In July, the L.A. Times published two major stories about the Menendez Brothers that highlighted the new evidence and legal maneuvers that could finally set the boys free.
First was a hard news story by Sal Hernandez: New evidence may back Menendez brothers’ sexual abuse claims. But can it free them?
The brutality of the crime led many — including law enforcement — to speculate whether the killings were mob hits. But when the couple’s two children were identified as suspects, and the nation became engrossed in the gruesome killings and the family’s inner workings, everyone wanted to know why?
The answer prosecutors offered was simple: money. Used to living a life of privilege, the brothers executed their parents because they had threatened to cut them off from the family’s $14-million estate.
But during two highly scrutinized trials that launched the Menendez brothers into true crime notoriety, defense attorneys argued the killings came after years of violent, repeated physical and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of their father, a top executive at RCA Records.
The first trial ended with two hung juries. In the second, allegations of abuse and supporting testimonies were restricted, and Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1996.
Twenty-seven years later, attorneys and advocates want the court to take another look at the case amid new sexual assault allegations they say corroborate a history of abuse against the brothers.
New evidence backs their claims, lawyers say, and again raises the specter that the story behind the murders — and the Menendez family itself — may be more complicated.
“The juries in the first and second Menendez trials heard two completely different sets of evidence,” said Robert Rand, who covered the trial for the Miami Herald and wrote “The Menendez Murders” book. “The second trial jury did not hear what many considered to be key evidence: that the brothers complained about the sexual abuse to several relatives and friends before the killing.”
Rand, who has maintained contact with the Menendez brothers and reported the “Menendez + Menudo” docuseries with Nery Ynclan, said he believes if the trial were held today, “there may be a completely different outcome.”
After the #MeToo movement and high-profile cases of abuse and sexual assault, the question is whether the Menendez case would be received differently now — not just in the public, but in court.
“Actual convictions of powerful perpetrators has changed the landscape for victims,” Ynclan said.
“I think the [Menendez] rulings would be different today,” appellate attorney Cliff Gardner said, adding that juries and judges have a better understanding of the effects of long-term abuse.
The second article was an op-ed written by Robin Abcarian:: The Menendez brothers have been behind bars for 33 years. Is that long enough?
I have not thought much about the Menendez brothers, Lyle and Erik, since they were convicted in 1996 of murdering their parents, Jose and Kitty, in their Beverly Hills mansion.
At the time of the killings, Lyle was 21 and Erik was 18.
The prosecution contended they were greedy, spoiled brats trying to get their hands on their parents’ fortune. The defense argued that they were severely abused by their father, who was enabled by their mother, and they were in fear for their lives.
The family’s awful story was one chapter of a particularly traumatic era in Los Angeles, where the criminal justice system seemed strained to its limits, where controversies about systemic racism, privilege, domestic violence and fairness raged over the airwaves, at dinner tables and around water coolers.
I would go so far as to say that the 1990s in L.A. essentially began on the August night in 1989 when the Menendez brothers sneaked up on their parents and blew them away with shotguns as the couple watched TV and ate ice cream. Six months later, the brothers, who had managed to spend more than $1 million of their parents’ money in the interim, were under arrest.
A year later, George Holliday videotaped the savage beating of motorist Rodney King by LAPD officers, and the officers’ acquittals sparked days of fires, looting and convulsive violence.
In 1994 — the same year two Menendez juries, one for each young man, deadlocked between manslaughter and murder convictions — Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were slashed to death in Brentwood. After a volatile trial, Simpson’s ex-husband, O.J. Simpson was acquitted of the slayings in 1995.
The second Menendez trial, this time with one jury, also began in 1995. The same judge who had earlier allowed the defense to call 50 witnesses and present evidence of abuse, restricted testimony that would have supported an “abuse excuse” in the second trial. That sealed the brothers’ fate. They were convicted of first-degree murder in March 1996 and have been in prison for 33 years.
I would maintain that this convulsive era came to an end the following year when a civil jury in Santa Monica found Simpson liable for the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend.
I am telling you, it was an emotional and exhausting time in this city. Nothing any of us would want to relive.
But attitudes toward domestic violence and sex abuse have changed. New evidence about the Menendez family has come to light, and now, after resigning themselves to dying in prison, the brothers are hoping the case will be reopened.
A petition filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in May describes two new pieces of relevant evidence that corroborate Lyle and Erik’s claims that their father was an abusive monster and their mother did nothing to stop him.
One is a letter written in 1988 by 17-year-old Erik to his cousin discussing his father’s abuse. “I never know when it’s going to happen and it’s driving me crazy,” Erik wrote to his cousin, Andy Cano. “Every night I stay up thinking he might come in.”
The second is a claim by Roy Rosselló, a former member of the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo, that Jose Menendez, who was chief executive of RCA Records at the time, raped him when he was 13.
A judge has yet to rule on the brothers’ petition, which asks for either an evidentiary hearing or that the convictions and sentences be vacated.
(Rosselló has also alleged that Menudo’s founder, Edgardo Díaz, repeatedly raped him between 1983 and 1986, when he was a member of the group. The LAPD confirmed to my colleague Salvador Hernandez that Díaz is under investigation for an incident that Rosselló says took place at the Biltmore Hotel, where he says Díaz attacked him. Rosselló’s sordid story and Menudo’s connection to Jose Menendez is explored in a powerful new three-part docuseries Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed by veteran journalists Robert Rand, author of The Menendez Murders, and Nery Ynclan. )
Rand has been writing about the Menendez case since the day after the murders, and has developed close ties with the brothers’ extended family, most of whom believe that Lyle and Erik have served long enough. It was Rand who discovered the letter, written by Erik, that may play a role in reopening the case.
“They would have been out a long time ago if they’d had a fair trial,” said Kitty Menendez’s older sister, Joan VanderMolen, 91, who lives in Ventura. In “Menendez + Menudo,” she and her daughter Diane discuss why Erik seemed bereft as a child when there were no lemons in the house. “It was to get the taste of semen out of his mouth,” Joan says, in one of the docuseries’ more shocking moments.
“I loved my sister dearly,” VanderMolen told me last week, “and it’s difficult to talk about her, but somehow she managed to let this husband of hers rule the roost and beat the kids. She had to know.”
She speaks to her nephews regularly by phone at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility near San Diego, where they were allowed to be together after 22 years apart. “They had a terrible childhood,” she said. “Money had nothing to do with it.”
Who wants to dip back into the malaise of L.A. in the 1990s? Not me. But all these years later, with insights from the #MeToo movement too fresh to ignore and new evidence at hand, reopening the case against Erik and Lyle Menendez seems like the right thing to do.
Of course, I agree.
It’s the right thing to do and it’s LONG OVERDUE!
More like this? It’s all in the book!