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Lyle and Erik Menendez shoot their parents, Jose and Kitty, to death in the den of the family’s Beverly Hills, California, home. They then drove up to Mulholland Drive, where they dumped their shotguns before continuing to a local movie theater to buy tickets as an alibi. When the pair returned home, Lyle called 911 and cried, “Somebody killed my parents!” The Menendez murders became a national sensation when the new television network, Court TV, broadcast the trial in 1993.
Although the Menendez brothers were not immediately suspected, Erik couldn’t take the guilt and confessed his involvement to his psychotherapist, Dr. L. Jerome Oziel. Ignoring his own ethical responsibilities, Dr. Oziel taped the sessions with his new patient in an apparent attempt to impress his mistress. But the woman ended up going to the police with her information and, in March 1990, Lyle, 22, and Erik, 19, were arrested.
READ MORE: Why the Menendez Brothers Killed Their Parents—a Look Inside Their Murder Case
For the next three years, a legal battle was fought over the admissibility of Dr. Oziel’s tapes. Finally, the California Supreme Court ruled that the tapes could be played. When the trial began in the summer of 1993, the Menendez brothers put on a spirited defense. In compelling testimony lasting over a month, they emotionally described years of sexual abuse by Jose and Kitty Menendez. They insisted that they had shot their parents in self-defense because they believed that Jose would kill them rather than have the abuse be exposed.
The first two juries (one for each brother) deadlocked, and a mistrial had to be called. For the most part, the lack of a conviction was considered a travesty. At the retrial, which began in October 1995, the judge was much more restrictive in allowing the defense attorneys to focus on the alleged sexual abuse. In March 1996, both Lyle and Erik were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Menendez Brothers' Trials: 1993-94 & 1995-96
Defendants: Lyle and Erik Menendez
Crimes Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First trial: Leslie Abramson, Jill Lansing second trial: Leslie Abramson, Jill Lansing, Barry Levin
Chief Prosecutor: First trial: Pamela Bozanich second trial: David Conn
Judge: Both trials: Stanely M. Weisberg
Place: Both Trials: Los Angeles, California
Dates of Trials: First trial: July 20, 1993-January 28, 1994 second trial: August 23, 1995-March 20, 1996
Verdict: First trial: Mistrial second trial: guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances
Sentence: 2 consecutive life sentences for both Lyle and Erik Memendez
SIGNIFICANCE: The Menendez brothers' trials, claiming self-defense for brutally murdering their parents after enduring years of sexual and emotional abuse, revealed another, more sinister, motive for their crime: a vast inheritance upon their parents' death.
On the evening of August 20, 1989, with bowls of strawberries and ice cream in their laps, entertainment magnate Jose Menendez and his wife, Kitty, were watching television in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion. Unexpectedly, their sons Lyle and Eric allegedly burst through the door with 12-gauge shotguns, killing their parents. Bizarre as it may sound, this bloody "fact" would be the least disputed feature of one of the most controversial court battles of the decade.
Despite their wealth, the brothers grew up in a turbulent environment
By all appearances, Lyle and Erik Menendez seemed to live an idyllic life. Their father, 45-year-old José Menendez was a self-made Cuban immigrant, reports Rolling Stone, who went from Manhattan dishwasher to West Coast film executive. At age 19, he tied the knot with Kitty, who was two years his senior.
The Menendezes lived in a posh New Jersey country estate before José's career made it necessary for them to relocate to a mansion in California. Aside from enrolling the brothers at an expensive private school, José also paid for thrice-weekly tennis coaching sessions, in order for the brothers to excel at their chosen sport. Unfortunately, neither Erik nor Lyle seemed to share their father's itching, burning need to succeed.
From Lyle's academic difficulties to the brothers burglarizing their own neighborhood, José's frustration allegedly reached the point where he all but eliminated his children from his will. Judging by how Lyle supposedly deleted a copy of this will from José's home computer "by mistake," this may have been one of the major catalysts for the crime.
Based on Erik's own recollection, their relationship with their father was far from healthy. In a weird, twisted way, Erik admired José, even as he constantly controlled, pressured, and pushed them to their limits. Perhaps Lyle, in an interview with ABC News published in 2017, said it best. "But I found that my own childhood prepared me surprisingly well for the chaos of prison life."
Why It Took Three Juries to Convict the Menendez Brothers
B y the time of their trial, there was no question that Lyle and Erik Menendez had killed their parents. The question was why: specifically, whether greed alone had driven them to shoot their parents in cold blood. Defense attorneys countered this likelihood with an alternate motive &mdash a lifetime of abuse &mdash that two juries found at least somewhat compelling and a third did not. On this day, April 17, in 1996, the third and final jury recommended a life sentence for the Menendez brothers, without the possibility of parole.
