Lyle and Erik Menendez were the children of Jose and Mary "Kitty" Menendez. Jose was a successful businessman and Kitty a socialite. Although from the outside it looked as though the Menendez brothers lived a picture perfect life, they said they were subjected to pain at the hands of their father. The brothers claimed Jose sexually abused Erik for years and they were frightened what their dad might do to them if they told anyone.
Lyle went on to attend Princeton University, however he was not performing academically and also got caught plagiarizing work. In the summer of 1989, Erik and Lyle shot their parents to death in their lavish California home. The brothers alerted the authorities and pretended as if they had just happened upon the scene. They convinced authorities that it might have been the mob who carried out the killings.
However, Erik later confessed in a session with his therapist, and the therapist went on to tell his girlfriend. She then alerted the authorities - leading to the arrest and subsequent trials. At first, the Menendez brothers were tried separately, but both juries deadlocked. In the second trial, the brothers were tried together. The central debate in the courtroom, and across America, was whether the siblings were spoiled rich kids who killed their parents for the inheritance, or whether they had suffered through a childhood of sexual abuse and committed the act in self-defense.
The brothers' actions after the crime took place didn't look good. They went on excessive spending sprees that didn't sit well with the jury, and some family members adamantly denied that Jose and Kitty would ever commit the acts their children claimed. But others told a different story. Stuart Hart, a child psychologist who worked on the case, has no doubt that the abuse was real. He points to consistent reporting throughout the brothers' childhoods. Two different cousins recounted hearing from the brothers about the abuse when the boys were younger; one who testified at the first trial recalls Lyle being scared to sleep in his bed because his father would come in. Teachers of Erik apparently told Hart that he would cry most days at school. One wanted to report child abuse, but was intimidated by Jose and Kitty.
Whatever the truth, Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted and are currently serving life sentences for the murders. In 2021, young TikTok users rediscovered the Menendez case and have been campaigning to get the the brothers out of prison, mainly with the argument that they were convicted during an era when sexual abuse and victim psychology was less understood. However, without any new evidence, the brothers are unlikely to get a new trial.