It’s been 25 years since the brothers Menendez appeared on the American evening news, and one wonders whether viewers of television that he really remembers very much about them. I rather doubt that people will remember it enough to make that the Law And Order: the Real Crime of the version of The Menendez Murders – which begins on Tuesday on NBC – the nostalgia-fest that American Crime Story: The People v OJ Simpson was. The crime was big news when it aired and then disappeared after, a taste for the alleged wrong-very easy to forget. The story was about rich people, which were not particularly interesting.
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The two Menendez trials that spanned from 1993 to 1996 were in the all-encompassing shadow of the OJ Simpson trial, a case much more obvious large image implications. In the Menendez case, there were no observations to be made about racism, or the privileges of celebrity, or even a lot more to say about the domestic violence. In its place was a much more simple armchair-detective question: were the Menendez children of sociopaths? Or were their crimes the product of horrific abuse?
The initial key to the curiosity about the Menendez crime was that it was patricide. Erik was 18 years old and Lyle was 21 years old when he shot and killed their parents, Jose and Mary Louise “Kitty” Menendez, on August 20, 1989, as the parents watched television in the family living room in Beverly Hills, California. The brothers called the police, alleging that he had arrived at home from seeing Tim Burton’s Batman to find his parents dead. Neighbors reportedly saw one of the brothers (the two seen the same and the neighbor does not seem to have said I was a) break down in the front lawn, crying inconsolably. Lyle gave a 30 minute eulogy at the funeral, according to reports, the audience “spellbound”.
Chris Bauer as Tim Rutten, Edie Falco as Leslie Abramson in Law and Order, True Crime: The Menendez Murder Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC
It is not unlikely that, in a crime, the secondary characters taking center stage, and that is certainly what happened to Dr. Jerome Oziel, the psychiatrist (who will be played by Josh Charles at the NBC adaptation). According to Dominick Dunne (who Oziel threatened to sue), Oziel had been eager to stay in contact with Erik after the murders, interested in approaching a crime for which the apparent victims that he had previously brushed the shoulders. But when Erik confessed – allegedly so lightly that he was leaning against a parking meter when he uttered the words – he called Oziel off guard. The good doctor, however, was not executed in the terror. Instead, he continued to see Erik and Lyle both talk about crime with them and obtaining a full confession.
But that was not the Oziel himself who reached out to the police. Instead, he was an ex-patient and, on occasion, lover of his, a woman named Judalon Smyth (played by Heather Graham), who went to the police. Oziel, she apparently told them, had become afraid of the brothers Menendez, and had enlisted her standing outside the door of the office and listen as he confessed. Smyth said Dunne she had become disillusioned with Oziel and the way in which he had treated, claiming that he had used his expertise psychiatric to manipulate her into a sexual relationship. Earlier this year, Smyth admitted that he had only gone to police after she had broken up with him. “That is to say, it took a long time for me to do the right thing,” she told a blatant title of the news magazine show, Murder Made Me Famous. “But ultimately, I did.”
It was for this baroque method that the police learned about the confession tapes, and, after a brief court battle, the judge ruled that the tapes could be the case as evidence because Oziel had feared for his life, while the recording of the sessions. At that time, the defense lawyers, the brothers had already begun to argue that the confessions on the tapes were, at best, incomplete. By now, Lyle and Erik said that there was a motive behind the murders that no one knew about: both, but especially Lyle, who had been subjected to horrific sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of their parents. In the booth, Lyle cried as he described how his father had allegedly molested and raped him.
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By the late 1980s and early 1990s, the child abuse scandals were becoming more frequent. And the brothers claims, so difficult to refute definitely took not only with his lawyers and friends, but also with the audiences of the television and, finally, the hung juries in every brother of the first trial. The brothers Menendez were convicted on the second attempt, and now serving life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in the prisons of the state of California.
Unlike some of the other famous crimes of the 1990s, there is very little mystery to the Menendez case. They were guilty of pulling the trigger, and admit that much. They may or may not have been the victim of abuse, but even if they are granted the benefit of the doubt, it is not clear that the abuse justified the crime: 18 and 21, the brothers should have been able to get away from the parents of the orbit. Perhaps due to the relative lack of complexity in the case, the television program, according to reports, will focus on the experiences of Leslie Abramson (Edie Falco), the prominent attorney who fought for Erik, and that was one of the brothers’ a few passionate defenders. Maybe there are some unknown intrigue there that the show of the surface.
Law and Order, True Crime: The Menendez Murders begins September 26 at 10pm ET