Blood Brothers: The Menendez Case

What is the truth? Do you find yourself believing in the press and most news stations more, and do you believe someone- or some people that were closer to the story less? Or is it the other way around? That is the question you’re gonna have to keep asking yourself as you read about this case. It’s also a case that I’m sure you’re probably already familiar with. This is the case of Lyle & Erik Menendez. 

This case has it all. The American Dream. Money. Fame. Fortune. Two young and attractive men. Did I say money already- cause there was a lot of it. The scene for this one: Beverly Hills, California. Ya know… 90210. Land of the filthy rich. The characters of this case: Erik Menendez, Lyle Menendez, and their parents. 

Old headlines back in 1989 would read, “Rare violence shatters quiet street in Beverly Hills” and, “Movie industry figure, wife slain in Beverly Hills home”. Let’s just be honest with ourselves- murders, let alone double murders, don’t happen in Beverly Hills- especially back in 1989.

Erik Menendez would tell you that this case didn’t actually start on August 20th, 1989, but actually seven days prior. Erik claims that he was in the den with his father and the two of them were discussing the subject of school. Erik’s father informed him that he was to live at home two days a week instead of living full-time on campus. Erik was shocked, because he already had his freshmen year under his belt- and had already lived on campus for a year. He was questioning his father- what had changed? Erik felt like all of his dreams of being able to escape home and get out from underneath his father’s thumb was falling apart. Erik ran upstairs, and began packing a bag. His mother followed him up the stairs and asked where he was going. Erik explained that he was going to go to a friend’s house to cool off for a couple of days. His mother took the packed bag from Erik and began to throw the clothes all over the room, telling her son that he wasn’t allowed to leave. A few minutes later, Erik’s father enters the room and immediately pins him up against a large window- with his arm against his neck and asks his son if they have a problem. Erik answered that no, they did not. Erik’s father said good, and told him to be home when he came back from his trip. In that moment, Erik says that he was numb and defeated. He said that he didn’t have the strength to fight his father- and felt dead inside. In that moment, he thought about suicide. 

Two days later (on August 15th), Erik says that he was walking inside the front of the house when he witnessed his brother, Lyle, and mother coming into the foyer- already embroiled in some sort of heated discussion. Erik explains that his brother simply said something along the lines of ‘I need it.. It’s important’. Immediately afterwards, his mother- enraged- stated that ‘No, you don’t!’ and ripped the hair piece from off of his brother’s head. Lyle would later go on to say that Erik had no idea that he wore a hair piece, so yes- Erik was absolutely surprised when he walked into the house and saw that happen. Although brothers, and for the most part- pretty close, they did not discuss everything in their lives with each other. They did have their own secrets, as most siblings do. Afterwards, the brothers spoke in private with each other. Erik promised to Lyle that he still loved him, and didn’t look at his brother any differently for having to wear a hair piece. But then suddenly, the discussion took a turn. Erik looked at his brother, and asked Lyle if he remembered back to when they were smaller and when Lyle had asked him if there was anything going on between their father and himself. At first, Lyle was confused with what Erik was trying to say. Erik reiterated that it was still happening… “sexual things.” The two brothers talked at length about what Erik was referring to, with Lyle asking if their mother knows about the allegations. Erik at first claimed that she didn’t, which turned into an ‘I don’t know’, which later became ‘Maybe.’ Lyle concluded the conversation that no matter what, they were going to be okay and nothing else was going to happen. Erik knew that his father was going to be furious once he figured out that Erik had confided with Lyle, but Erik knew that telling his brother was his only option. 

Two days after that (August 17th), Lyle confronted his father with what Erik had told him. Erik was nervous and scared of what his father was going to do to his brother. Lyle demanded to his father that the sexual abuse, and any other kind of abuse was going to stop immediately. However, his father just told him to stay out of it. Erik noted that the confrontation between his brother and his father was extremely tense and full of hostility. The next thing Erik knew- was that his father was banging on the door, demanding him to open it up. Not knowing what else he could do, he unlocked the door, allowing his father to burst through. His father questioned him about why he said anything to Lyle. He told Erik now that Lyle knew about the abuse, Lyle was just going to turn around to tell everyone, to which Erik adamantly refused. Erik managed to get away from his father- running into the den and inadvertently seeing his mother standing there. Erik noticed that she had been drinking- especially when she asked him what was going on- because she was slurring her speech. Erik made an off hand comment, saying something like she wouldn’t understand. However, she claimed that she understood just fine, going further to state that she’s known about everything the whole time. Shocked at what his own mother was alleging, Erik asked her what she really meant. She replied that she wasn’t stupid. At this point, Erik couldn’t believe what he was hearing. All he could say back to her was that he hated her. He now knew that his father wasn’t going to let him get away, but even worse, his mother knew and had condoned it. He now knew that his parents were going to end up killing him. 

