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This article was modified in November 2021 to reflect the new season of "Killer Siblings."
Though they both remain haunted by the brutality of their acts on Aug. 20, 1989, three decades after the fact, Erik Menendez, 48, and his 51-year-old brother, Lyle, say they no longer deserve to be in prison for killing their parents.
Featuring stories of the most sadistic brothers and sisters in history, the spine-tingling series “Killer Siblings” will return for new episodes on Oxygen on Friday, December 3 at 8/7c. Before tuning in, catch up on the troubling tale of the Menendez brothers — a murderous sibling duo whose story is still unfolding.
The Menendez case was one of the most talked-about news items of its time. Police came upon a savage, bloody crime scene when they responded to the brothers calling 911 to report that “someone” had killed their multimillionaire parents, Kitty and Jose. Blood painted the living room of the Beverly Hills mansion where Kitty and Jose were found — “it was really horrendous,” Police Det. Leslie Zoeller said, according to ABC News. Chewing through over 15 shotgun rounds, the brothers left their parents’ bodies virtually unrecognizable, according to Oxygen.
Long before they were even suspects, Erik and Lyle behaved curiously for grieving siblings. They went on a six-month spending spree — shelling out an estimated $700,000 on cars, clothes, and Rolex watches, reported Vanity Fair. It wasn’t until more than six months after the murder that the brothers were arrested: Erik, guilty-ridden, had confessed to his therapist, who was recording the conversation, according to Town and Country.
However, the brothers wouldn’t be indicted until 1992 because of controversy over whether the therapist’s tapes were admissible — eventually a judge would rule most of the tapes were admissible beside the one where Erik discussed the murders, Town and Country reported. Then, starting in 1993, the first trial of two began for the Menendez brothers, with Erik and Lyle claiming their crimes were out of self-defense, not greed, and came after years of physical and sexual abuse from their parents.
“In the bedroom, we’d have what we called object sessions, and just slide my pants down or take my pants off,” Lyle testified, according to CNN. “Sometimes it would be a short period of time, sometimes longer. Lay me on the bed, and he’d have a tube or Vaseline and he just played with me.”
The brothers apparently had not spoken of this abuse to anyone before their arrest. During the trials, however, they claimed they had attacked their unarmed parents because they were afraid their father was about to kill them.
The claim helped deadlock each brother’s jury, leading to a mistrial, according to Time Magazine. Ultimately, the jury in the brothers’ second trial rejected claims of abuse and sentenced them to life in prison without parole in 1996.
Today, the two brothers maintain their claims of parental abuse, but express deep regret over their past actions.
“If I could take my consciousness now and go back, I would have gone to the police and taken my chances in exposing what was happening,” Lyle told ABC News.
Erik feels similarly.
“The way I reacted was so destructive to all,” he told PEOPLE. “It was the most awful devastation. I killed the two people I loved the most.”
At the same time, the brothers feel they have been mistreated by the criminal justice system. In an interview with Town and Country Magazine, Lyle points out that there are hundreds of patricide cases each year, most of which involve abuse. He believes he and his brother would normally have received a plea deal, but their case was singled out because they came from a wealthy background.
Erik also believes he has been treated unfairly.
“No, I don’t deserve it,” he told PEOPLE, when asked whether he deserved his sentence. “I’m not saying what I did was right or justifiable. I needed to go to prison. But place another child in my life and see what happens.”
Many critics, however, are unlikely to be swayed by the brothers’ claims about injustice.
“’Cry for what has been done to us, not for what we have done to others’ seemed to be the bottom line of their testimony and their courtroom presence,” Vanity Fair columnist Dominick Dunne wrote after the second Menendez trial. “Contrition and repentance evaded them. Rarely have parents been so defiled by their children, or victims by their killers.”
Regardless of how fair or unfair their sentencing was, Erik and Lyle Menendez have moved on with their lives over the past 30 years.
Shortly after his imprisonment, Erik received a letter from Tammi Saccoman, whose husband had recently died by suicide, he told PEOPLE. Although California does not allow conjugal visits for inmates serving life sentences, their correspondence slowly developed into romance — and in June 1999, the two got married in the prison waiting room, according to CNN.
Lyle, for his part, married former model Anna Eriksson in July 1996, but the two divorced in 2001 when she found out he was “cheating” on her by sending letters to other women. He then found love with defense attorney Rebecca Sneed, who Lyle married in 2003, according to E! News.
In April 2018, the brothers were joyfully reunited when Lyle was transferred to Erik’s facility at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.
“It was just a remarkable moment,” Lyle told DailyMailTV. “I burst into tears.”
For more of the most shocking cases of brothers and sisters who killed, don’t miss the premiere of “Killer Siblings,” Oct. 27 at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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