The O.J. Simpson trial is the trail to remember from the 1990s (complete with a car chase), but before O.J. Simpson, there were Erik and Lyle Menendez, accused of a shocking crime that rocked their tiny Los Angeles neighborhood. Not to be outdone by the many Simpson shows that have aired in the past two years, NBC is introducing Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, a ripped-from-the-headlines procedural that follows the trial. But how accurate is Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders as it relates to the original crime and subsequent trial? (Bustle reached out to NBC for comment, but has not yet received a response.)
The original case goes a like this — on Aug. 20, 1989, a wealthy couple is found shot dead in their Beverly Hills home. According to the Los Angeles Times, they were found by oldest son Lyle, then 22, who called 911 and sobbed, "They shot and killed my parents" into the phone. After returning from a night out, Lyle claimed to have found his parents dead in their home, and, when police came to the scene, his younger brother Erik was also there crying on the lawn. Given the ritzy neighborhood and the fact that Kitty and Jose Menendez were successful and well off people, the crime was a bit of a mystery. It wasn’t until six months later that Erik and Lyle were charged with the murder of their parents, according to the LAT. (They were later convicted of both murders and sentenced to life in prison, according to Rolling Stone.)
As reported by Newsweek, the brothers blamed “the mob” for their parents’ deaths, but in the weeks that followed, the brothers spent $700,000 on cars, condos, and more. When the brothers were arrested, according to the Los Angeles Times, the authorities saw it as a simple case — the prosecution claimed that the brothers wanted their parents’ money, and so they killed them. But it’s never that simple. If it was, there probably wouldn't be a TV show about it.
In the real trial, Newsweek reported that the Menendez defense team claimed that the brothers were subjected to alleged “years of emotional and physical abuse” at the hands of their father and that Kitty was allegedly “an alcoholic and drug addict" who allegedly failed to protect her kids from their father's alleged abuse. Killing their parents, the Menendez defense team said, was the only way out of the alleged abuse. The defense team argued that it was self-defense. An early trailer of Law & Order True Crime claims that the “true story will finally be told” by the program. The trailer hints that the claims of alleged abuse will come into play as well. "It wasn't a question of if they did it, it's a question of why," Edie Falco, who plays the brothers' lawyer says in the trailer.
This is all well and good as a fictional story, but when shows move from reported facts to allegations, that’s when things can go off the rails. It’s worth it to note that the alleged abuse, especially the alleged sexual abuse, was never proven in the courtroom outside of the brothers’ testimony, and Kitty Melendez's brother, Brian Anderson, told ABC News that "the idea that Erik and Lyle were abused by my sister Kitty is absolute insanity."
Where does that leave the show? From the trailers and sneak peeks of Law & Order True Crime, it seems as if the show will use a lot of the skeleton of the actual crime, trial, and conviction on the show and fill in the parts that they don’t know or couldn’t know. That would make Law & Order True Crime more historical fiction, and, as such, not wholly accurate. (It's described as a dramatization by the network itself.)
Dick Wolf, the creator of Law & Order True Crime, is seemingly using the series to try to change public perception of the Menendez case. "This is a show that has an agenda,” he told the crowd at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, per The Hollywood Reporter. He continued:
"I think anybody who watches the first episode is going to be there every week because there is new information. When you see the information, I think people are going to realize, 'Yeah, they did it,' but it wasn't first-degree murder without possibility of parole."
According to THR, Wolf also made it clear a lot of research went into the story. "The research revealed things none of us knew, and that's one of the things that I think is most impactful about the eight hours," Wolf said.
With this in mind, is Law & Order True Crime telling a completely accurate story of the Menendez brothers trial? Not necessarily, because it's first and foremost a TV dramatization. But, that doesn't mean there won't be truth to some of it. All in all, take the scenes with a grain of salt, and know that you'll probably learn some real stuff along the way about one of the biggest murder trials of the 1990s.