Menendez brothers found guilty of murder
Thursday 21 March 1996
The Menendez brothers, whose first televised trial mesmerised American audiences and ended in a hung jury, could now face execution. With television cameras banned from their retrial, the brothers appeared pale but emotionless as verdicts were read by a court clerk. The jury found "special circumstances" that make the brothers eligible for the death penalty, including lying in wait for their victims and committing multiple killings.
Lyle, 28, and Erik, 25, the pampered children of a wealthy Beverly Hills couple, admitted shooting their mother and father from behind as they watched television. But they said they feared their parents would kill them after Lyle threatened to expose the alleged incest secrets of an unnatural family.
In a hearing expected to last several weeks, the jury will now decide whether they should be sentenced to death. Prosecutors are expected to stress that the brothers left their parents' house and reloaded their weapons before returning to kill their wounded mother.
The bodies of Jose and Kitty Menendez were found on 20 August 1989, in a room drenched with blood. Their two children went on a six-month spending spree with the family's $14m (pounds 9m) fortune, claiming their parents had been murdered by the mafia. They were arrested after evidence leaked from confessions to a psychiatrist, and their inheritance was eaten up by legal fees during their six years in jail.
In 1993 Lyle Menendez transformed a courtroom in which some of the jurors had begun to doze off with a spell-binding performance from the witness stand. He testified, in tears, that his father had raped him and forced him to perform oral sex. Lyle painted a picture of a horribly dysfunctional family where he visited his father's own sexual violence on his younger brother and where his mother, bitterly resenting their relationship, flew into vicious rages.
Sobbing from the witness stand, Lyle admitted killing his parents, and was asked why. "Because we were afraid," he whispered. The defence became notorious as the "abuse excuse". The boys were tried separately, and the result was two hung juries in January 1994. In Erik's trial the jury split six-six on gender lines, women siding with the charismatic defence attorney Leslie Abramson. The prosecution learned its lesson in the second trial. They called one of the US's top forensic psychiatrists to testify that Erik Menendez was acting rationally when the killings occurred. They also hammered what came to be known as the "Kitty factor". While the father was arguably the chief target of the boys' hate, their mother was shot repeatedly as she lay on the floor. Prosecutor David Conn claimed this factor "got lost in the shuffle" of the first trial.
Judge Stanley Weisberg, reacting to the media circus surrounding the OJ Simpson trial, banned cameras from the courtroom and handed down a series of rulings hostile to the defence, despite pleas from Ms Abramson to "Give us a break".
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