Generations of true crime fanatics got to know attorney Leslie Abramson throughout the murder trial of Erik and Lyle Menendez, accused and convicted of murdering their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez. She was later portrayed by Edie Falco in the 2017 Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders mini-series, exposing the lawyer to a new swath of interested viewers. But where is Leslie today? Keep reading to find out what the attorney is doing three decades after defending the Menendez brothers in court.
What Did Leslie Abramson’s Career Look Like Before the Menendez Case?
Before she came one of the most prolific attorneys in the country, Leslie was a UCLA graduate who passed the California State Bar in 1970 after her 1969 graduation from the prestigious law school. She went on to work for the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Office for six years before turning her attention to cases such as the Menendez brothers’ double-murder trial.
What Cases Has Leslie Abramson Defended?
In addition to her work on the Menendez case, Leslie has defended a slew of clients accused of murder, with only one — Ricky Sanders, accused of killing four people — receiving the death penalty. His appeal was rejected, and he was sentenced to death in 2017.
Leslie has defended the likes of Arnel Salvatierra — who was just 17 when he killed his father and was granted the lesser charge of manslaughter with probation rather than murder — Dr. Khalid Parwez — who killed his 11-year-old son and was later found not guilty — and Phil Spector, who shot and killed actress Lana Clarkson.
Though she had defended high profile cases, the Menendez case put Leslie in a new spotlight, with Vanity Fair calling her “the most brilliant Los Angeles defense lawyer for death-row cases.” Due to her work on the case, both Erik and Lyle were saved from a fate of lethal injection and instead received life behind bars without the possibility of parole. Though the case and retrial saw her benched from closing arguments due to allegations of evidence tampering, Leslie’s keen legal mind stopped the Menendez brothers from receiving the death penalty, a conclusion to their crime that she said they did not deserve.
What Has Leslie Abramson Said About the Menendez Brothers?
Central to the defense’s argument while presenting the Menendez case was that the brothers acted in self-defense. After years of alleged abuse at the hands of both their parents, with graphic details coming forward about Jose’s supposed molestation, Erik and Lyle were presented as two young men who snapped under pressure.
Commenting on the case, Leslie told The Washington Post at the time of the 1996 retrial, “I’ve represented people charged with murder for 27 years, and these guys just don’t measure up to anybody else I’ve ever represented. These are not murderers. These are troubled kids in a very difficult and grotesque home environment, and they cracked.”
Of their life sentences, Leslie asserted that the punishment was far too extreme for the crime. “It’s a grotesquely disproportionate verdict and punishment for what happened here,” she said. “When children kill their parents, something is wrong in that family. It’s a different moral mix for a sexual predator, those who kill strangers. They really are a scourge of society. . . . This is a different degree of moral awfulness.”
Where Is Leslie Abramson Today?
After defending the Menendez brothers, Leslie faced an investigation from the State Bar of California for supposed evidence tampering as related to the siblings’ case. Maintaining that she did nothing wrong, the attorney told The Washington Post, “I’ve been a member of the bar for 27 years. If they want to investigate, I welcome that.”
Though disbarment was on the table, Leslie pushed through the allegations and continued her legal career. The investigation into her was eventually dropped due to insufficient evidence.
Capitalizing on the moment, Leslie released her memoir, The Defense Is Ready: Life In The Trenches Of Criminal Law, in 1997, giving readers insight into her work within the justice system and what it was really like to work on such mind-boggling cases.
Her next high-profile case came in 2004 when she defended music producer and accused murderer Phil Spector, replacing his previous attorney Robert Shapiro. She soon left Spector’s legal defense due to conflicts, and he was later convicted of murder.
Leslie has since retired from her law career and has witnessed as the Menendez case has been revisited in both fictional and documentary-style series. When portrayed in Law & Order in 2017, Leslie had few words for the show, telling TheWrap, “I have nothing to say. Absolutely nothing. Goodbye,” before adding that she had no intention of watching the program. Show-runner René Balcer further told EW that Leslie did not participate in the series in any way, but that “she’s having a nice life, a nice retirement.”
Is Leslie Abramson Married?
Leslie has been married twice, once to a pharmacist who she divorced in 1969, and again to Los Angeles Times reporter Tim Rutten. She has two children, a daughter Laine from her first marriage and an adopted son from her second. The attorney confirmed Rutten’s passing to the Los Angeles Times in September 2022, despite the two being divorced at the time of his death.
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