On the evening of Aug. 20, 1989, Cuban-American business executive José Menendez and his wife Kitty Menendez were brutally murdered in the den of their Beverly Hills mansion. José was shot in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, while Kitty was shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both José and Kitty were also shot in the kneecaps in a failed attempt to make the shootings look connected to organized crime.
The Menendez’s sons Lyle and Erik Menendez came home later that night and Lyle called the 911 and shouted, “Somebody killed my parents!” When police arrived, the brothers told authorities that they went to the movie theater to see Batman and the “Taste of L.A.” festival in Santa Monica at the time of the murders. At the time, police did not order the brothers to undergo gunshot residue tests as the brothers were not suspects at the time.
While not initially suspected, the brothers went on a lavish spending spree following the murders, which drew attention to them and suspicion around them. It is believed that they spent around $700,000 between the murders and their arrests.
Erik, the younger brother, could not take the guilt of his actions and eventually confessed about the murders to his psychologist Dr. L. Jerome Oziel. After Lyle threatened him, Oziel told his mistress Judalon Smyth about the murders. Smyth eventually went to the authorities about the brothers’ involvement. On March 8, 1990, Lyle was arrested. Three days later, Erik turned himself upon his return to Los Angeles from a trip to Israel. The brothers were held without bail and separated from each other. Erik was 19 and Lyle was 22 at the time of the arrests.
It was revealed that in an attempt to impress his mistress, Oziel had taped his conversations with Erik. In August 1990, Judge James Albrecht declared the tapes of the conversations between Erik and Oziel were admissible since Lyle violated doctor–patient privilege by threatening Oziel. The ruling was appealed, which delayed the court proceedings for two more years. The ruling was overturned on appeal, but the Supreme Court of California declared in August 1992 that the tapes of Erik discussing the murders could be played. After that decision, a Los Angeles County grand jury issued indictments to the brothers in December 1992, and they were charged with the murder of their parents.
The murders finally went to trial in the summer of 1993. The brothers hired spirited defense lawyer Leslie Abramson, who argued the theory that the brothers were driven to murder by a lifetime of physical abuse by their parents and the sexual abuse of their father. During the trial, which was allowed television cameras in, Jose was described as a cruel perfectionist and a pedophile. The defense claimed Kitty was a selfish, mentally unstable alcoholic and drug addict who encouraged the abuse. The brothers claimed they shot their parents in self-defense because their father said he would rather kill them than have his secret exposed. The trial ended with two juries (one for each brother) deadlocked and a mistrial was called. Immediately following the mistrial, Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti announced that the brothers would be retried.
The brothers’ retrial began in October 1995 and was much less of a media circus due to Judge Stanley Weisberg’s refusal to allow cameras in the courtroom. Additionally, Weisberg did not allow much defense testimony about the brothers’ allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of their father. The judge also did not allow the jury to vote on manslaughter charges instead of murder charges.
In March 1996, both brothers were convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. In the trial’s penalty phase, Lyle and Erik were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Of their verdict, the jury said that the abuse defense was not a factor. However the jury decided to not impose the death penalty since the brothers had no prior criminal record or history of violence. The jury in the penalty phase did reject the defense’s claim that the brothers had killed their parents because they feared for their lives. Instead, the jury believed they murdered their parents to gain access to their father’s money. On July 2, 1996, Judge 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.
Following the sentencing, the brothers filed motions for a mistrial, claiming that they had ineffective representation from Abramson and as a result suffered irreparable damage in the penalty phase.
On Feb. 27, 1998, the California Court of Appeal upheld their murder convictions and on May 28, 1998, the Supreme Court of California upheld their murder convictions and sentences without any Supreme Court judges reviewing the case.
The brothers remained in different prisons until February 2018, when Lyle was moved from a prison in Northern California to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, where Erik also resides. On April 4, 2018, they reunited them for the first time since they began serving their sentences nearly 22 years prior. Both brothers burst into tears and embraced each other at their first meeting.