Menendez brothers’ claims of abuse supported by newly discovered letter, new allegation. Will their convictions stand?

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Lyle and Erik Menendez have been behind bars in California for more than three decades for the 1989 killing of their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez. Convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in a case that captured the nation’s attention, they had no hope of ever walking free. But new evidence may change that.

Erik chose not to speak with “48 Hours” for this broadcast, but Lyle did, speaking with contributor Natalie Morales by phone from RJ Donovan State Prison in San Diego, California.

Operator: You have a prepaid call from—

Lyle Menendez: Lyle Menendez …

Operator: This call and your telephone number will be monitored and recorded.

Natalie Morales: Hi, Lyle. Can you hear me?

Lyle Menendez: Hi. Yeah, I can hear you.

Natalie Morales: What did you think when you heard about these … new claims and evidence …

Lyle Menendez: I mean, for me, I just was happy … ’cause it’s a burden to be telling what happened to you and just have so much doubt in the public air.

The question is not whether the Menendez brothers killed their parents. They admit that they did. Instead, the focus of the case has long been why they did it. They insist that they killed out of fear and in self-defense after a lifetime of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of their parents. One of their lawyers, Cliff Gardner, says the new evidence corroborates those claims—and lessens their culpability.

Cliff Gardner: If the judge finds this evidence credible, I think it is sufficient to give them a new trial.

THE MENENDEZ MURDERS

But to understand how we got here, we have to go back to the beginning: the evening of Aug. 20, 1989, when Lyle Menendez made this call to 911 from the family’s Beverly Hills mansion:

911 OPERATOR: Beverly Hills Emergency?

LYLE MENENDEZ: Yes, please, uh —

911 OPERATOR: What’s the problem?

Lyle Menendez: (Crying) Someone killed my parents!

911 OPERATOR: Pardon me? —

LYLE MENENDEZ: (Sobbing) Someone killed my parents!

After officers responded to the scene, then-21-year-old Lyle and 18-year-old Erik reported that they had arrived home to find their parents shot to death in the family room. Jackie Lacey was a deputy district attorney in Los Angeles at the time.

Jackie Lacey: I think one of the Beverly Hills detectives … described it as one of the most … brutal crime scene he had ever seen in his life.

POLICE NEWS CONFERENCE: I’ve been in this business for over 33 years, and I have heard of very few murders that were more savage than this one was.

Jose Menendez, a former top executive at RCA Records, and his wife, Kitty, had been shot multiple times at close range with a shotgun.

Jackie Lacey: It was an expression of hatred for these two people.

Milton Andersen, Kitty’s older brother, still remembers receiving the news.

Milton Andersen: My brother called me, and he said that Kitty and Jose were – were dead … I loved her … Sister Kitty was a very ambitious gal … She was a very beautiful … woman.

Menendez family portrait
A portrait of the Menendez family from October 1988, From left, Lyle, Kitty, Jose and Erik. 

Robert Rand


Kitty and Jose met when they were in college in Illinois. Jose had come to the U.S. from Cuba. They went on to marry and start a family. Lyle and Erik were their only children. Over the years, with Kitty by his side, Jose excelled in his career, working for RCA Records, among other major companies.

Milton Andersen: He was going right up the ladder … without any hesitation. 

At the time of his death, Jose was working for a film studio, running their home video division. Investigators initially suspected that the killings may have been tied to his business dealings.

Jackie Lacey: Lyle … sort of indicated, you know, my dad dealt with shady characters. And once you say something like that, detectives are going to start to look at, OK, what were his business contacts?

Family members and investigators wondered whether it may have been mafia related. At the time, the home video industry was known for having ties to the mob.

Milton Andersen: Everybody said it was a mob hit.

Jackie Lacey: Because it was so brutal. … It – it really was like a scene out of … “The Godfather” movies.

Initially, Lyle and Erik Menendez were not even on investigators’ radar.

