The infamous Menéndez murders happened more than three decades ago, but brothers Erik and Lyle Menéndez are still talked about today. Keep reading for details about the double murder of their parents, the brothers’ trial, their prison sentence and more. 

What Happened During the Menendez Murders? 

On the night of August 20, 1989, Erik and Lyle – who were 18 and 21 at the time – entered their parents’ Beverly Hills mansion, armed with shotguns. Directing their weapons at Jose, the brothers shot their father in the head at point-blank range, firing additional shots at his arms and legs. He was ultimately shot a total of six times. Kitty, meanwhile, was shot four times in the head and five times in the body, receiving 10 shots total. 

Recalling the scene at the home in an episode of the true crime series Snapped, investigator Russ Olson proclaimed, “It was just absolutely savage. You’re looking at two human beings who had been ripped apart.”

What Happened To the Menendez Brothers? 

To the outside world, the Menéndez brothers were the two sons of rich parents Jose and Kitty Menéndez who benefited from their father’s high life as a prominent music executive. Arguing that the brothers killed their parents out of greed, prosecutors in the highly-watched case focused on the notable purchases Lyle and Erik made in the aftermath of the murders – buying Rolex watches, condominiums and sports cars. 

Why Did the Menendez Brothers Kill Their Parents? Murder Details
Nick Ut/AP/Shutterstock

During ABC’s Truth And Lies: The Menendez Brothers, Jose and Kitty’s friend Karen Ferrell claimed the motive behind the brothers’ murder of their parents was Kitty’s alleged comments that she wanted to cut them out of her will. Recalling the mother of two sitting at the family computer updating her will, Karen recalled, “She said, ‘I don’t care. They know I’m not gonna give them any money.’”

When the case appeared to be revolving around that narrative, Lyle took the stand and claimed that he and Erik were sexually abused as children, with molestation at the hands of their father starting when both were just 6 years old. 

Sharing what allegedly happened to him, Lyle said on the stand, “He used objects … a toothbrush and some sort of shaving utensil brush. He’d rape me.” The claims made against the late executive became central to the defense’s case. 

How Did the Menendez Brothers Get Caught?

After brutally murdering their parents, Lyle and Erik called 911. Telling the operator that someone had killed their parents, Lyle relayed his story through sobs while Erik could also be heard sobbing in the background. 

“I came home and found them,” Lyle told the operator when asked, “Who shot who?” 

Menendez family home

An ambulance was dispatched to the scene as well as members of the police department, who had both Erik and Lyle exit the home at their time of arrival. 

Neither Erik or Lyle were initially seen by police as suspects, but the guilt of killing his parents began to overwhelm Erik. He sought out the help of psychotherapist Dr. L. Jerome Oziel, who recorded their sessions. Based on the doctor’s account, Erik admitted to the murders during an October 31, 1989, appointment. Two days later, the brothers shared their motivations with Oziel. 

Oziel’s paramour, Judalon Smyth, overheard an interaction between the three men while she was standing outside Oziel’s office. She reportedly heard Lyle yell at his brother, saying, “I can’t believe you told him! I don’t even have a brother now! I could get rid of you for this! Now I hope you know what we are going to do. I hope you realize what we are going to have to do. We’ve got to kill him and anyone associated to him.”

Given that the therapist was threatened amid the brothers’ visits, the session recordings no longer fell under protected patient-doctor communications. 

What Happened During the Menendez Brothers’ Trial?  

After authorities seized the tapes from Oziel the same day Lyle was arrested, a battle of their admissibility was kicked off. Making it all the way to California’s Supreme Court, the highest judicial body in the state ruled that the tapes could be used. Thus began the highly covered Menéndez brothers’ trial of 1993, which resulted in two hung juries and mistrials. 

The brothers were back in court two years later under the watchful legal eye of attorney Leslie Abramson and were eventually found guilty of first-degree murder and were handed down life prison sentences. Though they are not eligible for parole, Leslie saved the brothers from the death penalty. 

Are the Menendez Brothers Still in Jail? 

The Menéndez brothers are still in jail as of publication, serving life sentences at San Diego’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. After they were found guilty, Lyle was transported to Mule Creek State Prison and Erik to Pleasant Valley Prison, with both brothers staying at their respective facilities from 1996 until 2018. 

While in separate prisons, Lyle and Erik were not able to talk on the phone, but rather sent letters back and forth to one another. It wasn’t until 2018 that they were finally reunited, having last seen each other on September 10, 1996. 

“They just hugged each other for a few minutes without saying any words to each other,” reporter Robert Rand – who has followed the case since 1989 – told ABC News. “Then the prison officials let them spend an hour together in a room.”

Will the Menendez Brothers Have a New Trial? 

A key aspect of the Menéndez brothers’ defense in court was the alleged abuse they suffered at the hands of both parents, but specifically their father, Jose. Attempts to appeal the ruling have not been successful, but new information about Jose’s supposed behavior in the 1980s has breathed new life into the case. 

Menendez brothers psychiatrist

Roy Rossello, a former member of the boy band Menudo, knew and worked alongside Jose in the time before his death. Claiming in the 2023 docuseries Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed that he too was raped by Jose, Roy shared that the Menéndez brothers’ father was, without a doubt, a pedophile. 

Reacting to Roy’s admission, Erik said in the series, “Frankly, to be honest, I feel horrible. It’s sad to know there was another victim of my father. I always hoped and believed that one day the truth about my dad would come out, but I never wished for it to come out like this — the result of trauma another child has suffered. It makes me very sad.”

Meanwhile, Lyle turned his attention to what Roy’s experience would’ve meant to their original case, telling the cameras, “Of course you would know that would have made a difference at trial. Certainly, that would have made an enormous difference because the entire trial centered on the belief about these events.”

Though the likelihood of a changed outcome is slim, criminal defense attorney Alan Jackson told TODAY that Roy’s claims against Jose could potentially make a difference to Erik and Lyle’s time behind bars.

“First, they have to file the petition. The petition has to be reviewed by a superior court judge. The judge has to grant a new trial, and the defense has to win at trial,” Jackson said. “So those procedural and factual hurdles — that’s a big mountain to climb. Is this a glimmer of hope? It’s a glimmer.”

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