‘Why I smiled during murder trial’
A MAN who brutally killed his parents in a bid to inherit a fortune has revealed why he smiled throughout the murder trials.
American brothers Erik, 18, and Lyle Menendez, 21, shot and killed their parents Jose Menendez, a wealthy entertainment executive, and Kitty Menendez, in their Beverly Hills mansion, in 1989. The two trials that followed captivated the nation.
But it wasn't just the brutal and callous nature of their crimes which shocked witnesses. It was the way the brothers smiled and smirked upon entering the courtroom for an arraignment and later during the trials in the early 1990s.
Prosecutors and critics said Erik's grimacing was a sign he was a spoiled killer.
But according to Erik, he was misunderstood.
In a documentary, The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, which aired in the US on Thursday night, Erik, now 47, said he smiled throughout the case because he "was in shock".
"I was being portrayed as a monster - someone who would kill for money," Erik said.
"When I first came to the arraignment, I was so nervous.
"I walked out there and [defence lawyer] Leslie [Abramson] made a joke. It was so nerve-racking that I smiled and it was this defence mechanism that came out. But on the cameras from then to the rest of eternity, [they] have me smiling as if I think the whole thing is a joke.
"Ironically, that was exactly the opposite of how I felt."
In the documentary, Erik also recounted his version of what happened the night he and Lyle murdered their parents and the media circus that ensued after their arrests, according to People.
THE NIGHT OF THE MURDERS
Menendez and his brother Erik, who at the time were 21 and 18 respectively, shot their sleeping parents Jose and Mary Menendez execution-style in the den of the family's Spanish-style, Beverly Hills mansion on the night of August 20, 1989.
Their father was a successful Cuban-American business executive, their mother a socialite.
They shot Mary several times in her torso and face, leaving her unrecognisable.
Investigators initially believed the killings were a mafia hit, partly due to the fact that both victims had been shot in the kneecaps, but after Lyle confessed to his ex-girlfriend and Erik confessed to a psychologist, the brothers were arrested.
The murder of the wealthy movie executive and his wife had all the elements of a Hollywood film including greed, incest accusations, murder, money and infidelity.
On the night of the couple's murder, police received a distressed call from Lyle Menendez, who told police they had come home from a night at the movies and found their parents shot dead.
Mary was shot in the face, while her husband suffered "explosive decapitation with evisceration of the brain" the autopsy revealed.
Earlier this year, Lyle Menendez - who along with his brother killed his parents - spoke out in a revealing interview with ABC. It was the first time he had done so in 20 years.
"I am the kid that did kill his parents, and no river of tears has changed that and no amount of regret has changed it," Lyle told ABC News from Mule Creek State Prison.
"My life is a struggle not to be defined by what happened.
"I'm at peace with my life growing up. I'm at peace with it, because I've just sort of accepted [that] it's okay not to understand.
"It's shocking to think ... that I could have been involved in taking anyone's life - and my parents' life ... it seems unimaginable because it seems so far removed from who I am
"I accept that. You are often defined by a few moments of your life, but that's not who you are in your life, you know.
"Your life is your totality of it ... you can't change it. You just, you're stuck with the decisions you made."
AFTER THE MURDERS
After the murders prosecutors said that the brothers killed their parents in an attempt to obtain the family fortune. However, the defence argued the brothers acted in self-defence after suffering years of sexual abuse from their father.
It took seven years and two trials before the truth was finally revealed and saw the brothers jailed for the crime.
A second trial saw the brothers convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and they were sentenced to life behind bars in 1996.
"My own father, he was a person of means and stature, and my mother was sort of a socialite-type person, a country club type person," Lyle said.
"No one's going to intervene in how they raise their family.
"Now you have secrets upon secrets. I was just trapped in the same nightmare of these things that I obviously cannot tell anyone about."
He said he found that his childhood prepared him surprisingly well for the "chaos of prison life."
The two brothers haven't seen each other since a 1995 interview with Barbara Walters and, according to Lyle they've "almost never talked" about the murders.
It's "just too overwhelming".
"I really wondered, separated from me and so on, how would [Erik] do?" he said.
"It's just amazing to me that you can come from such terrible circumstances and then grow up to be someone who is so empathetic, so I'm very proud of him."
Lyle told ABC that Erik now works with terminally ill and physically challenged inmates while he serves his time in Pleasant Valley State Prison in California.
"I'm very proud of him".
KILLER BROTHERS MARRIED WIVES BEHIND BARS
Perhaps surprisingly both men have found love and married wives while behind bars.
Lyle tied the knot to model Anna Erickson in 1996, before marrying Rebecca Sneed in 2003. His brother has been married to former pen pal Tammi since 1999.
"I've found I can have a healthy marriage that is complicated and built around conversation and finding creative ways to communicate, sharing, without all the props that are normally there in marriage in terms of going out to dinner and having as much intimate time together and so on," he said.
In California, conjugal visits are strictly off limits to those sentenced to life terms without parole.
"One thing I've learned is that your physical comfort is much less important than your connection with the people around you," he said.