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Lyle and Erik Menendez
Lyle and Erik Menendez
Mug shots of Lyle (left) and Erik Menéndez (right)
|Born||Joseph Lyle Menéndez
(1968-01-10) January 10, 1968
New York City, New York, U.S.
Erik Galen Menéndez
(1971-11-27) November 27, 1971
Blackwood, New Jersey U.S.
|Criminal status||Incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (both)|
( m. 1996; div. 2001)
( m. 2003)
Tammi Ruth Saccoman
( m. 1999)
|Parent(s)||José and Mary "Kitty" Menéndez|
|Motive||Alleged physical and sexual abuse|
|Criminal charge||First-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder|
|Penalty||Life in prison without the possibility of parole (both)|
|Date||August 20, 1989|
|Target(s)||José and Kitty Menéndez|
|Weapons||Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun|
|March 8, 1990 (Lyle)
March 11, 1990 (Erik)
Joseph Lyle Menéndez (born January 10, 1968) and Erik Galen Menéndez (born November 27, 1971) are American brothers who were convicted in 1996 for the 1989 shotgun murders of their wealthy parents, LIVE Entertainment executive José Menéndez and his wife Mary ("Kitty"). Although the brothers were not considered suspects at first, suspicions about their involvement arose when they began to spend money lavishly after the murders. During the trial, the brothers alleged that they committed the murders because of years of sexual and emotional abuse that they suffered at the hands of their parents, particularly their father. They were first tried separately, with one jury for each brother. Both juries deadlocked, which resulted in a mistrial. For the second trial, they were tried together by the same jury, which found them guilty, and as a result, they were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Lyle and Erik's father, José Enrique Menéndez, was born on May 6, 1944, in Havana, Cuba. At age 16, he moved to the United States after the Cuban Revolution. José attended Southern Illinois University, where he met Mary Louise "Kitty" Andersen (1941–1989). 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 10, 1968. Kitty quit her teaching job after Lyle was born, and the family moved to New Jersey, where Erik was born on November 27, 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, but during his freshman year, he was placed on academic probation for poor grades and attendance, and was eventually suspended for a year after being accused of plagiarism.
On the evening of August 20, 1989, José and Kitty were sitting on a couch in the den of their house in Beverly Hills when Lyle and Erik entered the den carrying shotguns. José was shot in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty was awakened by the shots and got up from the couch. She was shot in the leg while running toward the hallway, causing her to slip on her own blood and fall, and was then shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both José and Kitty were also shot in the kneecaps in an attempt to make the murders appear connected to organized crime.
When they returned home later that night, Lyle called 9-1-1 and shouted "Someone killed my parents!" When the police came, the brothers told them that they went to the theater to see Batman and then to the annual "Taste of L.A." festival at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium during the murders. The police did not order the brothers to go through gunshot residue tests to find out whether they had recently used a firearm, since a lack of evidence prevented them from looking into the brothers more thoroughly. In the months after the murders, the brothers began to spend money lavishly, adding to suspicions that they were somehow involved in the murders of their parents. Lyle bought a Rolex watch, a Porsche Carrera, and Chuck's Spring Street Cafe, a Buffalo wing restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey, while Erik hired a full-time tennis coach and competed in a series of tournaments in Israel. They eventually left the family mansion unoccupied, as they decided to live in adjoining condos in nearby Marina del Rey. They also drove around Los Angeles in their deceased mother's Mercedes-Benz SL convertible, dined expensively, and went on overseas trips to the Caribbean and London. It is believed that they spent somewhere around $700,000 during the time period between the murders and their arrests.
During the early stages of the investigation, the police tried to narrow their search down to people who would have had motives to kill José and Kitty. They also investigated potential mob leads, but nothing came out of them. As the investigation continued, the police believed that the brothers were most likely the culprits since they had obvious financial motives and were spending much more money just after the murders. 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; however, he eventually confessed to doing so to his psychologist Jerome Oziel. After Lyle threatened him, Oziel told his mistress Judalon Smyth about the murders, and she told the police about the brothers' involvement. Lyle was arrested on March 8, 1990, and Erik turned himself in three days later after returning to Los Angeles from Israel. Both were held without bail and separated from each other. In August 1990, Judge James Albrecht stated that tapes of the conversations between Erik and Oziel were admissible since Lyle violated doctor–patient privilege by threatening Oziel. However, since that ruling was appealed, the proceedings were delayed for two years. The Supreme Court of California then stated in August 1992 that most of these tapes were admissible except the one of Erik discussing the murders. After that decision, a Los Angeles County grand jury issued indictments in December 1992, charging the brothers with the murders of their parents.
The case became a national sensation when Court TV broadcast the trial in 1993. Their defense lawyer Leslie Abramson became known for her theory that the brothers were driven to murder by a lifetime of abuse at the hands of their parents, especially sexual abuse at the hands of their father, who was described as a cruel perfectionist and pedophile. Meanwhile, their mother was described as a selfish, mentally unstable alcoholic and drug addict who encouraged her husband's abuses and was also sometimes violent towards them. The trial ended with two deadlocked juries, and, as a result, Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti 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. 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.
Both brothers were eventually convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and in the penalty phase of the trial, they 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. During the penalty phase of the trial, Abramson apparently told a defense witness named William Vicary to edit his notes, but the district attorney's office decided not to conduct a criminal investigation. 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 2, 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.
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 4, 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 without creating disruptions.