The following day (August 18th), the boys traveled to San Diego- to try and get away from the madness happening inside the walls of their very lavish home. They went inside a Big 5 Sporting Goods store, and Erik remembers that everyone he came in contact with while in the store were very nice and cordial to him and to his brother. They were approached by a store associate and asked what they were looking for, to which the boys responded with ‘self-defense.’ They were pointed to the gun display. The store associate pointed them to a couple different gun models, and boys told the associate that they didn’t want anything too big. The associate showed them two shot guns. The boys purchased the guns right there, on the spot. 

On Saturday afternoon on August 19th, Erik remembers being driven with his brother to Marina Del Rey by their parents. He remembers that the drive down was silent, and he felt like he was being driven to his grave. When he saw all the boats, and knew that a getaway was unlikely, he was immediately overcome with dread. He knew that once his parents were able to get him on a boat, in the middle of the ocean with nothing and nowhere in sight, his chances of survival were slim. He knew that he was getting anxious and nervous and didn’t quite know how to deal with his emotions. However, things panned out for Erik and Lyle. A few deckhands decided to stay on the boat, and Erik remembers that his mother was upset that there were so many people on the boat once the boat had left the dock. Erik remembered thinking why would she, or why should she be so concerned about whether or not there were more than just the boat captain still on the boat. He deduced that nothing about that day trip made sense, and he thinks that because of the turmoil going on, they shouldn’t have taken that trip. Erik noted that the whole reason why they went out on the boat was to fish, however, no one did any fishing that day. The family was estranged while they were on the boat. The boys stayed out on the deck- in front of the boat, while their parents stayed underneath and away. There was very little to no communication from either party and the captain and deckhands noted that the aura on the boat was tense. While out on the boat that day, both brothers spent the whole ride communicating about what’s been happening back home. Erik felt like Lyle was putting the blame on himself because he had suspected something was going on but never intervened. The reason why Lyle was so suspicious was because he too was being sexually abused by his father. Later that evening, once the family had returned home, Erik heard his father pounding on his bedroom door, begging to get in. Erik claimed that he remembered sitting on his bed with the shotgun in his hand, waiting to see if his father was going to come through the door. He felt terror coursing through his veins and thought to himself, ‘is this it?’ Eventually however, the banging stopped, and Erik’s father walked away. 

Saturday, August 20th, 1989. Erik says that he woke up that morning feeling like the worst version of himself. Because of the tension, he hadn’t been sleeping well and hardly eating. The two brothers came up with a plan: that Erik was just going to stay away from the house for most of the day while Lyle worked on his mother, talking to her and getting her to understand where the boys were coming from. Erik noted that he drove to Santa Monica, and visited a church that he’d frequent anytime he was anxious about anything. Because he was depressed, he hoped that if he visited the church, he would leave feeling at peace. Afterwards, he made his way to the beach, and sat on the hood of his car, overlooking the sunset and thinking about how gloomy the future of his life looked. When he returned home that night, it was already dark- and he didn’t know what the evening was going to look like or turn into. Instead of just walking through the front door, he went around the side of the house where Lyle stood waiting. Lyle was mad at Erik for being so late- Lyle was expecting Erik to have been home hours ago. Lyle was adamant about wanting to leave right away, and Erik couldn’t help feeling like something was terribly wrong. 

10:00 p.m – Erik was standing in the foyer of the house, looking on as his brother was joining him as their mother was trailing Lyle, demanding that the two boys not go anywhere. Their father came out of nowhere, told their mother to shut up, told Lyle that he wasn’t going anywhere, and told Erik to go back up to his room and that he’d be up there in a minute. Lyle freaked out when he heard what his father had said, telling his father that he wasn’t going to ever touch Erik again. Their father charged at Lyle, telling him that he was going to do whatever it was that he wanted. As this was happening, the boys’ mother told Lyle that he ruined the family. Their father then took their mother by the arm into the den with him and he shut the door. The boys stood on the stairs, frantic about what was going to happen next. They were anticipating that their parents were going to come out of the den with a plan to murder them. Erik felt like his heart was going to beat right out of his chest. While Erik stood frozen, Lyle quickly ran upstairs, telling his brother that ‘it’s gotta happen now.’ Erik felt the thick tightening around his throat- the anxiety of his parents bursting out of the den with a weapon- intent on killing him and his brother. Erik wasn’t thinking about anything, and feeling nothing other than sheer panic and dread when he followed his brother up the stairs to grab the two shotguns. As he was headed back down the stairs, all he could think about was the times that his parents had threatened him or belittled him, or made him feel inferior. Lyle burst through the doors to the den first, and began firing. Erik says that although he couldn’t see anything but darkness, he too began to fire inside the room. Soon, the darkness turned into a thick fog of smoke from the rifles of the guns, and Erik remembers only hearing the shots from the explosions of the guns. Erik says that once he came to his senses, he quickly hurried out of the den, and collapsed to the floor in the foyer- and as he did, he heard one last shot coming from the den. Lyle says that he reloaded, approached his mother and shot her before leaving the den. Lyle joined his brother, who was now sitting upright on the stairs, and put his arm around him. Erik trembling, felt so nauseous that he thought he was going to throw up. The boys sat there, for 5 or so minutes, maybe 10, hoping- and waiting for the police to show up. 