Jackie Lacey: They didn’t do any gunshot residue test on their hands. They let them go back … and get evidence without even thinking, “hey, could it have been the kids?”

Erik, left, and Lyle Menendez
Erik, left, and Lyle Menendez

Los Angeles Times/Getty Images


But they didn’t stay off investigators’ radar for long. Their behavior in the wake of the crime eventually drew scrutiny. The brothers appeared to be spending their parents’ money — and lots of it.

Jackie Lacey: They were … Investing in businesses. … They acted like they had won the lottery.

And their behavior at their parents’ memorial services raised some eyebrows.

Milton Andersen: At the podium … Lyle read a letter from Jose … that was filled with love and pride for his sons.

Natalie Morales: Did you see Lyle get emotional as he was reading that letter?

Milton Andersen: No. … Lyle also made a statement that his father always said, “you can never fill my shoes.” And he jokingly said, “guess what? I’m wearing my father’s shoes today.”

Natalie Morales: Struck you as odd that he would say something like that.

Milton Andersen: I—very odd.

While all that may have seemed unusual, it wasn’t hard evidence. But then, about six months later, police got a tip from an unlikely source: the girlfriend of a psychologist who Lyle and Erik Menendez had been talking to. She told police that the brothers had confessed to the killings in therapy and there was an audiotaped recording of it.

Jackie Lacey: But for that confession, who knows whether they would’ve ever been caught?

On March 8, 1990, after police got their hands on that tape, Lyle Menendez was taken into custody. Erik Menendez, who was out of the country at the time, surrendered to police days later.

DAN RATHER | “CBS Evening News”: Not many Hollywood murder mysteries ever took a more dramatic turn than police are describing in a couple of savage Beverly Hills killings.


NEWS REPORT: Police say the motive was apparently money. A $14 million inheritance to be shared by the brothers.

But years later, when the case made its way to trial, the brothers would make it clear that it might not be so simple.

DEFENSE ATTORNEY JILL LANSING (in court): On August 20th, 1989, did you and your brother kill your mother and father?

LYLE MENENDEZ: Yes.

JILL LANSING: Why did you kill your parents?

LYLE MENENDEZ: Because we were afraid. (emotional)

MURDER OR SELF-DEFENSE? THE MENENDEZ BROTHERS GO ON TRIAL

In the summer of 1993, nearly four years after Jose and Kitty Menendez were gunned down in their home, their sons, Lyle and Erik Menendez, went on trial. They faced the death penalty.

LESLIE ABRAMSON (Defense opening at trial): Good afternoon … The only question in this case is why did these killings occur? … Why they were killed is what the focus of all of our evidence will be on.

What the defense was arguing was that since this was a self-defense case, the brothers were deserving of a lesser charge and punishment. The defense attorneys who tried the case didn’t respond to “48 Hours”‘ requests for an interview. Cliff Gardner represents Lyle and Erik Menendez today.

Cliff Gardner: They had the defense of … imperfect self-defense.

Imperfect self-defense, meaning the brothers honestly believed that they had to take action to save their lives, even though it might not seem rational.

Cliff Gardner: And if it’s honest but unreasonable … You are culpable of manslaughter, not of murder.

Lyle Menendez testifying at the first trial.
Lyle Menendez testifying at the first trial.

Associated Press


Both brothers took the stand. Lyle Menendez spoke of sexual abuse at the hands of his mother and father. He said his father began sexually abusing him when he was only 6 years old.

LYLE MENENDEZ (in court): He would, uh, fondle me and he would ask me to do the same with him.

Over time, he said, it became worse.

LYLE MENENDEZ (in court): He’d rape me (crying).

Erik Menendez testifying at the first trial.
Erik Menendez testifying at the first trial. 

Associated Press


But while Lyle said his father stopped sexually abusing him when he was 8, Erik said it never ended for him, and that he finally confided in his older brother days before the crime — at age 18.

