A trial made for television: The Menendez murder case became made-for-TV fodder

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Aug. 26 2021, Published 9:49 a.m. ET

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The media sensationalized the Menendez Brothers’ trial during the 1990s. The case of the Menendez brothers captured the attention of the nation, given the dramatics of all those involved.

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Even decades later, the case still enthralls True Crime enthusiasts. There are numerous TV shows that detail the killings and every once and a while on of the infamous brothers appears in the news again.

Here is a recap of their case.

THE MURDERS

On the night of Aug. 20, 1989, Jose and Mary “Kitty” Menendez were shot and killed in their Beverly Hills mansion by two 12-gauge shotguns. Their sons, Lyle and Erik Menendez, allegedly came across their parents’ bodies after returning from the movie theater. Lyle was the one to make the unforgettable and quite theatrical 911 call, shouting, “Someone killed my parents!”

The brothers initially blamed the murders on their father’s involvement in organized crime.

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Authorities became suspicious of the pair after they started spending their parents’ funds wildly after their deaths. The brothers inherited $14 million dollars from their father’s fortunes. As suspicion grew on the brothers, Erik eventually confessed to a friend and his therapist, Dr. Jerome Oziel, that he and Lyle killed their parents. Oziel illegally taped all of his sessions with Lyle, including the brother’s confession.

The tapes came to the authorities’ attention after Judalon Smyth, Oziel’s mistress at the time, reported the recordings. Oziel played the tapes for Smyth as a way to brag about his clientele. Smyth immediately contacted the police after hearing Lyle’s confession.

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The home where the Menendez parents were killed

In March 1990, 22-year-old Lyle and 19-year-old Erik were arrested for the murders, and in December 1992, the brothers were indicted on first-degree murder charges.

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THE FIRST TRIAL

The Menendez trial began in 1993 and was broadcasted on national TV. It was one of the first trials to be broadcast in its entirety on television. Their trial was full of various accusations from both sides, which made for an entertaining “show” for viewers across the nation.

For their defense, Lyle and Erik, with the backing of their lawyer, Leslie Abramson, claimed that they murdered their parents due to years of abuse. But, according to Biography, the emotional and physical abuse from their father Jose, alongside an alcoholic and “weak” mother, the brothers snapped.

The brothers stated their father had molested them to retain his dominance over the family, and Mary allowed it to happen. A month-long witness statement from the brothers provided horrific details of the alleged abuse that occurred in the family’s lavish mansion.

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Their reason for murdering their parents was to free themselves from years of abuse and as an act of self-defense.

This first trial lasted four and half months, but the jury deadlock could not reach a verdict. That set the bothers up for another trial.

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THE SECOND TRIAL

In 1995, the second trial began, although it wasn’t broadcasted on television. During this trial, Smyth claimed the doctor coerced the brothers into confessing to the murders. History states that the judge partially restricted Menendez’s lawyers from focusing solely on the alleged abuse claims.

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The Menendez brothers listen during a trial

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The trial included less from the defense but much of the same evidence against the brothers was repeated from the first case.

This time, the jury found the brothers guilty of first-degree murder. The judge sentenced both to life in prison without parole.

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

After their conviction, the brothers were sent to different prisons. Given their status, they were also kept away from other inmates.

Their appeals over the years have been denied, through their celebrity status remains even from behind bars.

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Both brothers also got married while in prison, though Lyle and his wife divorced in 2001, according to People. He got married again in 2003.

In 2018, the Menendez brothers got the opportunity to reside in the same prison facility. Lyle had requested to stay in the same housing unit as his brother, who resides in the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, according to Newsweek.

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