Joseph Lyle Menendez and Erik Galen Menendez, collectively known as the Menendez brothers, are American brothers who were convicted in 1996 for the brutal murders of their parents, Jose Menendez and Mary ‘Kitty’. Initially, investigators didn’t consider the brothers as suspects, but the lavish lifestyles Lyle and Erik adopted shifted attention to the ‘boys’, as their attorney referred to them.
The Menendez brothers didn’t deny committing the murders, but they insisted that their sexually and emotionally abusive father drove them to the heinous act. The brothers were initially tried separately, leading to deadlocked juries and mistrials. They were then tried together and found guilty.
The Menendez brothers will most likely never leave the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in California
On 2nd July 1996, Lyle and Erik were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prison authorities assigned the pair to different prisons – Lyle to Mule Creek State Prison, and Erik to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California.
The pair couldn’t talk on the phone, but they wrote letters to each other and played chess by sending moves to each other through snail mail. Both brothers married after their incarceration. Lyle married model Anna Eriksson in 1996, but the pair divorced in 2001 after Anna found out that he’d been writing to other women.
In 2003, Lyle married journalist Rebecca Sneed at a ceremony held in the visiting area of Mule Creek State Prison. The pair had known each other for nearly a decade before tying the knot. Erik married his pen pal, Tammi Saccoman, at Folsom State Prison in a waiting room. Erik told People that his relationship with Tammi keeps him going:
“Tammi is what gets me through. I can’t think about the sentence. When I do, I do it with a great sadness and a primal fear. I break into a cold sweat. It’s so frightening I just haven’t come to terms with it.”
The brothers finally reunited at the Richard J. Donovan Facility in 2018. Per ABC News, the brothers broke into tears after seeing each other for the first time in decades. “They just hugged each other for a few minutes without saying any words to each other,” Robert Rand, a journalist who’s covered the case since 1989, told the publication.
“Then the prison officials let them spend an hour together in a room.” Having exhausted most of their appeals, it is unlikely that the Menendez brothers will ever leave the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. The brothers have expressed regret at the decision they took to murder their parents.
“If I could take my consciousness now and go back, I would have gone to the police and taken my chances in exposing what was happening,” Lyle told ABC News in 2018. Erik shared a similar message in a 2005 interview with People:
“I don’t deserve [this sentence]. I’m not saying what I did was right or justifiable. But place another child in my life and see what happens. The way I reacted was so destructive to all. It was the most awful devastation. I killed the two people I loved the most.”
A group of Gen Z TikTokers believe that the sentence given to the Menendez brothers was too harsh
The Menendez brothers might have completed their appeals process, but some TikTokers believe that they have enough cause to have their sentences mitigated. ‘The New Menendez Defenders’, as described by The New York Times, are an army of internet defenders who believe that the justice system didn’t pay enough attention to the brothers’ claims of abuse at the hands of their parents.
The media also played a role, as it brushed aside the brothers’ allegations and portrayed them as greedy murderers who killed for money. The TikTok defenders, however, refuse to ignore the sexual abuse stories told by the Menendez brothers.
Janne, a TikToker from Germany, posted a TikTok video of the brothers testifying about sexual abuse as somber music played in the background, earning more than a million likes. It’s one of the myriad of videos trying to draw attention to another motive to the murders, a motive that would receive more attention today than it did thirty years ago.
“Watching someone describe these types of experiences is always very sad and very compelling,” Janne told ABC News. The TikTokers are perhaps more objective as they didn’t experience the sensational coverage of the trial. All they have is footage of the trial and interviews given by the brothers.
Based on the evidence available to them, the Menendez brothers’ accusations should have carried more weight in trial.