ERIK MENENDEZ (in court): I didn’t know what to do at the time. So, I figured I’d tell Lyle and maybe he could help me.

LYLE MENENDEZ (in court): He started telling me that … one of the reasons he had never told me before was because my dad had always threatened his life.

The brothers testified that Lyle soon confronted their parents, and that their mother indicated she knew about the abuse all along. In anger, Lyle said he directed a threat at his father.

LYLE MENENDEZ (in court): I told him that I would tell everybody … Then he said, … we all make choices in life, son. Erik made his. You’ve made yours.

JILL LANSING: What did you think was gonna happen?

LYLE MENENDEZ: I thought we were in danger. I thought he had no—he felt he had no choice.

JILL LANSING: But to what?

LYLE MENENDEZ: That he would kill us.

The brothers testified that they got into another argument with their parents on the night of the crime and that they believed their parents were about to kill them to keep the family secret from coming out. So, they said, they grabbed shotguns that they had bought two days earlier for protection, went into the family room and started shooting their parents — at one point, even stopping to reload.

JILL LANSING (in court): And what did you do after you reloaded?

LYLE MENENDEZ (crying): I ran around, shot my mom.

To bolster their claims of abuse, the defense called to the stand numerous relatives, friends and acquaintances of the family who described incidents of physical and emotional abuse that they said they observed. Alan Andersen, Lyle and Erik’s cousin, was one of those witnesses. Growing up, Alan would spend summers at the Menendez home. He had a lot to say about Jose.

Alan Andersen: Hitting the kids with the belt, never had a problem with that.

And Kitty.

Alan Andersen: She wouldn’t get up to console the children, nothing.

While none of the witnesses, including Alan, ever saw Lyle or Erik Menendez being sexually abused, Alan did recall something that struck him as odd.

Alan Andersen: Jose would tell the boys, “In the bedroom” … and then he would close the door and then he’d take showers with ’em.

He says during that time, Kitty wouldn’t let him go near the room.

Alan Andersen: So, I was not allowed, while the boys were alone with Jose with the door closed in the master bedroom, to go down the hall to probably not hear whatever I may hear.

Another cousin, Diane Vandermolen, gave similar testimony. And she also recounted a conversation she says she had with Lyle when he was 8.

DIANE VANDERMOLEN (in court): Um, he proceeded to indicate to me by touching himself, uh, down and — and saying that his dad and him had been touching each other down there.

JILL LANSING: And what did you do?

DIANE VANDERMOLEN: I went and got Kitty and, uh, … told her what was going on.

JILL LANSING: And what happened when Kitty came down?

DIANE VANDERMOLEN: Uh, she didn’t believe me.

Andy Cano, yet another cousin, also took the stand and testified about a conversation he says he had with Erik when Erik was about 13.

ANDY CANO (in court): He told me his father was massaging his d***. He told me never to reveal it to anybody.

Still, prosecutors argued that even if Lyle and Erik Menendez were abused, it doesn’t give them the right to kill. And they pointed out that when the brothers confessed to that psychologist, they never mentioned abuse or self-defense then.

Jackie Lacey: The timing of disclosure was convenient.

The prosecutors who tried the case didn’t respond to “48 Hours”‘ request for an interview. Former Los Angeles County D.A. Jackie Lacey reviewed portions of the trial at our request.

Jackie Lacey: And people do make things up when their life is on the line.

But all these years later, Lyle Menendez maintains they are telling the truth and the reason they didn’t come forward then was complicated.

Natalie Morales: What was holding you back?

Lyle Menendez: Just shame. Just not wanting it to be public.

The pure nature of the crime, however, says Lacey, doesn’t support the brothers’ claim that they acted in self-defense. Prosecutors pointed out that Jose and Kitty were watching TV at the time they were killed, and they weren’t armed.

Jackie Lacey: In order to get close enough to blow somebody away … you would’ve been able to see that they didn’t have weapons.