The double murder had struck most people as especially cold, after all. Armed with shotguns, the brothers, then 18 and 21, had surprised Jose and Kitty Menendez while they sat watching TV and snacking on berries and cream in the family room of their Beverly Hills mansion, as TIME later reported. On that August night in 1989, the entertainment mogul and his wife were shot a total of 15 times.
While the murders were so violent and gruesome that police at first suspected a Mafia hit, attention quickly turned to the young men who stood to inherit $14 million &mdash &ldquoample motive for someone to kill somebody,&rdquo as the Beverly Hills district attorney told TIME in 1990.
It was hard not to notice the money trail that led from the crime scene &mdash a $5 million estate that Elton John and Michael Jackson had each once called home &mdash to the brothers, who spent as much as $700,000 of their inheritance in the months following the murders, according to Vanity Fair. Lyle alone spent $60,000 on a Porsche, $40,000 on clothing and $15,000 on a Rolex. Then he bought a restaurant in Princeton, near the campus where he had been a student until he was suspended for plagiarism in his freshman year.
Still, the case was not as open-and-shut as prosecutors had hoped. The defense argument that the brothers had been &ldquopunched, belt-whipped, and molested by their parents,&rdquo per TIME, was persuasive enough that the two juries who were assigned to the brothers (one jury per defendant) in their first trial wound up deadlocked over the possibility of self-defense.
&ldquoThe jury looked shocked only twice: when Lyle’s cool voice came out of a boombox telling the therapist he would miss his dog as much as his parents, and when Erik said he felt love for his mother when he placed the shotgun in her cheek and blasted away her eye and nose,&rdquo TIME&rsquos Margaret Carlson wrote. But over the course of a six-month trial, the defense chipped away at the jurors&rsquo sense of horror and appealed to their empathy for two battered boys who could conceive no other way to escape their parents&rsquo brutality.
The jury at their second trial was not as easily swayed.
&ldquoThis time,&rdquo TIME summarized in 1996, &ldquoa single jury accepted the prosecution’s argument that the pair executed their mother and father in order to tap into the family fortune, rejecting the defense’s contention that the killings were a response to abuse.&rdquo
Read TIME’s 1993 take on the case, here in the archives: Sons and Murderers
True Crime Files: Group of TikTok users leading push to free Menendez Brothers
TikTok users are leading an online push to free Lyle and Erik Menendez, two brothers convicted of killing their parents in Beverly Hills.
The videos are all over social media.
Across TikTok, there are thousands of accounts created by users across the world – many of whom were probably not even alive when Lyle and Erik Menendez were being tried for the murder of their parents in Beverly Hills – dedicated to freeing the convicted brothers. The internet group – some of the members being as young as 12 – call themselves the "Menendez Defenders and Guardians."
These young supporters are sending letters to Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County DA Geoge Gascón, explaining they&aposve studied the Beverly Hills murder case and believe the justice system got it wrong.
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"They didn&apost kill their parents for money. They were in the fear of their lives," said Erin Dunleavy, a Menendez Defender.
Another member of the Menendez Defender echoes Dunleavy&aposs argument.
"They didn&apost do it for money," said Jazmine Shah, 16, a fellow Menendez Defender. "They didn&apost, you know, do it because they hated their parents. They wanted the abuse to stop."
"They didn&apost do it for money," said Zahira Agustin, a Menendez Guardian member. "They didn&apost do it because they hated their parents. They just wanted the abuse to stop."
The brothers&apos parents – Jose and Kitty Menendez – were found shot to death on August 20, 1989. The couple&aposs deaths shocked the world.
Lyle Menendez had called 911, crying hysterically and telling the operator his parents had been killed.
At first, there was speculation the mob had committed the brutal slayings. But soon a true picture emerged – revealing the real killers were the victim’s two sons, Lyle and Erik Menendez.
Robert Rand, the author of The Menendez Murders, interviewed the brothers two months after the murder of their parents and months before they were identified as prime suspects.
"Erik Menendez told me that he would have given his life for his father&aposs life," Rand said.
Rand said the brothers told loving stories of their parents, especially Erik.
"[Erik] told me that he wished he had been home. If he had been home, he said he would have tried to do something to stop the killers," Rand said.
"But they were lying to you," said FOX 11&aposs Gina Silva.
