The halfway point of Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brother spanned a period of about two years in the course of the hour, and at one point reminding us of another even bigger event taking place in Los Angeles while the brothers were waiting for a court assignment for their trial, an event that may have worked in their favor such as it is: the Rodney King beating and the riots that followed. The prosecution was hoping to have the trial moved into the city, hoping to get a jury of twelve decidedly not affluent African-Americans to pass judgment on these young men the prosecutor has painted as privileged white boys who just may get away with murder if a jury of their actual peers is in charge of rendering a verdict. Instead, because getting people downtown was going to be a nightmare, the judge sent the trial to a court in Van Nuys. Leslie Abramson had a little hope that the location would be better for her client and his brother, but she still needed to build a case.
Erik has been quite up front about the sexual molestation he suffered as a child, but Lyle had been pretty tight-lipped about what his motive was for killing their parents. Everyone keeps assuming it’s about the $14 million estate — not that there will be much left after legal fess … or when Kitty’s family members threaten to cut off any more funds for the boys after they admit to the killings. Even with psychologists trying to crack the wall Lyle has put up, Leslie is worried that no one will believe the stories of abuse. In the meantime, she’s got her team combing through the family’s personal affects while she’s fighting to keep Dr. Oziel’s tapes out of the proceedings. She does score a minor victory when one tape is pulled, mainly because the prosecution has been spending more time talking to Diane Sawyer than actually building a case. Abramson argued they were trying the boys in the press, and the judge agreed to a point.
Over the course of time, the DA Ira Reiner’s bid for California’s attorney general failed and he tried to run again for the DA’s office, but lost that too. Unfortunately, none of this is spelled out in the episode so we’re left to wonder how newcomer Gil Garcetti suddenly took charge of the case. Garcetti is, of course, one of the more famous names involved in this case so he had to show up at some point, as did Judge Lance Ito. If Leslie thought she was going to have a hard time with Reiner, she has no idea what she’s up against with Garcetti.
But there was still a case to build, and Abramson believed the stories of abuse from the perspective of a mother, but as a lawyer wasn’t sure she could buy it. But things really started to fall into place. First, one of her team members found an envelope of nude pictures of the boys, ages 8 and 6. The faces were not visible, but there were other photos of the boys in swim suits and birth marks and moles were a match. The brothers also asked to speak to some of their family members, to confess to the murders and explain the abuse. Not only did Jose abuse Erik, but Kitty abused Lyle as well. The confessions didn’t sit well with the boys’ girlfriends either, both of them eventually breaking up with the brothers. But, there was still a missing piece that Abramson wasn’t satisfied with. The abuse and the murders were too far apart.
But family members came forward to share their memories with Abramson, confirming Jose’s abuse, a cousin referring to the time he spent the night and Jose took the boys into the bathroom to shower with them, but the cousin was locked out of the room. Afterwards he wanted to know what game they were playing but Erik was too emotional to speak. Lyle’s former roommate Donovan Goodreau also confirmed that Lyle related stories of Kitty’s abuse to him, as did his other friend Glenn Stevens. But Glenn was reluctant to speak up for someone who killed his parents. But there was still something missing.
In another session with Dr. Conte, Lyle finally let his guard down and all of his secrets came out. Not only did Kitty sexually abuse him, but he was Jose’s victim as well, at least until he turned his attentions to Erik. But Lyle assumed that since his abuse stopped at about age 12, the same held true for Erik. But it didn’t, and Lyle had no idea or he would never have left Erik alone with them. When Erik wanted to move away for college, Jose refused to pay for him to stay on campus, telling him he had to be home four nights a week. Erik revealed that he had been abused as recently as two weeks before the murders, but for Leslie that was still too time between the abuse and the murders. Then Lyle revealed that Jose had threatened, many time, to kill them and get a new family if they ever told what was going on. They lived in constant fear for their lives, Abramson surmised, so the murders were like a volcanic eruption. The rage and fear had built for so long that the last instance of abuse was just too much. Abramson was going to present to the court that the boys acted in self defense. She felt she had a good chance at winning this one.
The only problem is, will a jury believe them? And are the brothers actually telling the truth?
Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Brothers airs Tuesday at 10 PM on NBC.
What did you think of this episode? Were the brothers abused or is there more to their story? Tell us what you think!