Lyle Menendez is adamant that he and his brother were in fear for their lives.

Lyle Menendez: For me, it was just dark and confusing and total belief that there was danger. … You know, it’s fight or flight to a degree. … It was panic.

Lyle, left, Jose and Erik Menendez
Lyle, left, Jose and Erik Menendez

Bob Rand


The prosecution argued the evidence proves the killings were premeditated. When the brothers purchased those shotguns, prosecutors said that they took steps to cover their tracks, like driving to a gun store all the way in San Diego.

Jackie Lacey: San Diego is not an around the corner drive. Last time I checked, it was two hours sometimes.

Jackie Lacey: After they killed their parents, they went around and picked up the expended shotgun shell casings so that their fingerprints wouldn’t be discovered on those shells. … there was a lot of thought and a lot of deliberation that went into it.

They also got rid of the shotguns, made that 911 call —

OPERATOR: Who is the person that was shot?

LYLE MENENDEZ (Crying): My mom and my dad.

— and misled the initial investigators. Prosecutors pointed to money as the motive. They said Jose Menendez told his sons he had removed them from his will—and based on their investigation, they suggested that after the crime, Lyle Menendez attempted to destroy a will on the family computer. Lyle denies doing that and insists money had nothing to do with what happened. If there was a new will, it was never found.

Lyle Menendez: We never had any financial problems with my parents.

Although the brothers were tried together, there were two separate juries deciding their fate. When deliberations began, they stretched on for weeks before both juries determined they were divided over whether Lyle and Erik Menendez should be convicted of murder or manslaughter.

JUDGE (in court): Therefore, I find that the jury is hopelessly deadlocked.

A mistrial was declared.

Lyle Menendez: It was just a devastating result. I needed it to be over one way or the other.

But it was far from over. Prosecutors would try the case again.

Jackie Lacey: They needed a win. … the heat was on.

THE RETRIAL OF LYLE AND ERIK MENENDEZ

Nearly two years passed as Lyle and Erik Menendez sat in jail, awaiting a second trial. Some of their family members, like Alan Andersen, believed that they were justified in the killings.

Alan Andersen: I know they did what they did because they were in fear of their life.

While others — like Kitty’s brother, Milton Andersen, considered them cold-blooded killers.

Milton Andersen: I don’t believe that Jose or Kitty would do any of the things that they were accused of. … Jose was changing his will … And that’s when they went out and bought the shotguns.

At the retrial, which began in October 1995, one jury, instead of two, would hear the case, no video cameras were allowed in court—and a new team of prosecutors would employ a different strategy.

Cliff Gardner: The first trial was, OK, there may have been abuse, but we don’t allow vigilantes in our society. … The second trial, the prosecution’s case, there was no abuse at all.

And what made it easier for prosecutors to argue that, says attorney Cliff Gardner, is the fact that the prosecution raised new and successful objections to the admission of a large amount of defense evidence. Now, the jury would hear from only some — not all—of the witnesses who knew the Menendez family and helped corroborate the brothers’ claims of abuse.

Cliff Gardner: The D.A. was not going to take another loss. They could not take another loss.

The judge, who had also presided over the first trial, excluded the testimony on the grounds that it was irrelevant, repetitive and in some instances, lacking in foundation — because this time, Lyle Menendez would not take the stand.

Natalie Morales: Erik did testify. Why did you decide not to speak?

Lyle Menendez: Uh, for two reasons. I was just done after the first trial. … And I didn’t have … the attorney that … I trusted so much to ask me these deep personal questions.

But Carol Najera, the only surviving lead prosecutor from the second trial, who declined to speak with “48 Hours,” suggested in a 1996 interview there might have been another reason why Lyle didn’t take the stand.

Carol Najera (1996 interview): There were things that had been developed since the first trial that would have damaged his credibility a great deal.