***

Lyle and Erik’s father, José Enrique Menéndez, was born on May 6th, 1944, in Havana, Cuba. At the age of 16, José moved to the United States after the Cuban Revolution. José attended Southern Illinois University, where he met Mary Louise “Kitty” Andersen. They married in 1963 and moved to New York City, where José earned an accounting degree from Queens College. The couple’s first son, Joseph Lyle Menéndez, who goes by his middle name, was born on January 10th, 1968. Kitty quit her teaching job after Lyle was born, and the family moved to New Jersey, where Erik was born on November 27th, 1970, in Gloucester Township. In New Jersey, the family lived in Hopewell Township, Mercer County, New Jersey, and both brothers attended Princeton Day School. In 1986, José’s career as a corporate executive took the family to Beverly Hills, California. The following year, Erik began attending high school at Beverly Hills High, where he earned average grades, but had a remarkable talent for tennis, as he ranked 44th in the nation for 18-and-under players. Lyle enrolled at Princeton University. José Menendez worked at Carolco Pictures Inc., in fact, he was the executive vice president (at the time of his death.) Carolco Pictures was an American independent motion picture production company that produced films like Rambo with Sylvester Stallone and The Terminator with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He ran in similar circles with the hottest actors and celebrities at the time, and was able to live the life that many can only dream about. The Menendez family was the epitome of the American Dream- and boy- did they have it all. Cars. Lavish parties. Yachts. Country Club memberships. At the time, the Menendez family were renting a home while renovations were being done on their home in Calabasas. The home in which they were renting is a two-story, Mediterranean style mansion which sits on half an acre of land with just over 9,000 square feet of living space. The property boasts a pool, a private tennis court, alongside a two-story guesthouse and two-car garage. 

***

A 911 call was made from 722 N Elm Drive. The operator asks once, twice, a few more times of what’s the problem. Suddenly, Lyle Menendez shouts, “Somebody killed my parents!” The operator on the phone very quickly asks if they were shot, to which Lyle replies, “Yes!” While listening to the 911 phone call, you can vaguely hear someone else on the end of the line. It’s sounds like two people were communicating, while at the same time, it sounded like the other person was wailing. When the police first arrived on the scene, they quickly noticed how in shock and devastated the two younger men in their twenties were. The boys seemed like they were in hysterics, and it was determined that both boys were to be brought down to the station so they could answer questions- and for them to get away from the horrific crime scene. 

And when I say that the crime scene was horrific, I really mean it. The police officers and investigators walked through the front door, into the foyer, then eventually into the den. A television was still on as José was found on the couch, covered in blood. His head was leaning to the right. Kitty was found at Jose’s feet, sort of in a fetal position, or as if she was lying on the floor to take a nap, and was also covered in blood. The patio doors with blinds were behind the couch, and investigators noted how tore up the blinds and doors were from bullet holes. Blood was everywhere. The ceiling, the walls, the furniture. You couldn’t look around the room without finding any trace of it. It was later determined that José was shot five times, once point blank in the back of his head. Kitty was shot nine times, once point blank in the face. Both José and Kitty’s knees were also shot. This fact alone led some investigators and the press to determine that the Menendez murders were a possible mob hit. 

