Joseph Lyle Menéndez (born January 10, 1968) and Erik Galen Menéndez (born November 27, 1970) are American brothers from Beverly Hills, California, who were convicted in a high-profile trial in 1994 for the 1989 murder by shotgun of their wealthy parents, entertainment executive José and his wife, Mary ("Kitty").
During the trial, the brothers claimed that the murders stemmed from years of sexual and psychological abuse that they had suffered at the hands of their parents. The juries deadlocked in both trials, but in their retrials, the juries both rejected the defense's claim. The brothers received the sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The Menéndez brothers' father, José Enrique Menéndez, was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved to the United States when he was 16, following the upheaval of the Cuban Revolution. While attending Southern Illinois University, he met Mary Louise "Kitty" Andersen. The two married in 1963 and moved to New York City, where José earned a degree in accounting at Queens College. The couple had two sons. Joseph Lyle Menéndez, who went by his middle name, was born in New York City on January 10, 1968. Erik was born on November 27, 1970, in Gloucester Township, New Jersey. Kitty quit her job teaching after Lyle was born. In New Jersey, both brothers attended Princeton Day School.
José's career as a corporate executive took the family to Calabasas, California, where the boys spent their adolescence. In 1987 Erik attended high school in Calabasas, earning average grades but showing a remarkable talent for tennis, as did Lyle. Lyle attended Princeton University but was placed on academic probation for poor grades and discipline, and he was later suspended for a year after allegations of plagiarism surfaced during his freshman year. In interviews that they gave in 2017, the brothers stated that their father sexually molested them when they were young, saying that they had shared this information with a friend when they were 10.
On August 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik were 21 and 18, respectively. The murders occurred that evening in the den of the family's home in Beverly Hills, at 722 North Elm Drive. José and Kitty were tired that summer evening because the family had been shark fishing on a chartered yacht, Motion Picture Marine, until midnight the previous day. With Lyle and Erik out for the evening, José and Kitty went into their den to watch the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.
Neighbors later reported hearing loud bangs around 10 p.m but dismissed them as nothing to be concerned about, as they thought that local kids were playing with firecrackers. José was shot point-blank in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty, awakened by the shots, got up from the couch and ran for the hallway but was shot in the leg. She slipped in her own blood and fell and was then shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both José and Kitty were then shot in the kneecap, in an attempt to make the murders appear related to organized crime. The brothers then drove away and dumped their shotguns on Mulholland Drive. They later told police they had left home that evening to see the new James Bond movie, Licence to Kill, but since the lines were too long, they saw Batman instead. Afterwards, they said, they went to the annual "Taste of L.A." festival at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. At 11:47 p.m., when the brothers returned home, Lyle telephoned 9-1-1 and cried, "Somebody killed my parents!" The police considered the brothers to be suspects, but they did not have any evidence, and they did not order the brothers to undergo gunshot residue tests to learn whether they had recently used a firearm. During their trial, Erik said he spotted a shotgun shell that they had left on the floor and removed it while the policeman who was talking to him looked away.
Security at the home had been good. The Mediterranean mansion was rented previously to musicians Prince as well as Elton John. José frequently left the alarm system off and the gates open, even after his Mercedes-Benz 560SEL was stolen from the front semicircular driveway of the house, just weeks before the murders. Kitty, on the other hand, was agitated in the time just prior to the murders and was constantly locking her bedroom door at night and keeping a rifle in her wardrobe.
During the months after the murders, the brothers spent money lavishly, which added to investigators' suspicions that they had been involved with their parents' deaths. Lyle bought an expensive Rolex watch, a Porsche Carrera, and Chuck's Spring Street Cafe, a Buffalo wings restaurant in Princeton, New Jersey. Erik also hired a full-time tennis coach and competed in a series of pro tournaments in Israel. They left the North Elm Drive mansion unoccupied and lived in two separate penthouse apartments in nearby Marina del Rey. They drove around Los Angeles in their late mother's Mercedes-Benz SL convertible, dined expensively and went on overseas trips to the Caribbean and to London. Prosecutors later alleged that the brothers spent about $1 million during their first six months as orphans.
