After Lyle Menendez, 22, and his brother Erik, 25, killed their parents, José and Kitty, with a shotgun in the family’s Beverly Hills mansion in 1989, they claimed that their father’s sexual abuse had driven them to murder.
But the brothers’ therapist, L. Jerome Oziel, had another explanation: He testified that the brothers referred to themselves as “sociopaths,” and had killed their parents in cold blood to get their hands on the $14 million estate.
At the time, Van Nuys Superior Court Judge Stanley Weisberg ruled that “sociopath” was so prejudicial that the word might endanger the brothers’ right to a fair trial — so the jurors never heard it.
Oziel testified that Erik Menendez confessed to the killings at a therapy session with him on October 31. The therapist said that he explained the difference between a crime of passion and a sociopathic crime done as “a means to an end” — and that Lyle and Erik then “looked at each other and said: ‘We’re sociopaths.’ ”
Oziel testified that the brothers told him: “We just get turned on by planning the murder. Once we plan it, nothing gets in the way. Once we start, nothing will stop us. … And we can’t change the plan because it’s already formed perfectly.”
From a young age, the brothers were attached to one another in a way that seemed abnormal, and friends and family said that Erik worshipped his older brother.
José Menendez was described as a strict disciplinarian who demanded perfection from his sons. And when they did get into trouble, José often paid to make it go away.
When the boys burglarized a home and stole $100,000 worth of property, their father hired an expensive lawyer to defend them. He arranged for Erik, a minor, to take the blame alone and wrote the victims a check.
The brothers’ dynamic with their father was similar to that of 16-year-old Ethan Couch, the “affluenza” teen, who killed four people while driving drunk and then claimed that his spoiled and wealthy upbringing meant that he had been unable to accept the consequences of his actions.
According to the prosecutor, José met with his brother-in-law just two months before the killings to discuss having his sons cut out of his will. Prosecutors claimed that this was the catalyst for Lyle and Erik’s decision that they would kill their parents together.
Experts say that this sense of entitlement is not unusual among children with sociopathic tendencies.
“Sociopaths typically aren’t developed in infancy; they tend to take one of two developmental paths, each of which begins in early childhood, winds through increasing elevations of narcissism, and ends in sociopathy by late adolescence,” Dr. Brian Russell, cohost of Investigation Discovery’s Fatal Vows, has written.
“The first path is … marked by parental overindulgence and/or aggrandizement, basically leading to the familiar ‘spoiled brat’ who feels uniquely deserving of whatever he or she wants.
“The other path is less intuitive, because it’s marked by parental neglect and/or disapproval, but it leads essentially to the same end — a person hyper-focused on his or her own needs and wants and determined to get those needs and wants met, again, even at others’ expense.
“It’s interesting to me that their sociopathic behavior — murdering their parents — appears to stem from the first developmental path that I mentioned, the overindulgence/spoilage/aggrandizement path (i.e., from having it so good as kids that they didn’t want to wait until their parents died to get their wealth).
“But then, they argued in court that their behavior actually stemmed from the second developmental path — the abuse/neglect path,” Russel stated.
After the murders, Lyle and Erik appeared to have gotten what they wanted — at least, at first. They lived a life of luxury, went on huge shopping sprees and started businesses, and by the end of 1989 they had spent more than a million dollars.
But, ironically, between the brothers’ expenses, legal fees and taxes, the fortune was almost gone by 1994.
After two deadlocked jury trials, a third jury found the brothers guilty on April 17, 1996. Both are serving life in prison.
For more on this case, watch the “Menendez Brothers” episode of Investigation Discovery’s True Crime With Aphrodite Jones on ID GO now!
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Los Angeles Times
Main photo: Erik Menendez (left) and Lyle Menendez (right) [California Department of Corrections]