Recently, a Law & Order spin-off entitled "True Crime" aired on NBC across the nation, with the topic being the Menendez murders. The series included Edie Falco portraying Leslie Abramson, who was the attorney representing Erik Menendez, with Lyle and Erik being portrayed by Miles Gaston Villanueva and Gus Halper respectively.

This eight-episode series was the first of its kind, and the topic for this season was the Menendez murders.

Many watched every week as a dramatization of what has been one of the most talked about tragedies shed new light on the incident and trial that ensued. By the end of the season, many people shared a similar question, asking if the Menendez trial should be looked at again and if their convictions should be overturned, allowing for their release.

Lyle and Erik murder their parents

In August of 1989, a luxurious Beverly Hills neighborhood was rocked by the brutal murder of Jose Menendez, a Hollywood executive, and his wife Mary, also known as 'Kitty'; a staple of the community and a power couple to the outside world.

Though first thought to be the work of the mob, it would ultimately take six months before the truth would come to the light – the murderers were the couple’s own children, 21-year-old Lyle and 18-year-old Erik.

Erik confessed the murders to his therapist, who later told his mistress, upon feeling threatened by Lyle. Later in a fit of rage, the mistress told the police about the murders which ultimately led to the brothers becoming persons of interests and later suspects.

Six months after the murder of their parents, Lyle and Erik Menendez were arrested.

In the years following the brothers’ arrest, a lengthy trial would ensue. Jurors would hear testimonies from family and friends of the brothers, giving cause as to why the brothers took the lives of their parents. The biggest revelation to come about during the trial was that of the abuse the boys suffered at the hands of their parents.

Much controversy has surrounded the case since the beginning; controversy surrounding evidence, surrounding the judge, surrounding the defense, and even surrounding the conviction. The Menendez brothers have been referenced in popular culture on numerous occasions throughout the years, even spawning a couple movies about the subject.

The boys suffered years of abuse

During the trial, the defense based their case on the years of abuse Lyle and Erik suffered at the hands of their parents.

"True Crime" highlighted the brothers' detailed explanation of how they endured years of sexual abuse at the hands of their father Jose, who was described as cruel, as well as a perfectionist and a sick man.

Throughout the trial, Lyle explained that the abuse began with him at a young age, and as he grew older, their father turned his attention to a younger Erik. The boys spoke in detail of the abuse they suffered, how their father would refer to the sexual acts as “a game”, and how as the years went by, he grew increasingly violent.

Jose Menendez reportedly threatened to kill his sons several times if they told anyone. The brothers also expressed how they told their mother about the abuse, and Lyle expressed how he too was forced to lie in bed with his mother and forced to touch her as well, as she abused and controlled him.

As the trial continued, there was focus on the weeks leading up to the murder. The boys expressed how they were fearful of being killed by their parents, especially after years of being threatened by Jose. During the trial, it was also revealed how Erik had once again confided in Lyle about the years of molestation that had taken place; even telling his brother that during his time away at college, the abuse had not stopped, and Jose was still forcing him into compromising positions, which had been going on for roughly twelve years. Erik later revealed that the most recent act had occurred a few weeks prior to the murders.

Years of abuse and trauma lead to destruction

On the evening of August 20, 1989, the brothers took matters into their own hands. While their parents were watching a film in the den, the brothers used 12-gauge shotguns to commit the murders; shooting their parents multiple times to the point where brain matter was spattered across the ceiling.

The murders occurred around ten in the evening, and over an hour later, Lyle contacted police, hysterically crying down the phone and saying that “someone had shot his parents”. While the brothers were considered to be suspects, there was not enough evidence to go about on this claim. While the murder was originally thought to be the work of organized crime members, Erik’s later confession expressed the truth as to who had murdered Jose and Mary Menendez.

A controversial trial and sentencing

The first trial occurred in 1993 and was broadcast on "Court TV." There was much controversy surrounding the judge, Stanley Weisberg, who was already in hot water as he had been the judge presiding over the Rodney King trial which had ended with the four officers being acquitted and ultimately led to the riots of 1992 in Los Angeles.

Erik was defended by flamboyant lawyer Leslie Abramson, while Lyle was defended by lawyer Jill Lansing. Judge Weisberg declared that the brothers would have a separate jury, so when there was evidence pertaining to Lyle, Erik’s jury would be excluded, and vice versa when evidence pertained to Erik.

Throughout the first trial, several friends and family gave family history and backed the claims of sexual and emotional abuse, with a few friends and family expressing that Lyle and/or Erik had confided in them over the years or that they had witnessed the boys being abused. Following the end of the first trial, both juries deliberated for weeks, only to ultimately declare a mistrial.

The LA County District Attorney, Gil Garcetti, immediately ordered a retrial. This trial was less publicized due to Judge Weisberg banning cameras from the courtroom, and the stories of abuse as well as other family history were banned from being presented during the trial.

At the end of the second trial, the jurors deliberated, and the brothers were ultimately convicted on two counts of first-degree murder as well as conspiracy to commit murder. During the penalty phase, the recommendation of life in prison without parole was presented, with the jury later explaining that the abuse defense was not a factor during deliberations and the death penalty was excluded due to the boys having no prior record.

The jury had rejected the abuse defense and believed that the murders were committed in an attempt by the brothers to gain control over their parents’ wealth. This ignited controversy among Menendez supporters as well as other victims of sexual abuse, who argued that the conviction was too strong and that the abuse should have been taken into consideration when jurors were deliberating. Many looked at Judge Weisberg’s controversial treatment during the trial as well, declaring that he was unprofessional and should not have been one to handle the case.

The brothers should not still be in prison

In the years following the highly publicized trial and conviction, many victims of abuse and supporters of the brothers – family included – have continued to stand with the brothers and voice their opinions. "True Crime" ignited a renewed interest in the Menendez murders, giving more insight into the trial and evidence presented.

With new, in-depth studies of how trauma affects the lives of many individuals, people have begun to express their disgust at the sentencing of the Menendez brothers. Many feel that the sentencing is too harsh, and with the brothers having no prior history of violence nor having a history of violence within prison, many also feel that they are not a danger to the public and should be released.

In a 2017 interview, actors portraying those involved in the Menendez circle for "Law And Order True Crime" expressed their own thoughts on the convictions, suggesting that the brothers deserve a chance of parole. L. Davidovich, who portrays the slain mother, Mary “Kitty” Menendez in the NBC drama, told the Daily Mail that she felt the brothers should get parole and that they deserved it.

Halper and Villanueva, who play Erik and Lyle Menendez respectively, have also expressed empathy for the brothers. The actors told the Daily Mail that while it was not right that they committed the murders, it was clearly a huge mistake and that the punishment did not fit the crime, as the years of abuse led to such.

Many others agree that the punishment is extreme for Lyle and Erik. Upon watching the NBC series highlighting this crime, people have a better understanding of the crime and why it happened. Do people at all agree with Lyle and Erik killing their parents? Absolutely not; They should not have killed their parents. However, it can be understood why it happened and though they did make a mistake, both brothers have expressed their regret at the event.

Trauma can affect people differently, and the brothers had endured so much trauma that it led to destruction. Hopefully, "Law and Order True Crime" will allow us all to understand the murders and what happened a little more. We can only hope that it allows for something to happen and lead to the brothers being released.

Again, while this is not a show of support for what they have done, it is simply clear that the punishment was a bit too severe. With this being said, I and others feel that the Menendez brothers should be released from prison. It is reported that the brothers both are doing well in prison and are model prisoners, thus not causing any trouble behind bars. They should be allowed a new chance at life instead of being forced to pay for a mistake for the rest of their lives.

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