Erik confessed the murders to his psychologist, Dr. Oziel, who told his mistress about the killings after he was threatened by Lyle. After Oziel broke up with his mistress and returned to his wife, his ex-mistress, in a fit of rage, told the police. Lyle was arrested near the mansion on March 8, 1990 after police received information that he was preparing to flee California. Erik, who was then in Israel, surrendered himself three days later upon returning to Los Angeles. Both were remanded without bail and they were separated from each other.
In August 1990, Judge James Albrecht ruled that the tapes of conversations between Erik and his psychologist would be admissible because Lyle had voided doctor–patient privilege by threatening physical harm against Oziel. That ruling was appealed, delaying the proceedings for two years. After the ruling was initially overturned on appeal, the Supreme Court of California declared in August 1992 that several tapes were admissible but not the tape on which Erik discussed the murders. That finally allowed a Los Angeles County grand jury to issue indictments in December 1992 on charges that the brothers had murdered their parents.
The Menéndez brothers and the murder of their parents became a national sensation when Court TV broadcast the trial in 1993. The younger brother's defense attorney, Leslie Abramson, became famous with her flamboyant defense, alleging that the brothers were driven to murder by a lifetime of abuse at the hands of their parents, including sexual abuse at the hands of their father, who was described as a cruel, callous perfectionist and a pedophile and Kitty was portrayed as a selfish, mentally-unstable alcoholic and drug addict, who had enabled her husband's abuse and was also sometimes violent towards them. However, the brothers' lack of a past criminal history contrasted the "escape from parental abuse" theory. The trial ended with two deadlocked juries. The voting jurors went along sex lines as the brothers' female lawyers went to considerable lengths to divide the jurors by sex, as men on the both juries voted for a conviction, while female jurors refused to accept their findings. 
Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti announced immediately that the brothers would be retried. The second trial was somewhat less publicized, partly because Judge Stanley Weisberg refused to allow cameras in the courtroom.
Both brothers were convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. In the penalty phase of the trial, the jury did not endorse death sentences for the brothers but returned recommendations of life in prison. The jury later said that the abuse defense was never a factor in its deliberations and that it rejected the death penalty because neither brother had a felony record or a history of violence. Unlike the juries in the previous trials, the jury in the penalty phase unanimously rejected the defense's theory that the brothers killed their parents out of fear. It believed that the brothers had committed the murders with the intent to gain control over their father's considerable wealth.
On July 2, 1996, Judge Weisberg sentenced the two to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Judge Weisberg sentenced the brothers to consecutive sentences for the murders and the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. As had been done during their pretrial detention, the California Department of Corrections separated the Menéndez brothers and sent them to different prisons. Both brothers were classified as maximum-security inmates and were segregated from other prisoners.
During the penalty phase of their murder trial, defense lawyer Abramson allegedly directed a defense witness, Dr. William Vicary, to alter his notes, but the district attorney's office decided that it would not investigate the infraction. Both brothers filed motions for a mistrial, claiming that they suffered irreparable damage in the penalty phase as a result of suggestions of possible misconduct and ineffective representation by Abramson.
On February 27, 1998, the California Court of Appeals upheld the murder convictions, and on May 28, 1998, the Supreme Court of California voted to uphold the murder convictions and the life-without-parole sentences, with none of the Supreme Court justices voting to review the case.
Both brothers filed habeas corpus petitions with the Supreme Court of California, which were denied in 1999. Having exhausted their appeal remedies in state court, the brothers filed separate habeas corpus petitions in the United States District Court. On March 4, 2003, a magistrate judge recommended the denial of the petitions. The district court adopted recommendation. The brothers then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On September 7, 2005, a three-judge panel issued their ruling affirming the denial of both brothers' petitions for habeas corpus.
Since entering prison, both brothers have married even though California does not allow conjugal visits for those convicted of murder or for those serving life sentences.