LT. Robert Curtis from the Beverly Hills police department initially went on camera soon after the discovery of the bodies to inform the media and the press about what had happened- although he didn’t have any answers as to what happened. He said that it was all still very unclear as to what happened at the house, but that robbery/break-in wasn’t off the table. Because the Menendez murders were brutal, and came across as an execution style hit, they took the mob theory seriously- especially after some details of José’s professional work life surfaced. Extensive interviews with associates revealed the Cuban-born Menendez to have been an extremely aggressive boss and deal maker, in whom friends saw a charismatic leader–and in whom adversaries sometimes saw an over-reacher who cut jobs, cut corners and occasionally broke his word on the way to the top. “If you took a poll, a lot of people whose oxes were gored by Jose would have to tell you they didn’t like him,” offers Robbin Ahrold, an officer of Broadcast Music Inc. who worked with Menendez at RCA Records in New York. Others in the entertainment industry said that anytime Jose came to town, someone always got fired. That characterization is disputed by Peter Hoffman, then-president of Carolco Pictures Inc. “He can often be insensitive,” Hoffman admitted, still speaking of Menendez in the present tense. “He’s a guy who reaches for every advantage in a transaction. He’s very self-conscious, self-confident and charismatic in the way he deals with things. . . . In my judgment, these are assets, not liabilities.”

***

Erik and Lyle allowed themselves to sit on the stairs just outside the den for quite some time. Both boys figured to themselves that somebody from the neighborhood would have called the police. But after five, ten, fifteen minutes went by, they deduced that the police weren’t coming. Both boys then, took it upon themselves to gather all the shotgun shells as best as they could. Both boys got into the same car, and found themselves driving around the area, trying to figure out the best way to establish some sort of alibi. Erik remembered going to the theater and trying to buy tickets, but the only movie tickets available were for a 10:30 p.m showing. Both boys knew that movie showing wasn’t going to work because of the time. Erik is suggesting that they know that the police would have figured out that they would have enough time to still murder their parents, then make the movie showing. Erik claimed that after leaving the movie theater, they just continued to drive around the area, trying to find a place to get rid of the two shotguns. 

Once they arrived back home, Erik noted the utter silence that was present. He said that neither his brother or himself said a word when they walked in the house. Erik couldn’t help himself and decided to go into the den. Then, he came undone. He completely lost his self control. He began to weep and wail, which caused Lyle to come running to the den from another part of the house. Erik remembers how Lyle tried to get him out of the den, but that he couldn’t help himself and went back in. He knew it wasn’t right and that it was odd, but he felt close to his parents in that moment and knew that what he and his brother had done was unforgivable. He continued to cry and break down, and it was at this point that Lyle called 911. 

The following morning, Lyle showed up at the mansion which was now a crime scene. Investigators and police were still following up on collecting evidence and surveying the scene. One of the investigators asked Lyle what he needed from the house- and that he’d get it for him, because Lyle couldn’t get inside the house until after they were finished. Lyle made a comment that all he needed was some clothes for both his brother and himself- and some of their tennis gear since they were going to be staying with their tennis coach for a couple days. When asked where the investigators would be able to find the tennis gear, Lyle replied, “in the room where my parents were killed.” The investigator made a mental note of the comment, seeing as how it was rather cold. 

For people whose parents had just been brutally murdered, Lyle and Erik Menendez sure behaved oddly. Although the brothers’ inheritance was uncertain — their father had threatened to remove them from the will — they did receive an insurance payout of $650,000. And boy, did they begin to spend it. In the days and weeks following the murders, a jewelry saleswoman, Mary Ellen Mahar, said (at trial) that four days after the killings, the brothers spent $15,000 on three Rolex watches. The brothers decided to pour resources into their burgeoning tennis careers. They hired Mark Heffernan, a tennis coach whose services cost $60,000 a year. Heffernan testified he trained with the brothers for ten hours a day in their adjoining Marina del Rey condos. Erik, the more committed player, spent money on flights abroad to compete in matches. Lyle bought a gray, $64,000 special edition Porsche Carrera, replacing his old Alfa Romeo. Erik exchanged his Ford Mustang for a tan Jeep Wrangler. Lyle put a $300,000 down payment on a restaurant called Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe in Princeton, New Jersey. The restaurant cost $550,000 total. He renamed the restaurant Mr. Buffalo’s. In one of his stranger investments, Erik poured $40,000 into funding a rock concert at the L.A. Palladium with a friend. According to real estate agent Valerie Hart, the brothers had been planning to buy a $900,000 luxury condo in the Marina City Club. And here are a few other expenditures the brothers racked up from after their parent’s murders until late October of 1989: a rental of the bungalow suite at the Hotel Bel-Air, a ski trip to Aspen, clothing and accessories purchased in Chicago, Illinois, a private limousine used in Beverly Hills and Chicago, Illinois, a Sony big screen entertainment center, a Saab automobile, a vacation to Cancun, Mexico, skiing and gambling in Lake Tahoe, traveling the professional tennis circuit, and investments at Smith Barney. All of this gave investigators pause. They thought to themselves, ‘We are missing something.’ 