Lyle Menendez at retrial
Lyle Menendez and his attorney, Terri Towery, during the retrial for Menendez and his brother, Erik, on Oct. 12, 1995. He did not testify.

AP Photo


Prosecutors said they had new evidence that Lyle had asked a friend and a former girlfriend to fabricate testimony. Lyle admits to “48 Hours” that he did do that, but says he later withdrew those requests. Because Lyle didn’t take the stand, his cousin, Diane Vandermolen, was prohibited from testifying about that conversation she says she had with Lyle when he was 8, in which she says Lyle told her that his father was touching him. The jury did still hear from cousin Andy Cano about that similar conversation he claimed to have had with a 13-year-old Erik, but the prosecution attacked his credibility.

Cliff Gardner: The state’s position was that Andy was a liar.

And when cousin Alan Andersen took the stand, prosecutors attacked his credibility too — bringing up the fact that Lyle Menendez gave him money after the crime. Andersen says it was to help pay for a medical procedure.

Alan Andersen: He didn’t say anything like, well, if I go to court, you know, or no, he, it was just straight up between him and I, him being a nice cousin, knowing I was in financial bind, he knew he had the resources to help me.

At the second trial, prosecutors placed more of a focus on the brutality of the crime. And they painted Jose as a restrained, loving father—someone incapable of molesting his children. Prosecutors referred to the brothers’ defense as “the abuse excuse.” In the first trial, the defense called more than 50 witnesses, this time they called about half.

Cliff Gardner: It wasn’t that they didn’t want to present them. They were not allowed.

The jury deliberated for days, and then a verdict: guilty of first-degree murder.

Lyle Menendez: I hugged my brother, we cried, and I said, “look, we’re gonna be OK.”

Alan Andersen: I was not happy at all.

At the jury’s recommendation, the brothers were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Natalie Morales: And you believe they deserved that?

Milton Andersen: Oh, what they did to my sister … they should have gotten the death penalty.

Lyle and Erik Menendez were sent to separate prisons. More than two decades passed and then, around 2020, the case made a surprising resurgence on social media. Following a documentary that aired on the case in which Erik Menendez repeated his claims of abuse, droves of people took to TikTok and Instagram to express support for him and his brother.

Dr. Judy Ho is a neuropsychologist who specializes in childhood sex abuse trauma. Dr. Ho is also a “48 Hours” consultant. We asked her to review the case.

Dr. Judy Ho: I definitely think that our society has just become more knowledgeable about trauma and the impact of sexual trauma.

Erik, Jose and Lyle Menendez
Erik, left, and Lyle Menendez with their father Jose. 

Milton Andersen


Dr. Ho says research shows that just because the brothers delayed reporting abuse, it doesn’t mean they made it up.

Dr. Judy Ho: That’s all very consistent with people who have been through trauma and maybe feel like it was even their own fault in some ways … Or they’re ashamed of the trauma … And there’s a lot more self-stigma and shame associated with male victims.

She also says that the abuse the brothers describe, could even help explain why the crime was so brutal.

Dr. Judy Ho: It makes sense that in that moment, it’s almost like a breakdown. … And that’s not to make an excuse for anything that they’ve done, but it’s just to describe the state of mind of this is years and years of abuse, where they … couldn’t act to protect themselves … And once they pulled the trigger, it was like, there was no turning back.

But could Lyle and Erik Menendez have truly been in fear for their lives that night?

Natalie Morales: They’re 18 and 21. … Why couldn’t they leave?

Menendez family
The Menendez family on vacation. From left, Lyle, Erik, Kitty and Jose

Bob Rand


Dr. Judy Ho: Right. Well, certainly there was a path that they could have taken is to try to get away from the family … But it sounds like even at that age, they were very much under the control of their father still. … I think that oftentimes what people are not aware of is that trauma completely rewires the brain … They probably did think at one point it was either them or their parents. That it was a fight or flight conditioning that had come up.

Attorney Cliff Gardner believes the case would be tried differently today.

