Lyle Menendez Biography

Murderer (1968–)
Lyle Menendez and his younger brother, Erik, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering their parents in 1989.

Who Is Lyle Menendez?

On August 20, 1989, Lyle Menendez and his younger brother, Erik, shot and killed their parents, Jose and Kitty, at their Beverly Hills home. Their arrest the following year set off a trial that captivated the nation, with the brothers citing years of abuse as the reason for their actions. They were found guilty of first-degree murder in 1996 and sentenced to consecutive life terms in prison.

Lyle Menendez

Lyle Menendez

Early Life

Joseph Lyle Menendez was born in New York City on January 10, 1968, and grew up outside of Princeton, New Jersey. The older son of Jose Menedez, a Cuban immigrant and successful entertainment executive, and Mary "Kitty" Menedez, Lyle and his younger brother, Erik, grew up amid wealth and privilege. However, their father exerted immense pressure on them to succeed in school and athletics.

After the family moved to Southern California in 1986, the brothers grew more rebellious under the tight grip of their father. Lyle returned to New Jersey the following year by enrolling at Princeton University, but was suspended for a year for plagiarism.

Murder of Jose and Kitty Menendez

On August 20, 1989, Jose and Kitty Menendez were shot to death in their Beverly Hills home. Lyle called the police to report the murders, nearly two hours after they had taken place. However, although the brothers were distraught that night, their behavior over the next few months hardly suggested they were in mourning. They quickly blew through some of the family's fortune, with Lyle buying himself a Rolex watch and a Porsche sports car, among other high-ticket items.

The reality of their crimes, however, weighed heavily on his brother. Erik Menendez confessed to the killings to his therapist, L. Jerome Oziel, and Lyle later met with both of them to discuss the situation. Lyle reportedly threatened to kill the therapist if he relayed the information to anyone else; however, Dr. Oziel did tell his girlfriend, who alerted authorities, and the Menendez brothers were eventually arrested in March 1990.

Trials and Conviction

Following a legal battle over the issue of doctor-patient privilege violation, some of Dr. Oziel's tapes were admitted into evidence. The brothers were indicted on first-degree murder charges in late 1992.

Beginning in July 1993, Lyle and Erik were tried by different juries. They claimed self-defense for the murders, citing years of psychological and sexual abuse and the belief that they would be killed if they didn't act first. Prosecutors, who were seeking the death penalty, countered that the brothers wanted to get their hands on the family fortune. Their trial televised, the saga became a popular subject for news and magazine articles. Dominick Dunne wrote extensively about their case in Vanity Fair, and the lives and crimes of the brothers inspired several television movies in the mid-1990s.

In January 1994, a mistrial was declared when neither jury could reach a verdict. The retrial began the following year, with both brothers tried by one jury. This time, Lyle and Erik were found guilty of first-degree murder, and in July 1996 they were both sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison without parole.

Life in Prison 

The brothers were incarcerated separately, with Lyle sent to Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California. He married Anna Eriksson, a pen pal and former model, in 1996, but their union didn't last. In 2003, Menendez had his second wedding behind bars, this time to magazine editor Rebecca Sneed. In the meantime, he continuously fought for a new trial, though appeals were repeatedly denied.

Lyle Menendez remained mostly quiet in the following years. According to a 2012 People magazine article, he spent his time lifting weights, playing basketball and caring for a pet lizard. Later reports revealed that he was serving as president of the inmate government and leading a support group for victims of sexual abuse and violence.

Documentaries and Other TV Projects

'Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers—American Sons, American Murderers'

In early 2017, Menendez opened up to ABC News prior to the network's airing of Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers—American Sons, American Murderers. He said that he was in some ways "more at peace," and that it was "shocking" to think about what he had done nearly three decades earlier. 

'Law & Order: True Crime: The Menendez Murders'

That year brought forth additional television projects about the story of the notorious killers. In June, Lifetime aired the movie Menendez: Blood Brothers, starring Courtney Love as mom Kitty. That fall, Law & Order: True Crime: The Menendez Murders premiered, with Edie Falco starring as controversial attorney Leslie Abramson.

'The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All'

In October 2017, A&E dug into some of the motivating factors that fueled the brothers by interviewing Dr. Stuart Hart, who served as an expert defense witness during their trials. The following month, on November 30, the network debuted the limited series The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, featuring interviews with the younger brother and family members, as well as other exclusive footage.

Brothers Reunited

In February 2018, Lyle Menendez transferred from Mule Creek State Prison to San Diego's R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, where his brother was serving. In April, it was revealed Erik had been moved to his brother's same housing unit, where they would have the chance to participate in educational and other rehabilitation programs together. 

Upon see each other for the first time in more than 20 years, the brothers "burst into tears immediately," journalist Robert Rand, who is intimately familiar with their case, told ABC News. "They just hugged each other for a few minutes without saying any words to each other. Then the prison officials let them spend an hour together in a room."

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