On February 27, 1998, the California Court of Appeal upheld their murder convictions, and on May 28, 1998, the Supreme Court of California declined to review the case, thus allowing the decision of the appellate court to stand. Both brothers filed habeas corpus petitions with the Supreme Court of California, which were denied in 1999. Having exhausted their appeal remedies in state court, they filed separate habeas corpus petitions in the United States District Court. On March 4, 2003, a magistrate judge recommended the denial of the petitions, and the district court adopted the recommendation. They then decided to appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On September 7, 2005, a three-judge panel denied both their habeas corpus petitions, although Judge Alex Kozinski stated that the trial judge changed many of his rulings during the two trials.
Marriages and interviews in prison
On July 2, 1996, Lyle married Anna Eriksson at a ceremony attended by Abramson and his aunt Marta Menéndez, which was presided over by Judge Nancy Brown, but they divorced on April 1, 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. On June 12, 1999, Erik married Tammi Ruth Saccoman at Folsom State Prison in a prison waiting room. Tammi later 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.... My family does not understand. When it started to get serious, some of them just threw up their hands." Tammi also stated that she and her daughter drive the 150 miles (240 km) every weekend to visit Erik, and that her daughter refers to him as her "Earth Dad." 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." In 2010, A&E released a documentary about Tammi titled Mrs. Menéndez. In late 2017, A&E aired a five-part documentary titled The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All in which Erik, via telephone, recalls the murders and the aftermath. The series also shows never-before-seen photos and new interviews with prosecutors, law enforcement, close family and friends, and medical experts.
In popular culture
In October 1993, Saturday Night Live aired a comedy sketch featuring guest host John Malkovich where the Menendez brothers blame the murder of their parents on their identical twin brothers. The Law & Order Season 1 episode "The Serpent's Tooth" is loosely based on the Menendez Brothers case. The Menendez brothers were also featured in a 2017 documentary titled Truth and Lies: The Menéndez Brothers – American Sons, American Murderers on ABC, as well as on an episode of Snapped in 2016. The murders are the subjects of multiple docu-dramas, including the Lifetime movie Menendez: Blood Brothers (2017), and the television films Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills on CBS and Honor Thy Father and Mother: The True Story of the Menendez Murders on Fox, both in 1994. The media hype surrounding the first trial was parodied in the 1996 dark comedy film The Cable Guy. The Menéndez brothers were subjects of the weekly comedic-true crime podcast The Last Podcast on the Left in 2016 and were depicted in the film Natural Born Killers. Their story was also featured in an episode of Barbara Walters Presents: American Scandals titled "Menendez Brothers: The Bad Sons" and in a documentary series from Court TV, now TruTV, in an episode titled Mugshots: Menendez Brothers – Blood Brothers in 2000 at FilmRise. Law & Order True Crime: The Menéndez Murders premiered on NBC in September 2017. In addition, Season 4, Episode One of Jake and the Fatman, titled God Bless the Child, appears to be based on these killings, with the son and daughter of a shipping magnate killing him and their stepmother, so they won't lose their inheritance. In the Season 3 episode of 30 Rock titled "Gavin Volure", Tracy Jordan makes multiple references to the Menendez Brothers as he fears that his own children will similarly attempt to kill him for his wealth, an act he termed as "Menendez-ing".
HLN launched the new series How It Really Happened with Hill Harper, with an episode featuring the Menéndez brothers story. The episode is titled "The Menéndez Brothers: Murder in Beverly Hills", and it ends with a telephone interview of Lyle from jail with Chris Cuomo. The Menendez brothers are believed to be in the background of the 1990–91 NBA Hoops Mark Jackson basketball card in which the New York Knicks point guard is seen making a bounce pass and they appear to be sitting courtside behind Jackson. In December 2018, eBay began pulling auctions in which they are mentioned in the listing. The New York Knicks had played 28 games during the period when the Menendez brothers went on a spending spree after the murders of their parents. Some eBay sellers have continued to sell the card and have also altered the images accompanying the listing so that the men purported to be the Menendez brothers are neither mentioned in the listing nor seen in photos of the card accompanying the listing.
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Beverly Hills police claimed to have been suspicious of the Menéndez brothers from the beginning.... But there was no proof – nothing to go on – merely gut reactions.
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- Davis, Don (1994) Bad Blood: The Shocking True Story Behind the Menéndez Killings St. Martin, New York, ISBN 0-312-95334-8
- Menéndez, Lyle; Novelli, Norma; Walker, Mike; and Spreckels, Judith (1995) The Private Diary of Lyle Menéndez: In His Own Words! Dove Books, Beverly Hills, California, ISBN 0-7871-0474-4
- Menéndez, Tammi (2005) They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life With Erik Menéndez NewGalen Publishing, Santa Clarita, California, ISBN 0-9768744-0-7
- Soble, Ronald L. and Johnson, John (1994) Blood Brothers: The Inside Story of the Menéndez Murders Onyx, New York, ISBN 0-451-40547-1
- Thornton, Hazel; Wrightsman, Lawrence S.; Posey, Amy J. and Scheflin, Alan W. (1995) Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menéndez Juror Temple University Press, Philadelphia; new "20 Years Later" edition updated with new material, Graymalkin Media (2017) ISBN 978-1631681622
- Rand, Robert (2018) The Menendez Murders: The Shocking Untold Story of the Menendez Family and the Killings that Stunned the Nation BenBella Books ISBN 978-1946885265
- Nightmare on Elm Drive by Dominick Dunne. Vanity Fair, October 1990
- Three Faces of Evil by Dominick Dunne. Vanity Fair, June 1996
- Wife of Erik Menéndez talks about relationship at MSNBC TV, December 22, 2005
- Tammi Menéndez on Loving Erik at ABC News
- Menéndez Brothers at Court TV (now TruTV)
- Menéndez Brothers at Crime Library
- Mug shots of the brothers on The Smoking Gun
- archived trial transcripts from Court TV
- Works by or about Lyle Menéndez in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Works by or about Erik Menéndez in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
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