More than three years after the crime, on 8 December 1992, the Menendez brothers were indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on charges of murdering their parents, with special circumstances. This meant that if convicted, they could be put to death in the gas chamber.
The two special circumstances were that it was a multiple murder and that they had been ‘lying in wait’. The third special circumstance, that they had committed the murders for financial gain, was thrown out by the grand jury.
The brothers immediately became hot news when new television network, Court TV, broadcast their first trial. Possibly one of the most controversial of the decade, it took place at the Los Angeles County Fernando valley Superior Court from 20 July 1993 to 28 January 1994 and had Lyle and Erik confessing to killing their parents but claiming it was in self-defence. They said they believed their parents planned to kill them after years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in order to stop them telling anyone of the incest.
Chief defence lawyers were Leslie Abramson, representing Erik, and Jill Lansing, representing Lyle. Pamela Bozanich was chief prosecutor and Judge Stanley M. Weisberg presided over both trials. Whilst the brothers’ cases were connected, they each had a separate jury.
Despite the fact that the brothers had extremely good defence lawyers, they could not hide away from their past criminal records pointing towards the fact that they were devious and law-breaking rather than abused and frightened, as they would have everyone believe. Prosecution also wasted no time in pointing to the very obvious motive for murder being the millions the brothers stood to inherit upon their parents’ death.
After six months, the trial ended with both juries in a deadlock and the verdict given was mistrial. Judge Weisberg set a retrial date for 28 February 1995.
Having been postponed several times, the second trial took place from 23 August 1995 to 20 March 1996. Lyle and Erik were retried together, with a single jury and Judge Weisberg presiding. Chief defence lawyers were Leslie Abramson, Jill Lansing, and Barry Levin and chief prosecutor was David Conn.
On 20 March 1996, a verdict was reached. Lyle, 28, and Erik, 25, were found guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances and guilty to conspiracy to murder. On 2 July 1996, Judge Weisberg sentenced both Kyle and Erik Menendez to two consecutive life sentences each, without the possibility of parole