Before investigators knew it, they discovered a motive for the boys. That motive was a 14 million estate. Investigators determined that if the Menendezes were to die simultaneously, Erik and Lyle would inherit their wealth, undisputed. Investigators must have thought to themselves, B-I-N-G-O. As more time went on, investigators determined that Jose and Kitty were not murdered by some random intruders, or by unhappy business tycoons. Investigators determined that Lyle and Erik were their suspects- however, they just needed the proof. In an attempt to get a confession from Erik, the police got Craig Cignarelli, one of Erik’s close friends from high school and tennis buddy, to wear a wire while having lunch with him at a local beachfront restaurant. When Craig asked Erik if he killed his parents, Erik said no. Investigators were left with trying to come up with another plan. 

Enter: Psychologist Jerome Oziel. Erik began seeing Dr. Oziel because he had been dealing with nightmares of committing suicide. Ever since the night in which he murdered his parents, Erik had been left feeling empty, depressed, anxious and paranoid. He was absolutely feeling guilty about what he had done. Some friends and family members told him to speak to someone, (they were unaware of what actually happened) which he did. Erik knew that sessions between a therapist and patient are almost always confidential. He had previous sessions with Dr. Oziel, so he was already pretty comfortable with him. Once he arrived at Dr. Oziel’s office, Erik knew that he was ready to relieve himself of the stress and pressure of August 20th. Erik confessed to killing his father and mother on Halloween of 1989. Erik hadn’t thought too much about the confession prior to giving it however, and regretted confessing to his therapist before talking it through with his brother. Erik told Dr. Oziel that Lyle wasn’t aware of this certain conversation, so Dr. Oziel told Erik to phone his brother and tell him to come to the office. (Oziel was afraid that Lyle would get mad once he learned of the confession, and would target him and his family. ) Uncertain of what was happening, Lyle, while apprehensive, agreed to come. Before Lyle arrived, Dr. Oziel pulled his mistress out into the hall and told her what Erik had confessed to. He allegedly told her that he was afraid of his life, his wife’s life, his children’s lives, as well as hers. Lyle arrived sometime after 6:30 pm. Judalon Smyth (the mistress) said she was sitting in the waiting room when Lyle walked in. She saw him push the call button marked “Oziel” and then sit down, pick up a magazine and flip through it. “Been waiting long?” Lyle asked her. She shrugged, lamely. “You know doctors,” she said. Then Oziel opened the door to his office and invited Lyle in. Apparently, Lyle didn’t give Dr. Oziel any information in that meeting. On Lyle’s way out, Dr. Oziel pleaded with Lyle at the elevator, still trying to persuade him to continue their conversation. Lyle said he wasn’t sure he had anything more to say to him. He shook Oziel’s hand and, looking him in the eye, said, “Good luck, Dr. Oziel.” The events surrounding Dr. Oziel, his mistress and the Menendez brothers are convoluted and hard to take a face value- based on the fact that each party seems to contradict the others. Shortly after Erik’s confession, Dr. Oziel and his wife Laurel moved Smyth into their house with their two young daughters in an effort to keep her from going to the Beverly Hills Police. Oziel was afraid that if he went to the police with what he knew without properly vetting the information, then the brother’s would then turn around and kill him and possibly all of those he loved. So he kept the information tight to his chest, although he did inform some colleagues that he had clients who committed a serious offense. Although Dr. Oziel was afraid of what the brothers might do, he wasn’t at all concerned about what his mistress might do. When the Oziel’s threw her out after four months, Smyth followed through on her threat and reported the brothers’ confession to the police. Two days later, Lyle Menendez was arrested after an audiotaped confession Smyth knew about was seized from Oziel during the execution of a search warrant. (All of this would come out at the trial, which I’ll get to in a sec.) 

When Lyle was arrested on March 8th, 1990, Erik was in Israel for a tennis tournament. While there, friends informed Erik that something very serious was going down back in California, and that his brother was in major trouble. Erik became distraught, and knew that his only recourse was to fly back to California. He easily knew that he had the other option to run since he had the money and the ability to stay away, but he didn’t want his brother to be the only one to go down for both of their decisions. First, he flew to Florida and met up with some family members. Then together, they all flew to California. Erik knew that those few hours of being with his family were his last few hours of freedom. While on that flight, he confessed to his family members. March 11th, 1990 was when Erik was arrested. 

