Joseph Lyle Menendez (born January 10, 1968) and brother Erik Galen Menendez (born November 27, 1971) were convicted in a highly publicized trial for the shotgun murders in 1989 of their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, residents of Beverly Hills, California. Under the terms of the sentences for their multiple crimes, the brothers are expected to spend the remainder of their lives in prison.
Jose Menendez was born in 1944 to an upper-class family in Jerez, Zacatecas, Mexico. His father was a well-known soccer player who played in Chivas of Guadalajara and owned an accounting firm. His mother was a swimmer who was elected to Cuba’s sports hall of fame. Jose had two older sisters, Teresita, known as "Terry," and Marta. Jose’s parents’ accomplishments in sports guaranteed them an honored place in Cuban society. In 1960, after the Cuban Revolution, Jose fled to the United States, where he settled in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, studying English and eventually accounting. Jose was a very successful businessman who worked his way up from nothing to having a $1 million a year plus salary. While director of RCA Records, he signed acts such as Eurythmics and Duran Duran. Jose was so committed to his work that he once flew the Concorde overseas to watch his son play in a tennis tournament. As soon as the match concluded, he flew the Concorde back again so he could wrap up a business deal.
Kitty Andersen was born in 1941, the youngest of four children of Charles and Mae Andersen. Her family lived in Oak Lawn, Illinois. During her early childhood, Kitty’s family was solidly middle class. Her father owned a successful heating and air conditioning business, and her mother stayed at home to care for Kitty and her two older brothers, Milt and Brian, and Kitty’s older sister, Joan.
In 1967, Jose graduated from Queens College with a CPA degree. He went to work for Coopers & Lybrand, an international accounting firm. Kitty continued to teach grade school. Then in 1969, Jose was sent to Chicago to audit Lyon Container, a client of Coopers & Lybrand. Jose so impressed the management of Lyon Container that they asked him to come to work for them as the company's controller. Jose was 25 years old. Jose, Kitty and their infant son Lyle, moved to Hinsdale, Illinois. Kitty became a full time mother, while Jose worked hard and turned Lyon Container into a profitable company. In 1970, Jose was named president of Lyon Container. The position did not last long because Jose and the chairman of the board became involved in a fight over the direction of the company. In 1971, Jose went to work at Hertz, as an executive in the car leasing division and the Menendez family moved from Illinois to the East Coast and settled in New Jersey. Jose's second son, Erik, was born that same year. In 1973, Jose became Hertz's chief financial officer. Jose rose through Hertz's ranks and in 1979, when he was 35, became Hertz's worldwide general manager. At Hertz, Jose earned a reputation for abusing subordinates. This reputation would follow him for the remainder of his life. In 1980, Jose's career ended at Hertz. Another man was brought in and made president and Jose was reassigned to the entertainment division of RCA, the company that owned Hertz.
From the beginning of their marriage, Kitty had always given Jose the freedom he desired. As much as he promised her that their marriage would be a partnership, in reality Jose made decisions for both of them, often without consulting Kitty. During his life, Jose acquired a number of mistresses. Jose's longest lasting affair began in 1978 with a woman named Louise, who was a dark-haired, self-confident businesswoman. Louise and Jose travelled together and entertained as a couple in Louise's townhouse in Manhattan. Jose cared deeply about Louise yet never gave any thought to leaving Kitty. He also never considered ending his affair with Louise. Jose felt good with Louise. She buoyed his ego. For some time Kitty was not aware of Jose's indiscretions. Jose was able to sooth Kitty with false, yet convincing claims of his faithfulness, but Kitty became suspicious of his behaviour. Kitty uncovered one of Jose's relationships and walked out of their home for several days. Jose managed to convince her to come home, more so for the brothers than because he loved her, according to Jose's brother-in-law.
The Menendez brothers grew up in Blackwood, New Jersey. Both attended Princeton Day School for grade school, and Lyle attended Princeton University. Lyle was placed on academic probation at Princeton for poor grades and disciplinary probation, and he eventually dropped out after allegations of plagiarism. Both brothers developed stutters, stomach pains and had a habit of grinding their teeth.
The murders occurred on August 20, 1989, in the den of the family's 722 North Elm Drive home in Beverly Hills. Jose and Kitty were tired that summer evening because the family had been out shark fishing on a chartered yacht, Motion Picture Marine until midnight the previous day. With Lyle and Erik out for the evening, both Jose and Kitty retired to the den to watch the James Bond thriller The Spy Who Loved Me. At around 10 pm, the neighbors reported hearing what sounded like firecrackers, but dismissed it as nothing to be concerned about. Jose was shot point-blank in the back of the head with a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun. Kitty, awakened by the shots, sprang from the couch and made a run for the hallway but was shot in the leg, causing it to break. She then slipped in her own blood that had run down her leg; and, when she fell, she was then shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both of them were then shot in the kneecap to make the crime appear mob related. The brothers then drove off and dumped their shotguns on Mulholland Drive and bought tickets at a local movie theater, seeing the movie Batman to use as an alibi. Then at 11:47 pm, when the brothers returned home, Lyle called 911 and cried, "Somebody killed my parents!" Initially, the police did not consider the brothers as suspects. At their trial, Erik said he spotted a shotgun shell they had left on the floor, and removed it when the policeman talking to him looked away.
