The boys’ father, Jose Menendez immigrated from Cuba when he was 16, and worked his way up in corporate America to become an extremely wealthy business man, and eventually the CEO of LIVE Entertainment.
At ages 21 and 18, Lyle and Erik developed a plan to murder their father, and mother with shotguns they would purchase days before the murder. The prosecution claimed that the privileged brothers murdered their parents out of greed, with the hope of earning the family fortune early.
On the night of August 20, 1989, Erik and Lyle Menendez opened fire on Jose and Kitty inside their Beverly Hills Mansion. Lyle shot his father several times in the arms and once in the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty was shot in her torso and face leaving her unrecognizable. They shot both Kitty and Jose in the kneecaps to make the incident seem like a mob hit.
Lyle and Erik picked up all shell casings, drove up Mulholland Drive and tossed their shotguns into a canyon. They returned to the house and called the police. When the police arrived, Erik and Lyle ran outside in a theatrical display, screaming as they did so.
Les Zoeller was assigned to the case and, upon examining the crime scene, determined that there was no forced entry and it did not appear to be a robbery. Zoeller, however, did not consider the brothers to be suspects, and he did not administer gunshot-residue tests. During questioning, Erik was very emotionally unstable, while Lyle was calm and collected. When asked if anyone would want to kill his parents, Lyle answered, “maybe the mob.” The coroner determined that the shot to her left knee came from a different angle than the other shots, so the killers may have been staging the murder to look like a mob job.
Erik, younger and more frail, was much more psychologically damaged than Lyle. He confessed to the murders to his psychiatrist, Dr. Jerome Oziel and reported his confession to Lyle immediately. Lyle confronted Oziel, threatening his life. Instead of calling the police, Oziel had the brothers come back several times and recorded the sessions on tape, but continued to keep the confessions a secret.
Meanwhile, the brothers spent lavishly following their parents’ death. Detectives began searching for physical evidence, linking the two brothers to the murder. Detective Zoeller traced the sale of two Mossberg shotguns on August 18, 1990, two days before the murders occurred. The man listed as the customer proved himself to have been at work in New York at the time of the murders and pointed out that the signature was not even close to his. Zoeller saw an opportunity and requested that Erik and Lyle take a handwriting test, but Erik refused.
In March of 1990, Dr. Oziel’s mistress, enraged she had just been broken up with, went to police and told them that the Menendez brothers had been seeing Oziel for psychiatry and had confessed to killing their parents. On March 8, 1990, Lyle Menendez was arrested on his way to lunch with friends. Erik Menendez, who had traveled to Israel, learned of his arrest and turned himself in shortly after.
Controversy arose over whether patient-therapist confidentiality laws applied to the tapes Oziel made of the brothers’ confessions. It was eventually ruled that patient-doctor confidentiality had been broken when Erik threatened Oziel’s life, and some of the tapes would be considered admissible evidence.
During the first trial, the Menendez attorneys started in their defense that Erik and Lyle were victims of child abuse by their father from a very young age. Over the course of the trial, the defense viciously attacked the character of both Jose and Kitty, in an attempt to show that the brothers felt that they were in “imminent danger.” Neither of the brothers had ever stated anything of that sort to psychiatrists, friends, or family members, making it easy for the prosecution to shoot down the claims. Both of the juries announced that they were deadlocked and could not reach a decision, and both cases were declared mistrials.
The second trial was deliberately less publicized and closed to the public, as the Judge felt that the juries in the first trial were influenced by media coverage of the case. On April 17, 1996, the jury decided that life in prison without the possibility of parole was the best punishment for the brothers. They were sentenced to different facilities and have not seen each other in the years since, but do communicate by writing.
Erik Menendez is currently at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility and Lyle Menendez is at Mule Creek State Prison. They are both married and have no children, serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.