"Yes, they lied to me," Rand responded. "They lied to the police. They lied to their family. The Menendez brothers lied to a lot of people."
Lyle and Erik were charged with the murder of their parents. Prosecutors said they were motivated by greed. But during emotional testimony, the brothers said they killed their parents because they feared for their lives after years of sexual and emotional abuse.
The first trial resulted in a hung jury. During the second trial, the brothers were found guilty of the first-degree murder of both their parents. Both brothers were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Rand believes that was a mistake.
"Just because they were molested doesn&apost give you a free pass to kill your parents," Rand said. "But with all of the mitigating evidence, with all of the family history that was presented in the first trial, one can understand, as did half of the jurors, that this should have been a resolution of manslaughter and not murder."
The Menendez Defenders agree.
Shah, who lives in India, has watched both trials closely.
"The brothers were depicted as greedy sociopaths who killed their parents for inheritance but then, I watched the trial," the teen said. "It was so hard to ignore that there were those other things going on in that family and there was so much corroboration of the abuse."
Rand, who has reported on the Menendez brothers for more than 30 years, is hoping Lyle and Erik will get a new trial based on new evidence, that includes this letter sent by Eric to his cousin allegedly eight months before the murders.
"Erik Menendez wrote a paragraph in a letter to his cousin Andy Kano, that his father was still molesting him at the age of 17 and that he didn&apost know what to do about it," Rand said. "And he said in this letter that he was afraid every night when he heard his father coming down the hallway."
"I just want people to see that it&aposs not fair," Dunleavy said.
The Menendez Defenders say they will continue producing their TikTok and Instagram videos until their voices are heard. Rand believes these young supporters will have an impact.
"I think in the 27 years since the Menendez brothers trials, society has evolved and changed so much," Rand said. "And if the Menendez trial was held today in 2021, I absolutely believe the resolution would have been manslaughter and not murder, and that is the way this case should have ended."
The Menendez brothers have been in prison since 1996. They’ve exhausted all of their appeals but if there is new evidence, they could possibly get another trial.
Where are they now?
The brothers were sent to separate prisons after being sentenced in 1996.
More than 20 years later, on 4 April 2018, Lyle was moved to the same housing unit as Erik at the Richard J Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, allowing them to reunite for the first time. They burst into tears and hugged each other at their first meeting.
Both brothers married in prison. Lyle and wife Anna Eriksson divorced after five years, but Erik and his wife Tammi Ruth Saccoman have stayed married since 1999.
Who are the Menendez Brothers? TikTok frenzy stirs interest in old murder case
You may or may not have heard of the Menendez brothers over the years, but a recent TikTok trend has brought about huge interest in this particular murder case.
Erik and Lyle Menendez were in their early 20s on August 20th, 1989, when they called 911 and reported that their parents had been murdered.
The two brothers were arrested for the murder in 1990 after they began to lavishly spend their inherited money, and their trial became a media fiasco when it was broadcast in 1993, making the Menendez brothers well-known around the world.
In 1996, both Erik and Lyle were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. They later claimed that they had committed the murder but said it was due to the abuse they had endured from their father.
Lyle and Erik both now reside in the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, in a unit reserved for inmates who agree to participate in education and rehabilitation programs without creating disruptions.
But after 25 years and no new developments in the case, it was unusual to see that the case had become a frenzy on TikTok, with many users taking the side of the brothers.
The popular social media site has seen users demand that the brothers get a retrial, while some are even asking that they be released from prison, which comes along with videos of the brothers in their first trial.
These videos on TikTok show the moment the brothers testified in court, and the pain they felt was clear as they remembered the traumatic occurrences they went through while being abused by their father.
ABC News journalist Erin Murtha reported on the outcry of support for the brothers from TikTok, as she explained: &lsquoNone of these teenagers deny that this horrific crime of their parents being murdered happened or that it was Erik and Lyle who committed it.
&lsquoRather &ndash they take an empathetic approach supported by the benefits of hindsight. They&rsquore now looking at the murders through the lens of the values of 2021 &ndash especially with regard to the claims of sexual abuse&hellip they have grown up in an era where #MeToo reigns and where people can speak more openly about what were previously deemed to be uncomfortable issues.&rsquo
According to Google Trends, searches for &lsquoWho are the Menendez brothers&rsquo and &lsquoMenendez brothers case&rsquo have seen a significant jump lately as people rushed on the internet to find more information about them, due to seeing their story on social media.
