In 1993 a court case rocked the United States as Erik and Lyle Menendez were tried for the cold-blooded murder of their parents. The two brothers were accused, and eventually convicted, of killing Jose Menendez and Mary “Kitty” Menendez in their Beverly Hills, home in 1989.
Both brothers, who remain in the public eye to this day, are still serving life sentences in two separate prisons.
Their story, and what drove them to murder, will be recounted in the latest episode of Murder Made Me Famous on Reelz. The new episode is slated to premiere on Saturday at 9 p.m. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Jose Menendez Was a Corporate Executive & Built the Family Fortune in the Entertainment Industry
After establishing himself as a corporate executive for The Hertz Corporation in New York, Jose Menendez was reassigned to RCA and tasked with the difficult job of reversing the company’s financial fortunes. He did just that.
Menendez reversed RCA’s collective fortunes, using high overhead and high performer salaries to prevent a stock slide. Through his connections in the entertainment business, Menendez saw his own star rise and he was elected CEO of LIVE Entertainment.
The family relocated to California in 1987 after Menendez took the job with LIVE but both brothers struggled, particularly in the classroom. Erik was average in his high school classes but stood out due to his strong tennis game. Lyle, meanwhile, had been placed on academic probation at Princeton for both poor grades and allegations of plagiarism.
2. On August 20, 1989 Lyle & Erik Shot Their Parents in Their Beverly Hills Home
Lyle was 21. Erik was 18. Their parents were sitting in the family den. They had fallen asleep. When neighbors were asked about the loud bangs they heard at 10 p.m. that night, they said they chalked it up to local kids playing with fire crackers.
According to reports, Jose was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty, awoken by the sound, sprang up and tried to run for help but was shot in the leg. After she fell she was shot several times in the arm, chest and face. Both Jose and Kitty were shot in the knee caps to make it appear related to organized crime.
The brothers left the scene, dropping their shotguns on Mulholland Drive, and bought tickets to a movie as part of their alibi. They met up with friend later and at 11:47 p.m. returned home. Lyle called 911 and reported the crimes.
Police originally did consider the brothers as suspects but did not have any evidence. During the months after the murder both Lyle and Erik spent money recklessly and suspicion increased every time they swiped a credit card. In early 1990 Erik confessed the murders to his psychologist who, after being threatened by Lyle, told the police. Lyle was arrested on March 8 and Erik surrendered to police several days later.
3. The First Trial Was Broadcast Live on Court TV & Ended With Two Deadlocked Juries
The Menendez brothers and their trial became a national sensation when it was broadcast on Court TV in 1993. Defense attorney Leslie Abramson even became a bit of a celebrity in her own right thanks in large part to her in-court performance. She claimed that the brothers were driven to murder after a lifetime of abuse from their parents, including sexual abuse from Jose.
The trial ended with two deadlocked juries as both brothers, although tried together, each had a separate jury.
4. The Menendez Brothers Were Tried a Second Time & Convicted With First-Degree Murder
As soon as the first trial was officially deadlocked, Los Angeles Country District Attorney Gil Garcettie announced that the brothers would be retried. The second trial was far less publicized after Judge Stanley Weisberg refused to allow cameras in the courtroom.
Bother brothers were ultimately convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The jury did not endorse death sentences for either brother, citing the lack of a felony record or a history of violence for either Lyle or Erik. They did, however, acknowledge that the defense’s suggestion that the brothers killed their parents out of defense was incorrect, believing instead that a desire for money drove the murders.
On July 2, 1996 Judge Weisberg sentenced Lyle and Erik Menendez to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The two were sent to different prisons and both were classified as maximum-security inmates.
5. Lyle & Erik Both Married While in Prison
Since entering prison both brothers have married, although the state of California does not allow conjugal visits to those convicted of murder or those serving life sentences.
Lyle married his long-time pen pal Anna Eriksson, a former model, in a ceremony presided over by Judge Nancy Brown on the same day he was convicted of killing his parents. The two divorced in 2001 after Eriksson discovered Lyle was “cheating” on her by writing to another woman. In 2033, Lyle married Rebecca Sneed, then 33, a magazine editor from Sacramento in a ceremony at the visiting area of Mule Creek State Priosn.
In 1997 Erik was married in a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison to Tammi Ruth Saccoman, who was sitting in the prison waiting room. Tammi said of the wedding:
I was surprised we were allowed to kiss right after the ceremony, so we got three kisses that day,” says Tammi. “Our wedding cake was a Twinkie. We improvised. It was a wonderful ceremony until I had to leave. That was a very lonely night.
Tammi also published a book in 2005, They Said We’d Never Make It – My Life With Erik Menendez. She was also featured in a 2010 A&E documentary titled Mrs. Menendez.