Barbara Walters Presents American Scandals: Could The Menendez Brothers Get A Retrial?

menendez brothers

On August 20, 1989, Erik and Lyle Menendez shot their parents to death in the living room of their Beverly Hills mansion. Lyle was 21 and Erik was 18 when they murdered their parents. The brothers’ two murder trials were prime tabloid fodder and launched a cable network, Court TV.

The Menendez brothers argue that their father sexually abused them for years

The Menendez brothers argue that their father sexually abused them for years

Many people saw the brothers as spoiled rich kids who took drastic action to inherit their father’s considerable wealth. The brothers, and many of the supporters, contended that the young men had been sexually abused by their father for years. And while no one disputes that the handsome and privileged young men shot their parents, many question if the pair were given a fair second trial.

The first trial resulted in a mistrial because of a split jury, but in the second trial the brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Barbara Walters covered both trials, interviewed the men several times and maintained written correspondence with Erik.

The Menendez brothers admit that their father taught them to be expert liars

The Menendez brothers admit that their father taught them to be expert liars

In the latest episode of American Scandals, Walters examines the women who love the Menendez brothers, a letter that could have changed the men’s fate, and the possibility of a retrial.

The Wives Of Erik and Lyle Mendez 

When Barbara Walters first sat down with the Menendez brothers after they had been charged with first degree murder, the pair were optimistic about their love lives. Both Erik and Lyle asserted that they wanted to have committed and loving relationships, despite the likelihood that they would never leave prison.

To the surprise of many, Erik and Lyle were able to find loving partners from behind the bars of maximum security prisons. Erik and his wife Tammi married five years after she sent him her first letter.

Tammi is Erik's only link to the outside world

Tammi is Erik’s only link to the outside world

Tammi was already married when she began her correspondence with Erik, but after Tammi’s husband passed away, she moved to California to be closer to her incarcerated boyfriend. Tammi asserts that Erik is the kindest, sweetest, and most supportive man she has ever met. Tammi used her own funds to push for a retrial and visits Erik four times a week — the maximum amount allowed. And although the couple has been together for years, California does not allow conjugal visits, so their marriage might never be consummated.

Lyle was also able to meet a woman while serving his life sentence. Lyle married former Playmate Anna Eriksson, but the couple divorced when Anna discovered that Lyle was still writing to other women. In 2003, Lyle met a lawyer, Rebecca Sneed, and the pair married. Now Rebecca and Tammi devote much of their time and money to the possible retrial.

The Letter The Jury Never Saw

While many Americans remember the first Menendez trial, the second trial is what truly sealed the brothers’ fate. The jury was split after the first, famously televised trial. The second trial did not have round-the-clock cameras and the judge did not allow any of the defense witnesses to take the stand to argue that the boys had been sexually abused.

Walters continues to correspond with Erik in the years since their first interview

Walters continues to correspond with Erik in the years since their first interview

Along with not allowing witnesses to support the brother’s claims of abuse, the judge ruled that a letter, written by Erik to his cousin, could not be admitted. The judge contended that the letter was not necessarily evidence of abuse, despite the ominous passages featured in tonight’s episode. Within the letter Erik, then 15-years-old, discusses how he was afraid of his father and noted that his father was “getting worse.”

Along with the letter not making it to trial, Lyle’s gut-wrenching testimony about years of sexual abuse was not part of the second trial. When Walters spoke to the brothers, Erik admitted that it was a mistake that Lyle didn’t take the stand again, but Lyle maintained that it was too difficult to relive the abuse.

New California Law Could Mean A Retrial

The Menendez brother’s pro bono lawyer, along with the brothers’ wives, are optimistic about a possible new trial. A new California law states that anyone who was not allowed to present evidence of abuse can apply for a retrial. As noted throughout the episode, the Menendez brothers were not able to have witnesses testify to their childhood sexual abuse during the second trial.

Walters interviews the Menendez brothers' lawyer about a possible retrial

Walters interviews the Menendez brothers’ lawyer about a possible retrial

Adding to the argument for a retrial, the brothers were not allowed to use a “battered women’s syndrome” defense in their second trial because they’re men. Twenty years later, the idea that men cannot present the same argument as female abuse victims seems shocking. Ultimately, the Menendez’ lawyer feels confident the brothers deserve another chance in court and has until 2020 to get them a retrial.

Erik and Lyle are about 500 miles apart, spending their lives in separate maximum-security prisons. Erik maintains his correspondence with Barbara Walters and writes candidly about his feelings of guilt, noting that he and Lyle will never escape their past.

Watch new episodes of Barbara Walters Presents American Scandals Mondays at 10/9c.