Security at 722 North Elm Drive was of a high standard. The Mediterranean mansion had been rented to the likes of Prince and Elton John. Jose frequently left the alarm system off and the gates open, even after his Mercedes-Benz 560SEL was stolen from the front circular driveway of the house, just weeks before the murders. Kitty, on the other hand, was agitated in the time leading up to the murders, constantly locking her bedroom door at night and keeping a rifle in her wardrobe for safekeeping. It was clear that something was troubling her. Kitty did mention to her psychiatrist, a few weeks before the murders, that she was afraid her sons might be sociopaths.
In the months after the murders, the brothers led a life of luxury and lavish spending, later adding to investigators' suspicions that they had been involved in their parents' deaths. Lyle bought an expensive Rolex watch; a Porsche Carrera; and Chuck's Spring Street Cafe, a Buffalo Wings restaurant in Princeton. Erik also hired a full-time tennis coach and competed in a tournament in Israel. They left the North Elm Drive mansion unoccupied and lived in 2 separate penthouse apartments in Marina Del Rey. They drove around LA in their late mother's Mercedes-Benz SL convertible, ate costly lunches and dinners, and went on overseas trips to the Caribbean and London. Prosecutors later alleged that the brothers spent about $1 million in their first six months as orphans. The police did not suspect them until Erik confessed to his psychiatrist, who, after Lyle threatened him, told the police. (Doctor-patient confidentiality has one important exception: when the patient poses a threat to the doctor or the general public.) On December 8, 1992, the Menendez brothers were indicted by the Los Angeles County Grand Jury on charges that they had murdered their parents.
The Menendez 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, vaulted to fame with her flamboyant defense, alleging that the brothers were driven to murder by a lifetime of abuse from their parents, including sexual abuse from their father, Jose. Despite the defense theory, the past criminal records of the brothers stood in contrast to the "escape from parental abuse" theory. The trial ended in two deadlocked juries (although the brothers were tried together, each had a separate jury).
Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti immediately announced that the brothers would be retried. The second trial was somewhat less publicized, in part 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 support death sentences for the brothers but instead returned recommendations of life in prison. The jury later said that the abuse defense was never a factor in their deliberations and that the jury rejected the death penalty because neither brother had a felony record or a history of violence. Unlike the previous trials, the jury unanimously rejected the defense theory that the brothers killed their parents out of fear, but believed rather that the murders were committed with the intent of gaining control of their parents' considerable wealth.
On July 2, 1996, Weisberg sentenced Lyle and Erik Menendez 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. On September 10, 1996, the California Department of Corrections separated the Menendez brothers, sending them to different prisons. Both were classified as maximum-security inmates and were segregated from other prisoners.
On February 27, 1998, the California Court of Appeal upheld the murder convictions, and on May 28, 1998, the California Supreme Court voted to uphold the murder convictions and life-without-parole sentences, with none of the Supreme Court justices voting to review the case.
Of note, during the penalty phase of the murder trial for Erik and Lyle Menendez, defense lawyer Leslie Abramson allegedly ordered a defense witness, Dr. William Vicary, to alter his notes. Leslie Abramson did not face a criminal investigation, as 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.
Life in prison
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.
In January 1997, Lyle married longtime pen pal Anna Erikkson, a former model. The marriage reportedly ended after less than a year after she 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 maximum security visiting area of Mule Creek State Prison. Lyle and Rebecca had reportedly known each other for approximately 10 years prior to their engagement.
In 1997, Erik was reportedly married through a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison. In June 1999, Erik, then 28, married Tammi Ruth Saccoman, 37, at Folsom State Prison in a prison waiting room. Tammi later stated that "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, Erik's wife Tammi stated that her relationship with Erik, her husband of six years, is "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." Tammi Menendez also self-published a book in 2005 titled They Said We'd Never Make It - My Life With Erik Menendez, though Erik said on the Larry King Live show that he had heavily edited the book. In an interview with People magazine, Tammi Menendez stated that "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 friends don't 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 every weekend to see Erik, whom her daughter refers to as her "Earth Dad."
Regarding his sentence of life without 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."
Erik reportedly works as a night janitor and shares a 6-by-9-foot cell with another prisoner.
As of 2008, Lyle was being held in Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. Erik was incarcerated at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California. Under the terms of the sentences for their multiple crimes, the brothers are expected to spend the remainder of their lives in prison. According to Erik, on the same Larry King show, he and his brother have not spoken to each other for more than ten years.
In 2010, A&E did a documenary on Tammy Menendez entitled "Mrs. Menendez."
3.^ New York Time October 12, 1997
4.^ Should single guys trade their pinstripes for prison stripes? (Dan Abrams), MSNBC.com January 18, 2006 (retrieved on September 2, 2008)
5.^ Parent killer Menendez marries in Calif. prison, MSNBC.com, November 23, 2003 (retrieved on September 2, 2008)
6.^ Life & Love Behind Bars by Bill Hewitt, People Magazine, November 07, 2005 Vol. 64 No. 19.
7.^ "Convicted murderer Erik Menendez marries in prison". CNN. June 16, 1999. http://edition.cnn.com/US/9906/16/menendez/. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
8.^ "Erik Menendez's Life Behind Bars". ABC News. October 25, 2005. http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=1255023. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
9.^ "Interview With Tammi Menendez". CNN. December 20, 2005. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0512/20/lkl.01.html. Retrieved 2007-05-17.