Cliff Gardner: The idea back then was, A, dads don’t molest their children. … And if by chance it happened, these are 18 and 21-year-old kids. They’re strapping young men. They just leave. … And both those, I think, are undercut in — in what we know today.

Still, a better understanding of the effects of sexual abuse and some social media support would do little on their own to make a difference in the brothers’ case legally. Instead, what their defense needed was new evidence, and eventually, that’s what it got.

Natalie Morales: Did you or Erik think that another person would accuse your father … of child molestation?

Lyle Menendez: I did not. … I could not believe it.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CASE

Over the years, Lyle and Erik Menendez appealed their convictions, but were unsuccessful. It seemed unlikely that they would ever see beyond prison walls. But then, new evidence began to surface. The first piece in the form of a letter.

Lyle Menendez: Just kind of out of the blue, one of, uh—my father’s sister found a letter in storage.

Appellate attorney Cliff Gardner says the letter was written by Erik Menendez to his cousin, Andy Cano, in December 1988, about eight months before the crime.

Natalie Morales: It’s not dated, but you were able to get a frame of reference of the timing of it based on the contents of the letter, right?

Cliff Gardner: Exactly. … he talks about the Christmas party. We know the Christmas party that they put on … was in Christmas of ’88. He talks about hiring a new tennis coach … There’s a number of things in the letter that allow us to authenticate when it was written.

A letter written by Erik Menendez to his cousin Andy Cano in December 1988 was attached as an exhibit to the habeas petition that was filed in May 2023.

Superior Court of the State of California, Los Angeles County


And it’s a particular section of the letter that Gardner says is key.

Cliff Gardner: He says … “I’ve been trying to avoid dad. It’s still happening, Andy, but it’s worse for me now. … Every night I stay up thinking he might come in. … I’m afraid … He’s crazy. He’s warned me a hundred times about telling anyone, especially Lyle.”

Cliff Gardner: No one knew about it at trial. … It was never presented.

Remember, Andy Cano did testify at both trials. He said that Erik Menendez, at age 13, confided in him that his dad had been touching him. Prosecutors suggested that Cano was lying.

ANDY CANO (in court): He explained to me that these massages that his father was giving him were beginning to hurt.

Natalie Morales: The letter is significant, why?

Cliff Gardner: Well, the state’s position was that Andy was a liar. Andy was making it up. This shows that Andy wasn’t making it up. … It’s contemporaneous evidence from Erik to his cousin, Andy, about what was happening.

But the letter was just the beginning. More evidence has surfaced that Gardner says further supports Lyle and Erik Menendez’s longstanding claims that they were sexually abused. A man named Roy Rossello has come forward claiming that he was sexually abused by Jose Menendez, too.

Cliff Gardner: Roy … was a member of the boy band Menudo, which was big in the late ’70s, mid-’80s.

Menudo originated in Puerto Rico. The band is best known for producing big name talent like singer Ricky Martin. The idea behind the band was to keep it perpetually young. Few of the performers remained in the group beyond the age of 16, instead being rotated out for younger talent. It turns out, Jose Menendez had ties to the group.

Cliff Gardner: Jose Menendez … was working at RCA at the time and RCA signed Menudo to a recording contract.

Jose Menendez, Edgardo Diaz and Menudo members
Jose Menendez, top row, second from left, is pictured with former members of Menudo in 1983, including Roy Rossello, bottom right. Also pictured is the band’s one-time manager, Edgardo Diaz, top row, second from right.

Sony Music/RCA Records


Former Menudo member Roy Rossello, now 54, was not available for an interview with “48 Hours,” but in a sworn affidavit filed just last year, he claims he went to Jose Menendez’s home in the early-80s at the direction of the band’s then-manager Edgardo Diaz. Rossello would have been between 14 and 15 years old at the time. He says he drank “a glass of wine,” then felt like he had “no control” over his body. He says Jose Menendez took him to a room and raped him. Rossello first spoke publicly about the allegations in a documentary.