Photos: Investigation Discovery

Read more: Vanity Fair

Read more: The New York Times

  • Shannon

    I think you may be thinking of another case w/ the script. Two friends killed ones family for the inheritance then tried to sell it as a movie script/except the movie producer was an undercover cop

    • Richard Peterson

      I watched the trial too. Eric did write a screen play about a rich boy murdering his parents. Ironically Kitty typed it. The prosecution argued hard to get it into evidence but the judge wouldn’t allow it because the defense argued it was fiction.

      • Pamela Bozanich

        that is correct. for some strange reason, the judge wouldn’t allow it.

        • Richard Peterson

          You did an amazing job. I would have been one of your jurors.

  • Jara Matthews

    “Lyle married former Playmate Anna Eriksson, but the couple divorced when Anna discovered that Lyle was still writing to other women.”


  • kmj531

    Yes, actually there was a script. A year before Jose and Kitty Menendez were killed, Erik and Craig (Cignarelli) wrote a screenplay called Friends, about a rich boy who sees his father’s will and then goes upstairs and murders his parents. Judge Weisberg did not allow the screenplay itself to be introduced as evidence at the trial, but certainly the screenplay seemed to be the genesis of the crimes that were to follow.

  • leslie

    I watched their testimony on abuse during the first trial. I don’t doubt they were abused but I also don’t doubt that killing their parents was 90% about getting the money thinking the abuse would get them off.

  • ACE

    I really don’t believe the abuse angle. These were not uneducated kids. The elder one went to Princeton(but couldn’t hack it), the other was trying to become a tennis pro. I just don’t believe that a couple of young men, -not children- were so abused that they could not think of anything else except to slaughter their parents. The mother had been a teacher- do we believe that she was so morally corrupt that she supported her husband’s sexual abuse of the boys, and never tried to do or say anything? An 18- nearly 19 year old and a 21 year old, so frightened that their father was going to murder them, that they couldn’t run away ? it just isn’t believable. They killed their parents and then started to spend the money.
    As to why Walters keeps some kind of liaison going with one of them, well it’s a puzzle. The show relied too much on past material and not enough on new information. ONCE AGAIN ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO MAKE THE VICTIME THE VILLAIN, AND PRESENT THE VILLAINS AS VICTIMS.

    • Mike Magnum

      OR they were so happy that they wouldn’t be abused again. They decided to spend some money. But really regardless of if they were abused or not. You really got to hate your parents in order to kill them.

      • ACE

        It would be nice to believe that, but I have discovered through my own family that you don’t have to be a “bad ” person to do bad things. ( No nothing comparable in my case to murder). I fear that indeed it can be about money, and hating your parents or anybody , is not enough justification to kill them.

      • haum

        Yep, what is inside you people to believe that two young men who never had any problem with justice would for money (that they would get one day anyway ) kill their parents? Parents raised them , and one way or the other are very responsible for their behavior. Incest is a very very tricky matter and it is very difficult to understand the reaction of abused children who lost total contact with what normality should be. If they have been abuse, who can they still believe? The first person who should have protect them betrayed their confidence, who do you want them to believe after that. it is very understandable that they act when they get older.

        • Noirdame

          The brothers did not live normal lives by any means. Just because their family was wealthy does not mean that they had “everything”. Many people despised and feared Jose Menendez; his wife was the silent partner type who didn’t do anything about the abuse because she was too dependent. I don’t condone what the brothers did, but I do think the case warrants a second look.

      • Brigit Franklin

        exactly. They had everything they wanted in the material sense, there was no need for them to kill their parents just to get control of the finances, since they were doing just fine as it were. There was so much more to the killings and I believe the years of bullying and abuse from their Father while their Mother turned a blind eye to it all is the reason.

    • Martha Benton

      Because Barbara Walters is too old to have a regular show anymore so she has to rely on digging in dirt and slime to get attention.

    • george m

      Jerry Sandusky abused his son and others even in his own home overnight and his wife just looked on and let it happen for years. Doc Poetter ran a school for troubled boys (Anneewakee) and he abused many of them over a lifetime and his entire family helped him cover it up and continue it for years.

  • Elizabeth

    I believe them that they were abused. I watched their faces, and heard what they said. I believe they served enough time in jail.

  • BH206L3

    These two turds killed their parents for the money its that simple and the rest of it is just court room garbage to cast doubt!

  • lahla s

    This is such a sad story. It is so far fetched to think an abused kid would even dare think of killing their abuser. So they must have killed their parents for the money. Some may say its one thing to think about it & another to do it. Now apply that principle to the sicko who considers sexually abusing their kid/s.