On August 20, 1989, Jose and Kitty were shot and killed at home, an act that shocked neighbors in their ritzy Beverly Hills neighborhood. Police didn&apost give much thought to extensively questioning Erik and Lyle that night, but the boys soon raised eyebrows by taking advantage of their newfound access to the family riches, with Erik hiring a personal coach to help with a burgeoning tennis career.
However, Erik was also becoming burdened with guilt, and in late October he confessed the crimes to his therapist, L. Jerome Oziel. Upon learning of this, Lyle reportedly grew angry and threatened to kill Dr. Oziel if he told anyone else. However, the therapist confided in his girlfriend, who in turn tipped off the police.
The brothers were arrested within days of each other in March 1990, and in late December 1992 they were indicted for first-degree murder. Dr. Oziel&aposs tapes became a subject of legal jousting over the issue of doctor-patient privilege violation, but eventually some of the tapes were admitted as evidence.
Who are the Menendez brothers?
Photo Credit: rollingstone.com
Lyle and Erik Menendez are brothers charged in the murder case of the parents, Jose and Mary Menendez, in 1996. Lyle is the oldest brother, he was born in 1968, and his brother Erik was born in 1970.
The brother is serving life in prison for killing their parents on August 20, 1989. They were charged with the first-degree murders of their parents. They are both serving life sentences with no options at parole.
Erik became a great tennis player and discussed how his father was obsessed with him being the best. As a result, he was ranked nationally for his age group.
When their father accepted a job in Beverly Hills, the family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, Erik started hanging out with a rough crowd and was becoming a delinquent. He got in trouble for a few robberies as well.
Lyle was enrolled at Princeton University. However, he was suspended for a year because of plagiarism. The next few years for Lyle were troubled after that occurrence.
Was Sexual Abuse Behind the Menendez Brothers' Murders?Lyle, left, and Erik Menendez sit in Beverly Hills, Calif., courtroom, May 14, 1990 as a judge postponed their preliminary hearing on charges of murdering their wealthy parents in August 1989. (AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Was Sexual Abuse Behind the Menendez Brothers' Murders?
Was Sexual Abuse Behind the Menendez Brothers' Murders?
Stuart Hart is an educational child psychologist and a professor emeritus at Indiana University, where he taught for 30 years. He also served as an expert defense witness in the trials of brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez, for the 1989 shotgun murders of their parents Jose and Kitty Menendez at their Beverly Hills home. At the time, Lyle was 21 and Erik was 18.
In that case, the prosecution argued that the brothers had been motivated by greed, pointing to the lavish shopping they did after the killings. The defense said the prime motive was sexual abuse the young men suffered at their father’s hands. After he began working on the case, Hart came to agree with the defense—when he took the stand, he argued strongly for the child-abuse defense. In 1996 Lyle and Erik Menendez were each sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, but even today Hart views the homicides as a reaction to gross parental misconduct, rather than the work of cold, calculating killers.
Dr. Hart spoke with A&E Real Crime about that case, and what he thinks ultimately drove the brothers to pull their triggers.
Can you briefly describe the work you’ve done on the Menendez Brothers case?
I’ve probably spent 600 to 800 hours on this case. I studied the available records—school, health, crime records that were available𠅊nd interviewed teachers, friends, girlfriends, family, extended family and a coach.
I spent 60 hours with Lyle before the first trial in the Los Angeles County Jail, and some interviews with Erik. In the second trial my focus was more on Erik.
Do you think Lyle and Erik had the same motive for killing their parents?
Probably at the center of it, they shared the central motive. They were brought up in a way [where] they were told𠅊nd managed repeatedly—to mistrust their own judgment, to rely on their father. When the killings occurred, I think the fairest way to describe it is that they were in a state of great fear, panic and hopelessness. And surely anger, too.
There were nuances to how they got there. When Lyle learned that his brother had [been] sexually abused all through these years, he was committed to protecting his brother. He approached his father and said, “You’re going to have to let him go otherwise we’re going to tell.”
Sexual abuse is very much psychological abuse. In my best judgment, they were in a state where they feared he was going to kill them. And they had no history to suggest that anyone was going to come to their help. I had a teacher at the Princeton Day School [where the brothers were enrolled] tell me that she should’ve reported [the parents] for child abuse… but the teachers were intimidated by them.
Is there any reason to be skeptical of the brothers’ sex-abuse defense? What makes their claim ring true for you?
The consistency of the reporting of it, and the details of the reporting of it. And the consistency of those details. And the fact that this is humiliating.
You had an adolescent girl cousin who was saying that Lyle confided—not in terms of clearly stating what he was experiencing𠅋ut telling her he wanted to stay in her room.
