By BETH HEMPHILL Court TV
30 years ago, in a California courtroom, Lyle and Erik Menendez each took the stand to tell their version of the events that led them to take the lives of their parents, who were shot to death at close range in the family’s Beverly Hills mansion.
Now, thanks to new evidence and another victim coming forward, Lyle Menendez tells legendary entertainer Rosie O’Donnell on her podcast “Onward,” that there may be a new chapter ahead for him and his younger brother. But it has been a long and life-shattering journey that Lyle tells Rosie may have ended differently if the trial had happened today.
“There was no internet. There was no contacting friends. There was no school counselor asking what’s going on at home…Nobody knew there was a problem with sex abuse with boys. Nobody asked those questions. There was just no cultural mechanism to believe or to understand what was going on, Lyle said.”
Court TV televised every moment of their first six-month trial in 1993.
Prosecutors said Lyle and Erik purchased shotguns shortly before they used them to pre-meditatively kill their parents for financial gain, as they stood to inherit a substantial fortune, a $14 million inheritance to be precise.
Read More: Menendez Brothers: What you WANT to know
The defense argued self-defense, saying the boys suffered from years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their father, Jose, who was an executive at RCA records. According to testimony, Jose was an emotionally distant and demanding father with a short temper who quickly turned to physical violence to discipline his sons. The brothers also alleged their mother, Kitty, was aware of the abuse, but did nothing to stop it.
Lyle spoke with Rosie about the weeks leading up to the murders. He was 21 and had just moved into his own off-campus apartment in New Jersey, where he planned to start his sophomore year at Princeton in the fall of ’89. He was in a pretty good place on his own, despite past sexual abuse by his father when he was a young boy.
That all changed days later, and Lyle talks about how the dark secret their family was hiding came to a head after his 18-year-old brother Erik, who was planning to move out of his parents’ home and live on-campus at UCLA, was told by their father that he would not be allowed to leave the home. That’s when Lyle said Erik told him about the decade-long sexual relationship he and his dad had.
“That kind of cascaded into the last couple days before what happened – me confronting my father, trying to rescue my brother from that situation. And that going horribly bad, threats back and forth, and threatening to expose my father…Us realizing my mother knew and arguments with her and our level of fear. Just overwhelming emotion just led to horrific, life-changing events.”
The Menendez brothers’ first trial ended in two hung juries and a mistrial. Lyle and Erik were ultimately convicted in their second un-televised 1995-96 trial, where Lyle said much of the evidence related to the alleged sexual abuse was suppressed.
“It was extremely limited, so it put Erik in a position to… have to take the stand and talk about it all without any real supporting witnesses and family member that knew about it,” Lyle told Rosie.
Now, after 34 years of a life sentence, Lyle said the family feels hopeful.
Evidence that includes a letter Erik Menendez sent his cousin eight months before the murders, as well as rape allegations by ex-Menudo member Roy Rosselló, who revealed details of the alleged rape and sexual assault he suffered at the hands of Jose Menendez in a Peacock docuseries, Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed.
“The need to be recognized and believed for what happened to you, is really powerful for healing. So, to go through a whole trial where there’s a whole prosecutor’s office trying to tell the public this is not true, don’t believe it… It’s a horrifying thing in itself, Lyle said.”
Despite their sentences and heinous crimes, there has been a consistent outcry from supporters who believe the brothers were truly victims and deserve to be freed.
After spending more than 20 years behind bars separately, Erik and Lyle were reunited at California’s RJ Donovan Correctional Facility in April 2018. Lyle told Rosie that after a public outpouring of support following a documentary on their case, the Calif. Dept. of Corrections opted to relocate Lyle.
Since then, Lyle has kept busy working with his brother on prison beautification projects in R.J. Donovan State Prison’s Echo Yard, the state’s first non-designated yard, which also aims to keep released inmates out of prison. Members of Echo Yard get greater access to self-help, educational, vocational, and rehabilitative programs through courses like anger management, victim awareness, job hunting, and money management.
Lyle told Rosie, if he is ever released from prison, he would continue what’s become his life’s work — which is to help inmates and sex abuse victims with self-help, rehabilitation and mental health.
“For me, and for my brother too, it’s so important to be believed. I don’t know what the legal outcome is, those things are kinda out of our hands. We’re obviously extremely hopeful and our families are very hopeful.”