.

"The majority of books and articles I write deal with rich and powerful people in a criminal situation," said Dunne, author of such best-sellers as "The Two Mrs. Grenvilles." "So naturally I was fascinated by this."

"You're talking about kids who had everything - the cars, the tennis courts, swimming pools, credit cards. And yet this happened."

Dunne, who's covering the trial for Vanity Fair magazine, said the tragedy touches people on a personal level. "After this happened, there were a lot of parents who said to themselves, `Could this happen to us?' " he said.

Dunne, who lived in Beverly Hills for 25 years and raised his children there before moving to New York, said his grown children weren't surprised by the Menendez case.

"My son said to me, `Dad, I knew lots of kids in Beverly Hills who've talked about killing their parents," Dunne said.

"So sad," Dunne whispered. "So sad."