True crime television devoted hours to both O.J. Simpson's case and the unsolved murder of child beauty queen JonBenét Ramsey last year. But, the trend of revisiting these sensationalized crimes from the '90s hasn't waned yet. This Thursday, ABC premieres Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers — American Sons, American Murderers, a special about another violent crime with a very public aftermath. According to The New York Times Erik and Lyle Menendez were sentenced to life in prison in 1996 for the murder of their parents, Jose and Mary "Kitty" Menéndez in their Beverly Hills home. According to The Los Angeles Times, Jose and Kitty Menendez were 45 and 47 years old when they were gunned down in the TV room of the $4 million mansion they shared with their sons.
The double murder occurred in 1989, when Erik and Lyle were only 18 and 21, respectively. CBS News reports that their father was shot in the head and their mother was shot multiple times in several areas. The intimacy and the violence of the crime captured the interest of the public and the media. Jose and Kitty Menendez seemed to have showered their sons with opportunities; the family seemed to have an enviable life.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Jose Menendez was born to a well-to-do family in Cuba and moved to the United States as a teenager. A popular and high-achieving student, Jose met Kitty at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. It was a whirlwind romance and the two married while Jose was still in college. Once in the working world, Jose steadily climbed the ladder of success. The businessman was headhunted away from his first accounting job and went onto high-ranking positions at Hertz and RCA. The family moved to California when Jose took a job with Carolco Pictures to reinvigorate a home video company the studio had purchased. Kitty, meanwhile, gave up her work as a teacher to take care of their two boys full-time. She shuttled them to and from their tennis and swim practices, among other activities.
The defense that the Menendez brothers' team ran with at trial was that the men had lived under the thumb of their allegedly abusive parents for years and had reason to fear for their lives. Per The New York Times, they gave testimony that their father had allegedly raped Erik and Lyle from childhood while their mother allegedly looked the other way.
But friends and acquaintances of the family defended the characters of Kitty and Jose at trial and in the press. Brian Andersen, Kitty Menendez’s brother later claimed to ABC News that the allegations were false. “The idea that Erik and Lyle were abused by my sister Kitty is absolute insanity,” he told the outlet. Jose's secretary Marzie Eisenberg told Vanity Fair that their parents indulged Erik and Lyle and did everything they could to set them up for success.
The 1994 case lead to a contentious trial that eventually ended in a mistrial, according to the above ABC News article. In 1996, a second trial found both brothers guilty and they were sentenced to life in prison. For more insight into the shortened lives of Kitty and Jose, the parents and victims of the notorious Menendez boys, watch Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers — American Sons, American Murderers when it airs Thursday, Jan. 5.