  • ashley

    We can speculate all day long what WE think happened only those two know the truth as far as a play, money being the motive or sexual abuse. And as it’s looking they’ll take that truth with them to the grave. I pray the parents are at peace somehow some way. If there was abuse I as a victim cannot say I would not have done the same thing and until you’ve been abused you can’t say what you would or would not have done. Sexual abuse does not all the way justify murder but it gives some sort of background as to why. May we find out the real WHY before they pass. Maybe as they age and get older the truth will come out. Until then Barbara Walters will have to keep everyone informed.

  • gr50

    At a minimum they deserve a new trial with presentation of all the evidence the judge suppressed. I think the judge was prejudiced toward a guilty verdict and did his best to steer it that way-especially in the second trial. Maybe they are cold blooded killers or maybe they were abused-only they know but it is up to the jury not the judge to weigh the evidence.

  • Martha Benton

    I agree their “so-called” abuse should not be allowed. It is strictly their word and the life they were living certainly does not look like they were abused in any way. They sound just like Jodi Arias. Wait until you murder the people involved so they can’t defend themselves in any way and then bash them and take away any dignity they might have had. People like this make me sick. They had been living high on the hog off their parents and because dad threatened to cut them off, suddenly they remembered they had been sexually abused and so blew their heads off, and now want to walk free. Travis was trying to cut ties with Jodi, so she stabbed him to death and tried to decapitate him. I am thankful that all three of these cold blooded murderers are locked away. I hope to heavens these sorry, pampered no goods do NOT get another trial. Barbara Walters…get a life and quit sticking your nose in slime.

    • im2late

      No, it is not only their word. Their father’s family corroborated many of the young men’s claims.

  • chungiemunchin

    If they had been tried for second degree murder or manslaughter based on sexual abuse being admitted in the second trial, they probably would have had to serve a 15 -20 yr. sentence. A retrial would probably reveal that they have served the time they would have been given for good behavior or parole.

    • DeDee

      @chungiemunchin:disqus I agree the brothers have suffered enough. Let them out. Their entire lives were filled with brutality, intimidation, threats, verbal and sexual abuse. A victim is in the most danger when attempting to leave and Erik wanted to leave for college when truthfully, without his father’s constant scolding, Erik should have been playing Wimbledon.

  • Noirdame

    There was something wrong in that family. Jose Menendez did physically and verbally abuse his sons in public. He once punched Erik in the face for losing a tennis match. Lyle wet his bed until he was 14; both boys developed stuttering problems and Erik’s was so bad that he went to a speech therapist. As a child, Erik was so fearful that he would check his closet, under his bed, etc., for “monsters”. Kitty was not a nurturing parent; she was jealous that Jose spent more time with the boys (especially Lyle) than with her. She said more than once with other people present, “Children can drive a wedge between their parents”. Even as adults, both Lyle and Erik are bad spellers, and this was because Kitty often did their homework assignments for them and Jose would intimidate their teachers into raising their grades. And he refused to consider the fact that his sons may have had learning disabilities. He was a narcissist who expect his sons to be just like him and brutalized them when they didn’t met his expectations. Did he and Kitty deserve to die? No. But they were not good parents.

    • Brigit Franklin

      the boys obviously had sever anxiety through dealing with their Father… it breaks my heart that they are expected to stay in prison until they die.. they deserve better.

  • Noirdame

    Jose Menendez has been accused of sexually abusing other boys too, and this did not come from his sons’ mouths! There is more to this case than meets the eye!

    • Brigit Franklin

      Wow that wouldn’t surprise me at all. He sounded like a horrible man. Of course it would be hard to break away from all that privilege… it’s a lot to give up. People shouldn’t be so judgemental about the situation and assume how easy it is to just walk away from it all.

  • Swarley

    I doubt they will get a retrial. But even if they do, the evidence against them is exceedingly strong, so a first-degree murder conviction is the most likely outcome of a retrial. And they will face the very real possibility of a death sentence.

  • Sherry

    Their smiles and eyes tell they are lying .. The pictures with their father look to happy . if you were abused and hated it you would not stand their with such grateful smiles .. no way you would be cringing

  • Jane Bordley

    They should be released immediately and should never had gone to prison in the first place. Any man that abuses his children sexually in the way that he did should be hung, drawn and quartered and any mother that allows this to happen to her children deserves the same, they got off lightly in my eyes. All the proof of abuse is there from the victim’s family members etc. Just because this family had money they have been made an example of. Abuse is abuse rich or poor !!!

    • Brigit Franklin

      I believe they should have served some time for murdering their parents but certainly not life sentences. They deserve some freedom after all their Father put them through. They should have been freed years ago.