ROY ROSSELLO (from Peacock documentary, translated from Spanish): I was in terrible pain for a week. I could barely stand the pain. I couldn’t even move.

Rossello also alleges that he was sexually abused by Jose Menendez on two other occasions, right before and right after a performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Cliff Gardner: I met Roy and he talked to me about it. … it was a difficult conversation for him. And it was difficult for me to hear … but I thought Roy was credible … It can take years for people to recognize what happened to have the courage to come forward.

Lyle Menendez: When I first heard about it … I — I cried. … For me, it was very meaningful to just have things come out that caused people to really realize, OK … at least this part of what it’s about is true.

Lyle Menendez says he remembers Menudo band members coming over to the family home when they lived in New Jersey, before moving to Beverly Hills. He does not recall Rossello specifically.

Natalie Morales: What do you remember about the Menudo band members going to your home?

Lyle Menendez: Only that my father had some intimate involvement with that particular group. … He usually would not have too much involvement with groups other than negotiations. But with Menudo and Edgardo Diaz … he traveled with them. … He went to their concerts. He stayed in hotels that they stayed at.

Lyle Menendez says he didn’t think much of it— until rumors began surfacing towards the end of he and his brothers’ first trial.

Lyle Menendez: People in the industry were talking about that maybe something had happened … because there was a sex scandal in the group.

Roy Rossello
Roy Rossello, left, in 1985 as a member of Menudo, and in 2018.

AP/Facebook


Rossello, along with other former Menudo members, have long accused Edgardo Diaz — the band’s one-time manager— of sexual abuse. Diaz has always denied the allegations and no charges have been filed against him. The Los Angeles Police Department is currently investigating a specific incident in which Rossello alleges Diaz raped him at The Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles in the 1980s. But what does this new evidence mean in terms of Lyle and Erik Menendez’s case?

Cliff Gardner: The importance of the new evidence, you have to look back and understand what the state’s position was at the second trial. The state’s position was that the sexual abuse never happened. … And the state’s position as to Jose Menendez was he wasn’t the type of person who would molest a young boy. This new evidence takes both those arguments and undercuts them entirely …

Gardner has filed a habeas petition asking that his clients’ convictions be vacated.

Cliff Gardner: The boys were abused as children. They were abused their whole life. … and this is a manslaughter case, not a murder case. It’s just that simple.

And if they were convicted of manslaughter, they would have received a much shorter sentence and been out a long time ago. But will a judge buy Gardner’s argument?

Jackie Lacey: It is … very, very possible that … Jose Menendez was a child molester. … But you don’t get to murder him and his wife in cold blood.

COULD THERE BE ANOTHER TRIAL FOR THE MENENDEZ BROTHERS?

After attorney Cliff Gardner filed the habeas petition in May 2023 asking that Lyle and Erik Menendez’s convictions be vacated, it turned into a waiting game for a judge to rule. “48 Hours” asked former D.A. Jackie Lacey what she makes of the new evidence, starting with that letter – the one that appears to have been written by Erik Menendez to his cousin Andy Cano months before the crime.

Jackie Lacey: The interesting thing about the letter is that … there are only two people who can authenticate it. … Andy Cano … and Erik Menendez.

Erik Menendez and Andy Cano
Erik Memendez, left, and cousin Andy Cano.

Bob Rand


Andy Cano died in 2003. And Lacey points out that he never mentioned the letter when he testified.

Jackie Lacey: You would think … when Andy was on the stand twice, he’d have brought that up. And, oh yeah. He told me about it recently. And here’s the letter.

Natalie Morales: The timing of that letter, though, you are able to sort of pin down because you know, it was the holidays, because he writes about his Christmas plans.

