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Tennis Coach Says Jose Menendez Cruelly Pushed Sons To Suffer

August 21, 1993 GMT

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ The tennis coach of Erik and Lyle Menendez portrayed their father, Jose Menendez, as ″one of the worst″ of the ambitious ″tennis parents″ he’d ever seen.

Charles Wadlington Sr., 39, once ranked among the world’s 100 top tennis players, took the stand Friday at the brothers’ murder trial on the fourth anniversary of their parents’ slayings as defense lawyers added to their portrait of an obsessive father and mother.

They are seeking to prove that Erik, 22, and Lyle, 25, were driven by years of abuse to kill their entertainment executive father and his wife, Kitty, because they feared the parents would kill them.

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Prosecutors say the brothers used shotguns to kill the couple on Aug. 20, 1989, out of greed for their parents’ fortune.

Wadlington said he met the Menendez family in Princeton, N.J., in 1981, when the boys, then 11 and 13, were brought to him for lessons.

He recalled Jose Menendez’s instructions: ″They should practice as much as possible and I should work them very hard and I should teach what he wanted me to teach. ... The total focus was put on winning. ... At a very young age, he wanted them to play like they play on TV.″

For five years, he said, he supervised the brothers in a grueling practice regime starting as early as 6 a.m. before school, then after school into the night and all day on weekends.

If it rained, he said, they practiced in the rain and illness was no excuse to skip a session.

″What free time did they have?″ asked attorney Leslie Abramson.

″None,″ said Wadlington. ″We even practiced on Christmas Day.″

Asked what was wrong with Jose Menendez’s plan, he said, ″I thought it was cruel. They had to physically suffer.″

He said he and Jose clashed repeatedly. Wadlington said he had already given 20,000 tennis lessons and was familiar with ″tennis parents″ intent on their children’s success.

″He was one of the worst,″ he said of Jose. ″I’d already produced several world-ranked tennis players. I didn’t want his interference. ... I told him he should let me do the coaching and he should be the father. ... He said I was naive and I was fired.″

By then, Wadlington said, he and the brothers were friends who would go fishing together or listen to music and talk about girls.

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″They were two of my favorite kids,″ said the former coach who is now a financial adviser in West Palm Beach, Fla. ″They were nice kids. They were very respectful.″

When their parents were around, ″They had no personality,″ he recalled. But away from the influence of Jose and Kitty, ″They were classy kids.″

Asked why he continued to coach the brothers for so long when he and the father disagreed, Wadlington bowed his head, took a deep breath and appeared to be fighting tears.

″Because I cared for them,″ he said. ″I felt I was about all they had.″