Will The Menendez Brothers Ever Get Out Of Prison?

In the 1990s the story of Lyle and Erik Menendez dominated the news cycle for a time. The good-looking, wealthy brothers were charged with killing their parents, José and Mary "Kitty" Menendez, in the family's Beverly Hills home. The ensuing court cases that followed went on to become one of the biggest cases of the late 20th century. According to Biography, it took seven years and three trials before both Menendez brothers were found guilty of murdering their parents and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, during the trial and in the years that followed some have argued that the brothers didn't deserve their life sentences, with Newsweek reporting that hundreds of thousands of people from around the world — many of them teenagers or young adults who were either very young or not even born when the Menendez brothers were handed their life sentences — have taken to social media platforms like TikTok and sent letters to government officials to argue in favor of the brothers' release.

The Menendez family

One of the aspects of the case that fascinated onlookers was the way the Menendezes seemed to be a well-to-do family and a perfect example of the American Dream coming to fruition. José Menendez had emigrated from Cuba after the Cuban Revolution in the 1950s which saw Fidel Castro's communist government rise to power. He then lived in the attic of his cousin's home until he was able to earn a college scholarship (via Biography).

According to The U.S. Sun, Menedez attended Southern Illinois University and it was there that he met Kitty, and the two married in 1964. Kitty was an elementary school teacher but became a stay-at-home-mother when Lyle and Erik were born. Meanwhile, the family moved to California, where José worked for RCA. He eventually became the head of RCA Records and was a prominent figure in the music industry, in part responsible for signing big-name artists like The Eurythmics and Duran Duran.

By the late-80s, both Lyle and Erik Menendez seemed to have bright futures ahead of them. Lyle was 21 years old and played tennis at Princeton University, while 18-year-old Erik, was a highly ranked tennis player in his own right. In the years leading up to the murders, some cracks started to develop in the family's facade. Lyle was served a suspension from Princeton after being accused of plagiarism, while Erik found himself involved in several burglaries.

The Menendez murders

The Menendez family had a house in Beverly Hills that massive stars like Elton John and Michael Jackson have called home at different times. However, it was in that house — in their affluent neighborhood — that José and Kitty were murdered by their sons (via Biography).

According to Town & Country, the brothers were the ones who called the police on August 20, 1989, claiming they found their parents murdered in the family's den. Police arrived and were faced with a gruesome crime scene. José and Kitty Menendez had received so many wounds — fifteen blasts from a pair of shotguns — that they were rendered virtually unrecognizable.

Given the brutal nature of the murder, investigators' first suspicion was that the Menedezes had fallen victim to a mob hit. At the time, The Los Angeles Times even printed a quote from an unnamed source who said "It was definitely a message killing. There's no question it's organized crime." As time went on, it became clear that in some ways it may have been a message killing, just not one carried out by the mafia.

The Menendez brothers tried to move on

Following their parents' death, the Mendez brothers embarked on a lavish spending spree, utilizing their inheritance — estimated by People in 1990 to have been $14 million — to buy Rolex watches, clothes, and cars, stay in high-price, luxury hotels, and even hire bodyguards. They started a company together — Menendez Investment Enterprises — and even voiced political aspirations.

According to Town & Country, both brothers also attended counseling with a psychiatrist, Dr. Jerome Oziel. Erik Menendez was starting to develop an ulcer from the stress of his parents' murders and admitted to Oziel about what he and Lyle had done. The session was recorded and the psychiatrist's mistress managed to hear the recording, and upon doing so, called the police.

Both brothers were arrested in March 1990, but it would be more than two years before their indictment. While that seemed like a piece of evidence that would mean a slam dunk for the prosecution, whether or not the tape would be admissible in court became a bone of contention that pushed their trials back. It was just the first leg of a long, drawn-out legal battle for the Menendez Brothers.

The Menendez brothers were found guilty

According to Newsweek, The Mendez brothers' defense team had argued that the boys had been abused by their father, both emotionally and sexually, and that he had been overbearing in their athletic pursuits, which their former swim team coach elaborated on while speaking to The Los Angeles Times in 1990. "It seemed like José was so competitive, he was doing everything he could to try to make him better," the anonymous coach said. "But he was so completely overbearing, it had the opposite effect. Erik had so much less self-confidence because everything he did was never good enough."

After two mistrials, both Lyle and Erik Menendez were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for murdering their parents. The verdict, which was delivered on April 17, 1996, brought an end to a courtroom drama that became famous for its theatricality in an era when live court coom coverage — the entire O.J. Simpson trial happened during the Mendez trials — garnered huge TV ratings.

The Menendez brothers in prison

The Mendez brothers had asked to be placed in the same prison, but this was initially denied, and each of them was placed in separate facilities. The brothers had developed their share of fans and admirers throughout their multi-year, highly-televised court proceedings and both of them have gotten married while incarcerated, and Lyle has actually been wed twice (via Town & Country).

According to Newsweek, in 2018, Lyle was transferred from northern California's Mule Creek State Prison, down to San Diego's, R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. This was the same facility where his brother was detained, and it was the first time in over 20 years that the Menendez brothers were in the same place, however, they were housed in separate units.

Later that year, the brothers were assigned to the same housing unit. "Just because they're in the same unit doesn't mean they've had contact yet, but it's a programming facility, meaning the inmates participate in rehabilitation programs and have the ability to interact with one another," prison spokeswoman Terry Thornton told the New York Daily News.

Social Media Users started advocating for the Menendez brothers' release

Social media was in its embryonic stages when the Menendez brothers went to prison for good in 1997, but by 2022, a movement appeared on platforms like TikTok that advocated for their release from prison. According to Newsweek, while there is no doubt that the Menendez brothers killed their parents, hundreds of thousands of social media users have viewed or shared videos that argue that the brothers shouldn't have been handed life sentences without the possibility of parole given that their claims of emotional and physical abuse by their father were omitted from all of their trials except the first one. They reportedly call themselves the Menendez Defenders and Guardians.

Los Angeles' Fox 11 spoke to Jazmine Shah, a 16-year-old from India about why she feels the brothers — both of whom are now in their fifties — should be released. "They didn't do it for money," Shah, said. "They didn't, you know, do it because they hated their parents. They wanted the abuse to stop."

The brothers' have run out of appeals, so it's believed that the only chance they would have for getting out of prison at this point would be if new evidence from their parents' murder more than 30 years ago happened to surface. If that were to happen the brothers could get a new trial.