On July 2, 1996, Lyle married longtime pen pal Anna Eriksson, a former model, in a ceremony attended by Abramson and Lyle's aunt, Marta Menéndez, and presided over by Judge Nancy Brown. The two were divorced on April 1, 2001 after Eriksson reportedly discovered that Lyle was "cheating" on her by writing to another woman. In November 2003, Lyle, then 35, married Rebecca Sneed, a 33-year-old magazine editor from Sacramento, at a ceremony in a supermax prison visiting area of Mule Creek State Prison. Lyle and Rebecca had reportedly known each other for about ten years prior to their engagement.
In 1997, Erik was reportedly married in a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison. In June 1999, Erik, 28, married Tammi Ruth Saccoman, 37, at Folsom State Prison in a prison waiting room. Tammi later stated, "Our wedding cake was a Twinkie. We improvised. It was a wonderful ceremony until I had to leave. That was a very lonely night." In an interview with ABC News in October 2005, she described her relationship with Erik as "something that I've dreamed about for a long time. And it's just something very special that I never thought that I would ever have." In 2005, Tammi also self-published a book, They Said We'd Never Make It – My Life With Erik Menéndez, but she said on Larry King Live that Erik "did a lot of editing on the book."
In a 2005 interview with People magazine, she stated, "Not having sex in my life is difficult, but it's not a problem for me. I have to be physically detached, and I'm emotionally attached to Erik.... My family does not understand. When it started to get serious, some of them just threw up their hands." Tammi also noted that she and her 10-year-old daughter drive the 150 miles (240 km) every weekend to see Erik, and her daughter refers to him as her "Earth Dad."
Regarding his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Erik has stated: "Tammi is what gets me through. I can't think about the sentence. When I do, I do it with a great sadness and a primal fear. I break into a cold sweat. It's so frightening I just haven't come to terms with it."
As of 2017, both men are incarcerated in the California state prison system. Lyle is housed at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione. Erik is housed at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
Under the terms of the sentences for their multiple crimes, the brothers are expected to spend the remainder of their lives behind bars. According to Erik, on the same Larry King Live episode, he and his older brother have not spoken to each other for more than ten years.
The Menéndez brothers were recently featured in a 2017 documentary titled Truth and Lies: The Menéndez Brothers — American Sons, American Murderers on ABC, as well as on an episode of Snapped in 2016. The murder is the subject of multiple docudramas, including the forthcoming Lifetime movie Menendez: Blood Brothers, and the 1994 television film Menendez: A Killing in Beverly Hills. The media hype surrounding the first trial was parodied in the 1996 dark comedy film The Cable Guy. The Menéndez brothers were also the subject of the weekly satire podcast The Last Podcast on the Left in 2016. They were also depicted in the film Natural Born Killers.
Their story has been retold in a Lifetime movie.
In an episode of NBC's 30 Rock titled "Gavin Volure", Tracy Jordan is worried that his children are going to "Menendez" him because they are acting strangely, going as far as to use a Japanese sex doll of his likeness to fool his children, and eventually, Gavin Volure in the episode's conclusion; in another episode ("Nothing Left to Lose"), main character Jenna Maroney is revealed to have a tattoo on her forearm that says "Free Lyle Menendez."
In an episode of ABC's Fresh off the Boat, the topic of the Menéndez brothers and how they "didn't get away with it" came up while Jessica was talking to Evan about going to St. Orlando private school.
In the pilot episode of Gilmore Girls, Lorelei tells Rory during an argument that she is expected to at least be civil through dinner, and on the way home she can "pull a Menendez."
In his 2008 stand-up comedy show It's Bad For Ya, George Carlin makes a brief allusion to the Menéndez brothers, in a segment intended to debunk the idea that after death parents can somehow help their children spiritually in their various endeavours, which he presents as unrealistic and illogical, saying: "Suppose you kill your parents ... would they help you? I'll guarantee you Mr. and Mrs. Menéndez are not helping those two boys!"
The Law & Order season 1 episode 19 "The Serpent's Tooth" is also based on the case.
Law & Order True Crime: The Menéndez Murders, is set to air on Tuesdays in the Fall of 2017 on NBC.
Beverly Hills police claimed to have been suspicious of the Menéndez brothers from the beginning.... But there was no proof – nothing to go on – merely gut reactions.