Now, the news headlines read, “Brothers are suspects in rich parents’ deaths!” and, “Sons stand accused of murdering Hollywood executive and his wife.” To the rest of the world, this was a shocking and stunning twist of events. But to the investigators, they were jumping for joy (maybe not literally). Remember that this all happened before OJ, but the best I can compare the news coverage to, was just that. The public was obsessed with this case. Everyone began asking themselves, ‘What would cause these two seemingly normal, yet rich men to just up and murder their parents?’ 

On March 12th, 1990, both boys were arraigned. To the cameras, the brothers walked into the courtroom wearing expensive suits and with a swagger that was surprising to some, while not to others. To most however, the brothers looked and acted spoiled, and arrogant. But for Erik, he says that he was feeling the exact opposite. He was nervous and scared and said that he just couldn’t stop crying. Once he walked into the courtroom, Leslie Abramson made an offhand comment or joke, and all Erik did was smile. He noted that he was on massive doses of antidepressants, and all he thought about was suicide. But to everyone else, he was smiling because he viciously murdered his parents. Both boys pleaded not guilty at that arraignment. 

In December of 1992, a formal indictment was called. Erik and Lyle pleaded not guilty to the charges beset against them. However, they stunned the gallery by saying that yes, they did murder thier parents, but they did so in self-defense. Because the general public knew almost nothing at this point, it came as a shock. This was the first time that the brothers admitted to killing their parents. Although Lyle and Erik admitted to the murders, they were adamant it was self-defense, however the prosecution alleged that the brothers killed for the money and fortune. 

On July 20th, 1993, the trail began. This trial was different from others, because each brother had his own jury. The case became a national sensation when Court TV broadcast the trial in 1993. (Also a first.) The prosecution went first, detailing to the juries that the boys murdered their parents for the money and the estate. They showed the type of guns that were used in the murders, and noted that the murders were premeditated. They called witnesses who testified of how the boys spent the money immediately after the murders. They showed old photographs of the family, and how in almost every picture, they are all smiling- giving credence to a happy and loving home. Jill Lansing was the defense attorney for Lyle, while Leslie Abramson was the defense attorney for Erik. Leslie claimed that both Erik and Lyle experienced sexual abuse from their father, and suffered in fear from both of their parents for years. The defense(s) called friends and family (51 witnesses to be exact) who backed the brothers claims of abuse- painting a home life that was rattled with torture. Some family members even tried to say that Kitty was verbally abusive, was an alcoholic and drug addict. The prosecution claimed that what the defense was trying to portray was blatant character assassination, and it was easy for the defense to do so because both Jose and Kitty were unable to stand up for themselves. During the trial, the conversations between Dr. Oziel, his mistress and the Menendez brothers surfaced, yet, it was difficult to figure out who was lying since all parties came out looking very badly. During the trial, it came out that Lyle threatened Dr. Oziel (which allowed the tapes to have been played at the trial.) 

In September of 1993, both Lyle and Erik took to the stand to testify for their own defense. Lyle was called first, and during his testimony, you could hear a pin drop. Everyone present was practically mouth-gaping-wide-open, hanging on his every word. Lyle broke down in tears when testifying about the abuse he had endured, and seemed convincing. Erik cried while listening to his brother speak, and others in the gallery also got emotional. Once Erik took the stand, he too, broke down and sobbed over his traumas. Although, Erik was reluctant to actually say the words of rape out loud, he eventually did. Both boys detailed that the sexual abuse started when they were seven, and escalated after that. Erik noted that anytime he heard his father walk up the stairs, he got scared and would begin to cry. Erik alleges that his mother would lock him in her closet when she was upset with him or in one of her moods. Erik noted that he would sometimes hide food and water in the closet so he had things to eat or drink- because he never knew when she was gonna let him out. It could be one hour, two, or sometimes even the whole day. Erik says that he was given a tupperware container to use the bathroom when he was locked in the closet.

In December of 1993, the trial entered its final phase. Closing arguments were made, and once the juries were sent to deliberation, no one really knew what the outcome was gonna be. During deliberation in Erik’s jury, some women felt like the men were privy to more information than they were given, and even alleged that they were able to get a hold of some news coverage of the case. Because the jury was deadlocked, the jury split between the men and the women, Lyle and Erik’s case was deemed a mistrial. Gil Garcetti, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced immediately that the brothers would be retried. 