There was another cousin who Erik reported to. And that would’ve been quite a risk for them: As young children—Lyle was about eight or so𠅊nything that got back to his father was going to mean serious problems. So much reporting of sexual abuse is a case of somebody describing what happened to them with nobody observing them.
Was Lyle the leader?
Well it probably would’ve looked that way to most people because he was a little older and had a wider sphere of activity and movement. Both are very talented, very smart guys. But Erik was under such pressure. He had great difficulty concentrating in school. His teachers in the 9th grade reported that he would cry in school, on average, every day of the week.
What about all the money they spent after the murders? What’s your response to the prosecution’s argument that these were sociopathic rich kids?
I found in the people I interviewed, the vast majority of them thought the notion they would do this for money made no sense at all. Money was never that important to them because they had money. They had credit cards. To spend money after their parents were dead, that was like extending their lifestyle but maybe with the added motivation of getting additional relief with just buying things.
And what about the theory that Erik is a closeted homosexual, and that his father’s homophobia might’ve been a motivating factor in the homicides?
You certainly would think that Erik had to deal with all kinds of self-doubt about his own sexuality when he was being sexually molested by his father. He had to deal with his love for his father and his great fear of his father. And he would’ve had to have been worrying about his own sexuality.
But I interviewed one of his girlfriends from high school, and there was nothing that came out of that to suggest homosexuality. And of course he has a marriage—now it isn’t a marriage for which conjugal visits are allowed𠅋ut I know that Erik’s marriage has been such an important part of his life.
What about the decision to kill their mother, Kitty Menendez? She was shot 10 times. If it was their father abusing them, why did she end up getting killed?
That is something that we’ll probably never know fully. I’ve talked with the boys about this, and it’s something that they don’t fully understand. She was a very painful part of their lives, throughout their lives. And a person who they would’ve seen as not protecting them. She would turn up the television set if one of them was off in another room being physically abused by the father.
Any thoughts on parricide more generally speaking, and why some children can be pushed to kill their parents?
You’re highly likely to find elements of the abuse and neglect that you found with Lyle and Erik. You find psychological, physical and sometimes sexual abuse.
Kids who have been abused will go into court and try to defend the parent that has been abusing them. Those are still the people they love most. Those are still the center of their world. Many of them still want to be back with those people. So it’s helpful to understand how horrendous it must be to get to the point where they will kill them.
They think their life is over. They see no way out. And remember, 10 times more children are killed by their parents each year than the other way around.
Revelations of a Dysfunctional Family
The police were building a case, saying that the brothers killed their parents to get their hands on the inheritance. While they would use their buying blitz against them in court, the police got their hands on some damning evidence. Racked by guilt, Erik confided in his longtime psychologist, L. Jerome Oziel. He told Oziel about his crime and Lyle found out. So, he threatened to kill Oziel if he told the authorities.
The threat voided doctor-patient confidentiality to a certain extent. Lyle was arrested in the United States, and Erik turned himself in after returning from Israel, where he was at a tennis event. Though recorded tapes of Erik’s confession to Oziel could not be used in court to convict the brothers, the psychologist’s recorded notes were permitted as evidence. The trial that followed revealed that the Menendez family possibly had some dark secrets
The defense leveled accusations against José Menendez for being a tyrannical and abusive father. The brothers also claimed that they were sexually abused by José under Kitty’s knowledge. Family members corroborated the sexual abuse claims under oath. Yet, none of the accusations were formally substantiated.
The Menendez brothers were housed in L.A. County Jail during their two-year trial. When the trial was televised, it became a highly watched media event of the time. While the prosecution said the brothers killed their parents out of greed, the defense team tried to sell the abuse story. In 1996, Erik and Lyle Menendez were tried by separate juries and were sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.
Many are wondering if the Menendez brothers are still in jail. The answer to that is yes, they are, and they won’t be out for a very long time, if ever at all. They have tried to appeal their convictions several times in the 20 years they have spent in prison, but to no avail. Were the Menendez brothers abused? They still claim they were, as do some of their relatives, but no evidence to prove the claims have been found. Even the validity of L. Jerome Oziel’s statements is a matter of contention.
The Menendez brothers’ murders became the stuff of popular culture. Even the Jim Carrey-Ben Stiller starrer, The Cable Guy parodied the case when it released in 1996, around the time public interest in the trial was at its peak. The high-profile murder trial will be the subject of the upcoming Lifetime movie, Menendez: Blood Brothers.