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DIFFERENCES EMERGED IN COURT

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Many thought of them as two sides of the same coin. But Erik and Lyle Menendez, who were tried together for their parents' murders, emerged in court as two distinctly different faces of torment.

Lyle, the strong older brother, was cool and controlled, programmed by his father for success. Erik was the weak younger brother, anguished and prone to tears, rejected by his father as a misfit.To the outside world, they were rich and handsome, kids who had everything. The big house, the cars, the fine schools, the tennis coaches and country club entree that builds tennis pros.

Yet, on the threshold of adulthood, they admittedly burst into a doorway and blew away their wealthy parents, Jose and Kitty, with twin shotguns.

What drove two such privileged young men to such a violent act? Two answers were given at trial.

The prosecution view was simple: The brothers loved their world of privilege and wanted it free of parental restrictions, so they plotted to kill their parents.

Erik, 23, and Lyle, 26, offered a more complex scenario. Their demanding, tyrannical father, they said, had been molesting both boys since they were toddlers and planned to kill them rather than risk a sex scandal.

Erik gave a chilling account of 12 years of sexual torture that ended only with his father's death. Lyle said his sex abuse ended earlier but he was then subjected to mental programming by Jose, who had decided to mold his older son in his own image.

On the witness stand, Lyle recited from memory his father's self-improvement drill: "I was not born into this world to fail nor does failure course through my veins. I am not a sheep, and I refuse to walk and talk with the sheep. I will not hear those who weep and moan. Their disease is contagious. . . . Mediocrity is contagious."

Cold and detached at times, Lyle nevertheless burst into wrenching sobs when he recounted his rape by his father and his own childish attempt to emulate the behavior on his brother.

"I don't understand why and I'm sorry," he said to his brother across the courtroom in a moment of high drama that sent tears streaming down Erik's face.

Erik, who was 18 when the killings took place on Aug. 20, 1989, was portrayed as the more pitiable sibling - the weakling, the misfit, the outcast who was shunned by his father because he cried too much.

Even at that age, Erik said, his father continued to force him into sex acts that sometimes involved the use of tacks, needles and a knife.

Lyle, always his brother's protector, said he was shocked when Erik told him of the abuse, felt he had to intervene and confronted Jose in August 1989.

Erik described his father's furious reaction as "like a rush of wind, like a hurricane" and said his mother had a look of "stone resolve."

He said both brothers knew they would be killed and acted in self-defense. They raced in panic to a car where they loaded shotguns, he said, and then returned and killed their parents.