The second trial was somewhat less publicized, partly because Judge Stanley Weisberg did not allow cameras in the courtroom. There was also only one jury. Also during the second trial, Weisberg did not allow much defense testimony about the sexual abuse claims and did not allow the jury to vote on manslaughter charges instead of murder charges. During proceedings, Abramson apparently told a defense witness named William Vicary to edit his notes, which ended up coming out. It was damaging for Erik and Lyle, and the brothers were devastated- with their defense in shambles. Both brothers were eventually convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Erik and Lyle agonized over the verdict the jury would impose during the penalty phase. Lyle and Erik were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury said that the abuse defense was not a factor in its deliberations, but chose not to impose the death penalty because both brothers had no criminal record or history of violence prior to the murders of their parents. However, unlike the juries in the previous trials, the jury in the penalty phase rejected the defense’s theory that the brothers had killed their parents out of fear, as it is believed that they committed the murders in order to inherit their father’s wealth. Both brothers also filed motions for a mistrial, claiming that they had suffered irreversible damage in the penalty phase as a result of possible misconduct and ineffective representation by Abramson. On July 2nd, 1996, Weisberg sentenced the brothers to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and also sentenced them to consecutive sentences for the murders and the charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The brothers were then separated, and sent to different prisons. 

The trial did a number on all of those that were involved. Abramson, the Lawyers for the prosecution- all have a hard time discussing the case. 

Lyle married Anna Eriksson at a ceremony attended by Abramson and his aunt Marta Menéndez, which was presided over by Judge Nancy Brown shortly after being taken to prison. (They later divorced on April 1st, 2001 after Eriksson discovered that Lyle was allegedly cheating on her with another woman.) In November 2003, Lyle married Rebecca Sneed at a ceremony in a supermax prison visiting area of Mule Creek State Prison. They knew each other for around ten years before their engagement. (Pen-pals.) 

During the fall of 1993, during the first trial, Tammi Saccoman wrote a letter to Erik. Tammi was surprised to hear back from him because she says she never sent a picture. He asked for a visit, which she accepted. She stood by him after each trial outcome. She ended up moving to Folsom to be close to Erik. He didn’t really share at first with her, details of what had happened in 1989. She notes that it took time to peel back his layers, and says that now she’s the only person he can trust. On June 12th, 1999, Erik married Tammi Ruth Saccoman at Folsom State Prison in a prison waiting room. He was nervous, and paced around the room for a bit. His cousin Andy, Kitty’s sister, Jose’s mother were all present. Tammi stated: “Our wedding cake was a Twinkie. We improvised. It was a wonderful ceremony until I had to leave. That was a very lonely night.” In an October 2005 interview with ABC News, she described her relationship with Erik as “something that I’ve dreamed about for a long time. And it’s just something very special that I never thought that I would ever have.” In 2005, Tammi self-published a book titled ‘They Said We’d Never Make It – My Life with Erik Menéndez’, but she said on Larry King Live that Erik also “did a lot of editing on the book.” In a 2005 interview with People, she stated: “Not having sex in my life is difficult, but it’s not a problem for me. I have to be emotionally attached, and I’m emotionally attached to Erik..” Despite his life sentence, Erik stated: “Tammi is what gets me through. I can’t think about the sentence. When I do, I do it with a great sadness and a primal fear. I break into a cold sweat. It’s so frightening I just haven’t come to terms with it.” But he looks forward to the time when he can see Tammi- and she’s what gets him through. 

In 2003, Erik and Lyle’s appeal came before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It was Erik and Lyle’s last hope… maybe. There were three judges that heard the case. On February 17th, 2005, Judge Kozinski was on tape speaking out about how “rules” were allowed in one case, and not the other and how that had a dramatic effect on the outcome. It seemed like he was on Erik and Lyle’s side. In the end however, there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the convictions. It was devastating to Erik, and Tammi wrote a letter to Judge Kozinski. She received one back, and accepted it.

Over time, Erik has found a passion in art, allowing him to reconnect through nature that way- seeing as how he hasn’t touched a tree in over 20 years. He runs a hospice group for the ailing and the old. Kitty’s cousin is proud of the man he’s become, and looked forward to her visit with him- a first one in a long time. William Vicary is happy too, to see the kind of person Erik Menendez is despite what he’s been through. Vicary notes that for Lyle, it took some time for him to soften, because at first he seemed more like his father. After time, he became more honest and open. Vicary says that it’s impressive. Kitty’s sister is proud of both boys. Erik still, tells his family how sorry he is for what he did, and continues to ask for their forgiveness. Tammi says that anytime family visit, it brings back memories for Erik, and he sometimes gets a little anxious when visits happen. He’s now able to talk about generational patterns in family lives- finally trying to understand why his mother never said or did anything to stop his father’s abuse. Family members who visit often try to tell Erik how sorry they are for not doing more, or helping. 

