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Joseph Lyle Menendez (born January 10, 1968) and Erik Galen Menendez (born November 27, 1970) are brothers who are known for their conviction in 1989, as a result of a much-publicized trial, for the shotgun murders of their wealthy parents, entertainment executive Jose Menendez and his wife Mary "Kitty" Menendez (née Anderson) of Beverly Hills, California. They were sentenced to life in prison.
The Menendez brothers grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, where their father was a corporate executive for The Hertz Corporation; he was eventually reassigned to RCA (which at the time owned Hertz). Their mother was a school teacher who quit her job to be a full-time homemaker after her first child was born. When their father got the CEO position of LIVE Entertainment, the family moved to Beverly Hills, California, where the boys spent their adolescence. Both of them attended Princeton Day School for grade school, and Joseph (usually called by his middle name Lyle) attended Princeton University. After the family relocated to California during 1987 when their father got a job for the company Carolco, Erik attended high school in Calabasas, California, with average grades but showing remarkable athletic skills in tennis, as did his brother Lyle. Lyle was placed on academic probation at Princeton for poor grades and disciplinary problems, and after allegations of plagiarism in his freshman year, he was suspended for one year. Following the death of his parents, Lyle decided against going back to school and looked to follow his father's footsteps in business.
On August 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik were 21 and 18 years old, respectively. The murders occurred that day in the den of the family's home in Beverly Hills at 722 North Elm Drive. Jose 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, Jose and Kitty retired to the den to watch the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. Neighbors later reported hearing what sounded like firecrackers about 10pm, 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 ran for the hallway but was shot in the leg, causing it to break. She slipped in her own blood and fell, then was shot several times in the arm, chest, and face, leaving her unrecognizable. Both Jose 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 and bought tickets at a local movie theater, seeing the James Bond movie Licence to Kill to use as an alibi. At 11:47 pm, when the brothers returned home, Lyle telephoned 911 and cried, "Somebody killed my parents!" The police considered the brothers suspects, but did not have any evidence. During 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 the home had been good. The Mediterranean mansion was rented previously to the musician Prince and to Elton John. Jose frequently left the alarm system off and the gates open, even after his Mercedes-Benz 560SEL was stolen from the front semi-circular driveway of the house, just weeks before the murders. Kitty, on the other hand, was agitated in the time just prior to the murders, 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, adding 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. 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 2 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 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, who, after being threatened by Lyle, 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 in Israel at the time, surrendered himself three days later upon returning to Los Angeles. Both were remanded without bail, and were segregated 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 confidentiality due to threatening physical harm against Dr. Oziel. The ruling was appealed, delaying the proceedings for two years. After the ruling was initially overturned on appeal, the California Supreme Court declared in August 1992 that several tapes were admissible, though not the tape on which Erik discussed the murders. This finally allowed a Los Angeles County grand jury to issue indictments (1992 December) on charges that the brothers had murdered their parents.
The Menendez brothers and the murder of their parents became a national sensation when Court TV broadcast the trial during 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 from their parents, including sexual abuse from their father, Jose. Jose was described as a cruel, callous perfectionist and pedophile, while Kitty was portrayed as a selfish, mentally unstable, alcoholic drug addict who enabled her husband's abuse and was sometimes violent to them also.  Despite the defense theory, the past criminal records of the brothers stood in contrast to the "escape from parental abuse" theory. The trial ended with two deadlocked juries (although the brothers were tried together, each had a separate jury).
Los Angeles 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 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, Judge 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. As had been done during their pretrial detention, 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, 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 July 2, 1996, Lyle married longtime pen pal Anna Eriksson, a former model, in a ceremony attended by Abramson and his aunt Marta Menendez, 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. During 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.
During 1997, Erik was reportedly married in a telephone ceremony at Folsom State Prison. During June 1999, Erik, then 28 years old, 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 during 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 during 2005 titled They Said We'd Never Make It - My Life With Erik Menendez, though Tammi said on the Larry King Live show that Erik had greatly 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 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, 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."
As of 2008, both were in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation system. Lyle was being held at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, CA. Erik was incarcerated at the Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga. 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 television show, he and his older brother have not spoken to each other for more than ten years.
During 2010, A&E did a documentary on Tammi Menendez entitled Mrs. Menendez.