One of the most talked about cases, in recent US criminal court, two young brothers convicted of the brutal murder of their parents. It was their greed that finally led to their imprisonment, and now the youngest, Erik, gives his personal account of what really happened on that fatal night in 1989.
Looking back on the Menendez murders, it’s not surprising the dark saga of Lyle and Erik Menendez became the biggest TV and tabloid sensation of its time. All the elements were there, as if dreamt up by a particularly shameless Hollywood screenwriter. There was a stunning crime: the murder of two parents by their own kids. There were a pair of compellingly unlikely villains: the handsome, rich Menendez brothers. And there was a lavish context: glitzy, ritzy Beverly Hills.
And then, of course, there were the televised trials of Lyle and Erik Menendez, allowing the world to gawp at the two suave, strapping young men who looked like they should have been on their way to a Wall Street boardroom or an elite country club, rather than to prison for the rest of their lives. Since they were put away in the mid-90s, the brothers have attempted to appeal a number of times, only to be rejected at every turn. It’s very likely they’ll die in prison. The brothers will also very probably never see each other again in the flesh, as they’re kept in two different California jails: Lyle languishes in Mule Creek State Prison, while Erik is locked away at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility.
The brothers have given occasional interviews to the press, implying their acceptance of their fate, and some remorse over their actions. In an interview with ABC News, Lyle acknowledged his grim niche in the popular imagination. “I am the kid that did kill his parents, and no river of tears has changed that,” he said. “I accept that.” He’s also talked openly about the emotionally chaotic lead-up to the murders of his parents, saying “There was no plan… It would be a crazy plan to use a shotgun in the middle of Beverly Hills. The houses are literally 10 yards apart and the police station is a quarter mile away.”
I am the kid that did kill his parents, and no river of tears has changed that
The focus of his regret is his mother, Kitty – brutally shot down as she tried to escape her gun-toting sons – although he says he can’t forgive her because of her alleged complicity in their father Jose’s alleged abuse of the boys. Of course, these sorts of statements are bound to raise eyebrows, as it’s in the brothers’ interests to make us perceive their crime as an an unpremeditated outburst of rage after years of sexual abuse, rather than a coldly planned execution for financial gain. Lyle keeps himself busy in prison, running a support group for inmates who have been sexually abused. He also stays in touch with his brother Erik by letter, even playing chess by post. Erik, too, has proved himself a model prisoner – known to be well behaved, and helping to look after terminally ill prisoners. Both men have also got married to respective pen pals since being imprisoned.
Erik’s wife, Tammi, was already married when she first began corresponding with the killer during his trial. Beguiled by the “pain in his eyes”, she felt the need to reach out to him. In a dark and bizarre twist, Tammi then realised her husband had been molesting her daughter by another man. He later committed suicide, and Tammi was comforted by pen pal Erik. Eventually, they decided to get married, even though conjugal visits aren’t allowed and Tammi had to commit to a sexless relationship with a man who will never walk the streets again.
Lyle’s wife Rebecca is in an identically unusual position, and the two Menendez wives even lived together for a period, before apparently having a falling out. Lyle has spoken of his bond with Rebecca, talking of their daily phone calls and how their “interaction tends to be very free of distractions and we probably have more intimate conversations than most married spouses do, who are distracted by life’s events.” One other key player who shot to notoriety thanks to the Menendez case is Leslie Abramson, Erik’s lawyer. Described by a newspaper as a “fire-eating, mud-slinging, nuclear-strength pain in the legal butt”, Abramson fiercely defended the brothers as “troubled kids” but was accused of tampering with evidence during Erik’s trial. Many years later, Abramson would be hired by disgraced pop music maestro Phil Spector when he was on trial for murder. She now enjoys a quiet retirement, even as the world still debates the grisly details of the most famous case she ever worked on.