Just like in their pretrial detention, the California Department of Corrections separated the brothers and sent them to different prisons. Since they were considered to be maximum-security inmates, they were segregated from other prisoners. They remained in separate prisons until February 2018 when Lyle was moved from Mule Creek State Prison in Northern California to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, but were housed in separate units until April 4th, 2018, when Lyle was moved to the same housing unit as Erik, reuniting them for the first time since they began serving their sentences nearly 22 years earlier. The brothers burst into tears and hugged each other at their first meeting in the housing unit. The unit where they are housed is reserved for inmates who agree to participate in education and rehabilitation programs. Both brothers are excelling.  

So here’s that question again. Do you believe Erik and Lyle’s accusations as to what they think happened? Or do you believe that they were merely just out for money, and came up with the story afterward to garner sympathy? Because Jose and Kitty aren’t here to give us their side of the story, we may never know. Another question- is abuse enough of a reason for murder? And a third- if the Menendez brothers were actually sisters, would they be sentenced to life without parole? Many say no. Let’s be honest, it would be a whole different trial if it happened today- just on the basis that we know more as a society about child abuse- and how often and prevelent it can be. We’ve also learned that if a child is experiencing sexual assault, they don’t normally report it. Just because they don’t disclose that kind of information right away, or over a certain period of time doesn’t negate the fact that it actually happened. The reality is, to me at least, that these boys were absolutely abused. A new law has passed in California that now allows more expert testimony regarding abuse in trials. That wasn’t allowed in the Menendez trial. There’s still, the tiniest sliver of hope for the Menendez brothers. Assembly bill no. 593 allows in evidence of child sexual abuse- in a case like the Menendezes. Under that law, they should be granted another look. Not all criminals are created equally. Some believe that they could win that case, although it’s a long shot and a total uphill battle. I believe in justice. And I agree that Erik and Lyle’s case should be looked at again. However, there are those that believe that they brutally murdered their parents, and need to come to terms with dying in prison. 

If you wish to report a case of sexual abuse of a child or, if you need to talk with a sexual abuse counselor about abuse, call The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child. For more information online go to https://www.childhelp.org

Jose Menendez with sons Erik (left) and Lyle (right). Photo became a controversial piece of evidence in the first trial in 1993. Arguing that years of parental abuse led the brothers to kill their parents, the defense claimed photo showed Jose’s hand in an inappropriate position on Lyle’s lap.
The Menendez family of 4 in Princeton, NJ in 1983, attending cousin Andy Cano’s first communion celebration.
Jose gave Lyle (left) and Erik (right) intensive tennis lessons from a very young age. This photo of father & sons was taken in Princeton, NJ in the mid-1980’s.
Erik and Lyle at Erik’s HS graduation in June 1989.
Kitty, Erik, and Jose at Erik’s HS graduation in June 1989.
The last known picture of Kitty & Jose, taken outside their Calabasas dream home in early August 1989- a couple weeks before they were killed by their sons.
Aerial view of the Menendezes rented Beverly Hills home- & where the murders took place.
Some disturbing crime scene photographs below. Proceed with caution.
At some point between the murders and their arrests, the Menendez brothers acquired front-row tickets to watch Mark Jackson & the NY Knicks play at Madison Square Garden during the 89-90 season. Value for this card has skyrocketed.
Lyle Menendez (right) with his roommate Hayden Rogers outside of Chuck’s Spring Street Cafe- the chicken wing restaurant Lyle bought in Princeton, NJ in the fall of 1989- after his parent’s murders.
Judalon Smyth went to the police & said her lover- Oziel, had an audiotape of Erik & Lyle confessing to killing their parents.
From left- the infamous Leslie Abramson, who came off defending the boys (more specifically Erik) rather well during the first trial, to completely ruining her reputation during the second. She would go on to write a book; Erik Menendez; Lyle Menendez; & Jill Lansing- who acted as Lyle’s defense attorney.
A page from the unproduced screenplay Friends, written by Erik and his friend Craig. In the script, which Kitty helped to type, a character named Hamilton Cromwell kills his parents & inherits $157 million. The script was not admitted into evidence during the trials.
Kitty Menendez told her therapist she was hiding “sick and embarrassing secrets” about her family six weeks before she was murdered by her sons. (An excerpt of the transcribed therapy notes appears here.)
Erik and his cousin Andy Cano at Erik’s wedding in prison in 1999. Andy was a key defense witness in both trials who said 12 year old Erik had told him about being sexually molested by Jose.
Erik and Tammi on their wedding day.
Lyle with his aunts Terry Baralt (left) and Marta Cano (right) as they celebrated Lyle’s 2nd marriage in prison in 2003.

Published by caitiejobug

I’m a SAHM of one, a loving wife, daughter, and sister. Reading and writing are my favorite hobbies, along with watching true crime documentaries.

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