TWO brothers killed their own parents with 12-gauge shotguns before then spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of their money – but they insist it was “kill or be killed”.
Lyle and Erik Menendez were caged for life after slaying their mum and dad, Kitty and Jose, at their Beverly Hills mansion on August 20, 1989.
Prosecutors argued the pair, who were aged 18 and 21 at the time, brutally slaughtered their parents in a bid to get their hands on their enormous wealth in one of America’s most famed murder cases.
Lyle and Erik became national sensations when their trials were broadcast on TV as they tearfully claimed they had suffered a lifetime of abuse.
And the case has now been re-examined in the Discovery+ documentary ‘Menendez Brothers: Misjudged?’.
The Sun Online was given an exclusive first look at the documentary, which includes Lyle giving firsthand testimony, before its release today on the streaming service.
The Menendez brothers’ case has also been subject to a new wave of interest – with many on social media campaigning to have the brother’s case reopened.
Lyle, now 54, has told in the rare interview how he believes people are now beginning to understand their case as sexual abuse has become more widely spoken about.
He said: “Up until I would say a few years ago, (there) was just apparently the normal negative anti-Menendez stuff.
“And then there was just sort of a change, an awareness.
“I realised that there was just a tremendous amount of discussions going on that led to these subjects and our case online.
“They start from a perspective of understanding family abuse issues and it’s not very hard once you understand that, how you could end up in a homicide.”
Millions watched on as the brothers broke down in court, telling how they endured horrific abuse from their father – encouraged by their mother.
They claimed they felt they had no other option than to gun down their parents – as they believed they were in a “kill or be killed” situation.
But their allegations did not wash with authorities, who were adamant they had murdered their parents in a cold attempt for money.
In the months that followed the killings, they spent vast sums of cash on luxury items, businesses and travel – splashing out close to $1m before their arrests.
This was when Bill Cosby was still America’s favourite dad
The brothers were tried separately and each ended with deadlocked juries, with an immediate retrial called.
Cameras were banned from the second trial – and authorities limited testimony about the sexual abuse claims and the jury was barred from voting on manslaughter charges.
But almost three decades on, fascination with the brothers has reignited, with thousands vowing to fight for them to be freed from jail.
Hundreds of so-called fan accounts have sprung up on TikTok, with many furious as they believe their claims of sexual abuse were too easily discounted by authorities.
They insist the brothers were unfairly tried and had their allegations dismissed as “people didn’t want to hear” about sexual abuse as it was more of a taboo in the 90s.
Lyle, the older of the two brothers, said he believes the prosecution was blinded by a “fog of societal myths”.
He said: “In the early 90s or when I was on trial like this was before the priest sex abuse scandals, and the coach scandals, and the realisation that your neighbour can be a predator, and this was when Bill Cosby was still America’s favourite dad.”
Thousands are now pushing for the case to be reopened as they believe the brothers were subject to an unfair trial as prosecutors shunned abuse allegations.
Brittany, who runs a page called Menendez Bros & Survivors, is one of those questioning how Lyle and Erik were treated by the court amid a fight for them to be released.
She told the documentary: “I think in the early 90s people were comfortable with talking about how the spoiled rich kids killed their parents instead of the abuse because it’s easier.
“It’s easier to just talk about rich kids just wanting money than it is talking about a father sexually abusing his sons.
“The prosecution said that boys can’t be raped because they lack the necessary equipment to be raped.
“Would that be said today? I really don’t think so.”
The brothers’ allegations of abuse were supported by family members during their initial trials.
Their cousin, Andy Cano, testified that as a child Erik told him about the sexual abuse, while another cousin, Diane Vander Molen, told the court she once told their mother about Jose’s molestation of Lyle.
Erik claimed his father repeatedly threatened to kill him if he did not keep the alleged abuse a secret.
But in their second trial, jurors heard very little of the abuse claims – and Diane’s testimony was scrapped altogether.
The pair were both jailed for life on two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder,
Web sleuths have also floated the suggestion prosectors came down hard on the pair as they were desperate to win the case.
Dr Sharon Ross, critical media studies professor at Columbia College Chicago, told the documentary: “After the first Menendez trial is deadlocked and they’re prepping for their retrial, you have the OJ Simpson trial going on.
“When the verdict came back that he was not guilty, that caused a huge rift in the American public as well.
“But the big thing that came out of the OJ Simpson verdict is because the prosecution lost, and lost in a very embarrassing fashion, many people felt that the prosecuting team in Los Angeles was really under pressure to really nail the job down for the Menendez brothers trial that was going to happen next.”
Cliff Gardner, who was Lyle and Erik’s post-conviction attorney, said the prosecution “could not afford anything but a conviction” in the second trial.
Lyle and Erik, 51, remain holed in prison without eligibility for parole.
They were reunited in 2018 for the first time since their sentences began almost 22 years prior, and are being held in the same unit at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in California.