By IVY BROWN Court TV
It’s been 30 years since Erik and Lyle Menendez faced their first trial for the brutal murders of their parents.
July 1993 marked the beginning of a high-profile televised six-month trial that ended in two hung juries, prompting Judge Stanley M. Weisberg to declare a mistrial. The brothers were ultimately convicted in a second untelevised 1995-96 trial.
Jose and Kitty Menendez were fatally shot with shotguns on Aug. 20, 1989, in the family’s Beverly Hills mansion. The brothers spent the next six months funding a lavish lifestyle with their inheritance until March 1990, when they were arrested after Erik’s recorded confession during a therapy session with Dr. Jerome Oziel was brought to the police.
Prosecutors argued the Menendez brothers killed their parents to gain access to a $14 million inheritance. The defense argued it was self-defense after the boys suffered years of sexual abuse from their parents, and ultimately feared they would be killed.
In their second trial, Erik and Lyle were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite their sentence and heinous crimes, there has been a consistent outcry from supporters who believe the brothers were truly victims and deserve to be freed. Prosecutors still contend the brothers fabricated the allegations of sexual abuse.
Here’s a look at some key moments in the 1993 trial of CA v. Erik and Lyle Menendez.
THE CONFESSION TAPE
The prosecution’s smoking-gun at the center of the case was Erik Menendez’s therapist, Dr. Jerome Oziel, and his audio tapes of their sessions. Dr. Oziel began recording their sessions at the haste of his lover, Judalon Smyth, who said they needed the recordings to protect themselves. At trial, the jury heard Erik’s Dec. 11, 1989 confession to Dr. Oziel.
The testimony of Dr. Oziel’s former mistress was a shocking twist in the Menendez trial. Judalon Smyth had previously told authorities she overheard the brothers confessing to killing their parents, but at trial, she claimed Oziel had “brainwashed” her. It was Smyth who turned the brothers into the police, but reportedly became bitter after they refused to charge Oziel. She claimed Oziel raped and drugged her during their relationship. The jury even heard sordid recordings between Oziel and Smyth.
Craig Cignarelli testified his former best friend confessed to killing his parents two days after the murders. Cignarelli said Erik told him exactly how the killings took place, with Lyle shooting Jose and Erik shooting Kitty.
The older brother, Lyle Menendez, testified their father sexually abused them at a young age. At trial, he gave tearful testimony describing the alleged abuse and even their mother’s alleged indifference when they confronted her. Lyle also testified that the brothers feared for their lives after confronting Jose days before the killing. Lyle claimed as they told Jose they were going to tell everyone about the sexual abuse, and he responded, “We all make choices in life, son. Erik made his, you’ve made yours.”
Younger brother Erik Menendez also testified about the alleged abuse he suffered from his father, and how Lyle tried to protect him in life.
DETECTIVE LESLIE ZOELLER
Beverly Hills Police Detective Leslie Zoeller was the lead investigator in the murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez. Zoeller and his partner were the responding officers at the scene and took the brothers’ statements.
GLENN STEVENS & DONOVAN GOODREAU
Glenn Stevens & Donovan Goodreau were close friends of Lyle Menendez. The brothers used Goodreau’s identification to purchase the shotguns used in the killings. Stevens was with Lyle when he was arrested for the murders. Part of Goodreau’s testimony also focused on his prior knowledge of the alleged sexual abuse the brothers suffered from their parents. At trial, he claimed he didn’t know, but the next day, reporter Robert Rand took the stand with a recording of his interview with Goodreau, where he admits to knowing about the alleged abuse.
Interested in more highlights from the case? Check out Murder and the Menendez Brothers: A Court TV Mystery Podcast.