On the night of August 20, 1989, a series of shotgun blasts shattered the silence in Beverly Hills. Moments later, the Beverly Hills Police Department received a call from a hysterical Lyle Menendez crying about the murder of his parents at 722 North Elm Drive. When police arrived at the scene, the lifeless bodies of Jose E. Menendez and Mary Louise “Kitty” Menendez appeared to have sustained numerous gunshot wounds. As police investigated the case, the facts became more and more unfathomable as what appeared to be a random murder was actually something much more sinister and horrifying. This is the story of the Menendez murders that shook Beverly Hills and the nation to its core.
Jose and Mary Louise “Kitty” Menendez met when they were students at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Ill.
CREDIT: @abc27tv / Twitter
Jose was a Cuban refugee from a well-to-do family. He moved to the U.S. in 1960 when he was 16 years old and lived with family in Pennsylvania, according to the LA Times. By 1963, he had met and married Kitty, and the two moved to New York so Jose could pursue an accounting degree from Queens College. Their two sons, Lyle and Erik, were born on Jan. 10, 1968, and Nov. 27, 1970, respectively. By 1986, the Menendez family was living in Beverly Hills and led a seemingly perfect life. According to relatives and friends who spoke to the LA Times at the time of the murder, Jose ran the house like a typical Latino household. He was a dominant figure in the home, but there appeared to be no evidence of abuse.
While their sons, Lyle and Erik, managed to avoid suspicion at the beginning of the murder investigation, their extravagant spending after their parents’ death thrust them to the top of the list of suspects.
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Tom Edmonds, who was on the investigative team at the time, told Good Morning America that the brothers were not suspects that first night because they were believed to be victims. But the brothers spent millions of dollars on cars, watches and a business investment. By March 1990, they were arrested in connection to their parents’ murder.
According to police, Jose and Kitty were brutally gunned down in the Beverly Hills mansion by their two sons, Erik and Lyle.
— Ruby Robert (@Fashion_perday) September 12, 2017
Lyle was 21 and Erik was 18 when they took two shotguns and killed their parents in the TV room of their Beverly Hills mansion. Jose was shot five times, while Kitty received 10 shots, according to The New York Times. Police arrived after Lyle called to report that someone killed his parents.
After the brothers were arrested, their court case dragged for years, capturing the attention of Americans who watched the proceedings on television and earning the title of “the trial of the century,” though the O.J Simpson case would soon seize that title.
Each brother had their own jury that would deliberate their own fate. The first trial ended in a mistrial.
— TOWN&COUNTRY (@TandCmag) October 4, 2017
A major part of the brothers’ defense was a claim of self-defense in response to years of alleged sexual and psychological abuse by their parents, according to the New York Times. Lyle, the oldest brother, claimed that he had been molested by his father at a young age and, as a result, molested Erik. However, the LA Times reported that child abuse did not justify murder in self-defense under California law at the time.
The first trial ended in January 1994, almost five years after Jose and Kitty were murdered. Court documents show that the juries for each case were split down the middle, with neither coming to a decision on their guilt. The televised trial ended with the prosecution vowing to bring the brothers back to court to be retried for the murder of their parents.
The retrial began in 1995, with proceedings going in a new direction this time around.
— Rolling Stone (@RollingStone) January 4, 2017
This time there was only one jury to oversee the trial of both Lyle and Erik, and there were no cameras in the courtroom. The brothers were also not allowed to testify during the retrial so the jury could solely focus on evidence in the case. The attorney for the Menendez brothers reminded the jury that they would need to decide between manslaughter and first-degree murder.
In March of 1996, the brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder and were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
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They’re each serving their sentence in different prisons in California, and have already spent more than 20 years behind bars. Both have married while incarcerated. Lyle married Rebecca Sneed, his second wife since going to prison, in 2003 in a ceremony at the Mule Creek State Penitentiary, while Erik married Tammi Saccoman via speaker phone from Folsom State Prison. California does not allow conjugal visits for persons sentenced in murder cases or with life in prison sentences.
A series on the Menendez murders and trials titled “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers” is currently airing on NBC. It stars Edie Falco as Leslie Abramson, Gus Halper as Erik Menendez and Miles Gaston Villanueva as Lyle Menendez. The series has brought renewed interest in the case and trial. Lyle recently spoke to Today about the show, the case and whether he regrets murdering his parents. The brothers have not seen each other in 17 years.