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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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