Jackie Lacey: But Natalie, look at it another way. … You could include those details and get that letter together … after they were caught. … This letter for all we know could have been written by Erik Menendez … shortly after the murder, given to Cano and Cano may have gotten cold feet about it and not submitted it.

But Gardner argues the new evidence is sound. He says the reason the letter was not brought up at trial is likely because Erik Menendez and Andy Cano forgot about it.

Cliff Gardner: If you look at the letter, it’s not just about what Jose’s been doing. It’s about all sorts of other things … it was just one of many letters that they wrote to each other. … There really shouldn’t be any doubt about the authenticity of the letter.

And as for Roy Rossello, the former Menudo band member?

Natalie Morales: Can you discount his claims altogether?

Jackie Lacey: No … I think what the judge has to weigh and consider is: is this newly discovered evidence that would’ve changed the verdict?

And Lacey says she does not believe it would have.

Jackie Lacey: They’re still stuck with the planning … the cover-up, the money that they spent afterwards. … I think that you could argue … the sexual abuse occurred … On the other hand, at the moment these men are driving down to San Diego, paying for … the murder weapons, coming back and waiting for an opportune time to go in and kill their parents, the molestation is not occurring right then. … I do not believe that at the time they murdered them, that they were in danger at that particular minute of being murdered by those people. I think they hated them. They might have had a good reason to hate them. … But we can’t condone vigilantism. … When you calmly and logically looked at the facts surrounding the killing, it’s a murder.

PIC FROM SECOND TRIAL

But Gardner believes the new evidence would have made a difference to the jurors. He says evidence of abuse can mitigate a crime— and that’s why prosecutors fought so hard to keep it out of the second trial.

Cliff Gardner: Sexual abuse, physical abuse is relevant to your state of mind. And state of mind is the key in determining whether something is murder or whether something is manslaughter.

Cliff Gardner: What this evidence does, is … it puts you back in the situation that they were in with the first trial, that there was corroboration for the abuse.

And in the first trial, remember, two juries were divided over whether the brothers should have been convicted of murder or manslaughter. Gardner thinks this new evidence, combined with that of the first trial, rules out murder entirely.

Cliff Gardner: My hope in the case is that the judge will realize that this new evidence is indeed credible and persuasive, and he’ll vacate the convictions.

If that happens, it would be up to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office whether to retry the case. In a statement, the District Attorney’s Office said it is investigating the claims made in the habeas petition. Alan Andersen wants to see his cousins released.

Alan Andersen: What I would say to the prosecutor, or the judge would be, please look at all of the evidence … they are speaking the truth … They shouldn’t be in there as long as they’ve been.

Jose and Kitty Menendez
Jose and Kitty Menendez photographed in New Jersey in the1980s.

Robert Rand


But still, Kitty Menendez’s brother, Milton Andersen, feels just the opposite. He says he doesn’t believe the new evidence is credible.

Milton Andersen: I don’t think it’s evidence.

And he wants his nephews to stay put.

Milton Andersen: I think they should die of old age in prison … I loved my sister, and I protected her in life, and I will love my sister and protect her in her death.

Lyle Menendez says he understands his uncle’s pain.

Lyle Menendez: Part of my remorse is for the pain I caused to people like him.

As they await a judge’s decision, Lyle and Erik Menendez, who reside in the same prison since 2018, are focused on rehabilitation and continuing their education.

Lyle Menendez: I connect with other prisoners that have sex abuse histories, work with them.

Both brothers are married to women outside prison.

Lyle Menendez: I think it has made a huge difference to have love and support like that … I try not to be defined by that one night. It’s sort of a lifelong journey not to be defined by that one night.

It is unclear when a ruling will be made in the case.


Produced by Stephanie Slifer and Chuck Stevenson. Alicia Tejada is the coordinating producer. Michelle Fanucci and Anthony Venditti are the development producers. Chelsea Narvaez is the associate producer. Ken Blum, Marlon Disla and Diana Modica are the editors. Lourdes Aguiar is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.

 

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