Menedez Brothers and the abuse excuse

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            Many cases catch the public eye but the Menendez Brothers’ conviction offered a different taste of drama because of its brutality and the relationships of the defendants to the people they murdered.

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            Lyle and Erik Menendez killed their parents on the night of August 20, 1989 at their family home in Beverly Hills. The first trial ended in a deadlock because the jury was not able to decide whether they should be convicted of first degree murder or manslaughter. Should first-degree murder be the verdict,  the conviction can give the brothers as high as a death penalty charge while manslaughter, a less condemned murder conviction can let them  regain their freedom after years of sentence. (Plaintiff and Respondent, par. 4)

            The second trial started on October 11, 1996 with Deputy District Attorney David Conn being on the side of the prosecution and Attorneys Leslie Abramson and Charles A. Gessler being on the defendants’ fence. Conn wanted to establish that the cause of the murder was greed for the $14M inheritance while the defendants claimed that they only shot their parents as a result of fear and the abuse they suffered in their hands.

            Conn claimed that right after the murder, the brothers went to the home of a probate attorney along with their parents’ vault to look for the will. The safe was opened two days after the murder in the presence of two of the boys’ uncles. One of the uncles, Carlos Baralt, testified to the fact that Jose did mention that he was planning to disinherit his children although he was unable to write the new will prior to the murder.  Brian Anderson, the other uncle, also testified that two weeks prior to the murder, Jose already said he did not like the spending habits of his sons and that he will not allow it to go on for life.

            Conn was also able to establish that the Menendez brothers went on a spending spree after the murder.  They bought 3 Rolex watches worth $15,000, hired a personal tennis coach for $60,000 annual salary, and would buy approximately $3,000 worth of shopping goods a month after the murder.

            Another witness’ testimony against the brothers involved a computer technician who admitted that the brothers asked for his help in tracking down the electronic format of the will in their parents’ computer files.

Another evidence found in their home was a list of things that Lyle was planning to do as his cover up for the murder.  It included things like plastic surgery as an escape plan.

            Another witness, Amir Eslaminia, a friend of the brothers who initially sympathized with them and made a turn around admitted that Erik and Lyle wanted him to be dishonest during his testimony and even have him a letter as to how he would fabricate his involvement in the case. Another witness, Glenn Stevens, claimed that Lyle bought a restaurant after the murder and told him of the fortune they had inherited.  He said that Lyle even gave him $1,400 for the bail to be used should he be arrested.

Jamie Pisarick, Lyle’s former fiancee, was also called to the stand and she testified that Lyle offered her money to lie to the jury by saying that that Jose raped her. She also claimed that Lyle confessed to her that he killed their parents because his mother had also been molesting him while his dad molested Erik. The defense attorneys then tried to discredit Pisarick by trying to prove that she was just after Lyle’s inheritance too because she broke up with him when she realized that he was going to be disinherited.

            A private pathologist was also asked to  explain how the murder might have happened.  Using autopsy reports and high tech illustrations, another expert showed that the parents were seated on their sofa and not standing when they were shot.  The aim on the kneecaps showed that the shots were pre-meditated and the lack of wounds on the torso and barrage on her hands and shoulders showed that she had tried to avoid being hit. To discredit these testimonies, the defense panel called a police who went to the crime scene to explain that the dimensions of the living room contradicts the angles proposed by the experts. This weakened the evidence. After many other experts testified for the defense panel, the reconstruction of how things could have happened based on the prosecution’s theory continually weakened because of the many inconsistencies it carried compared to the evidences in  the crime scene itself.

            Abramson, claimed that the brothers had an irrational fear of their parents due to the years of abuse they suffered while growing up.  She relayed that Erik revealed to Lyle that their father has been molesting him for 12 years and that he could not take it anymore.  Erik’s testimony involved his memories of how his father would be gentle and tender with him when he was being molested within his bedroom since he was 6 years old. He also explained how brutal his father was outside those times when he would hit the young boy even with a belt. The gentleness that he used to get also became brutal assaults when he became a teenager and tried to resist his father’s advances. He said Jose threatened him with a knife when he wanted oral sex. He also relayed how his mother, under the influence of alcohol, often humiliated and degraded him.  His testimony culminated with the concept of imperfect self-defense  wherein they believed that their parents would have killed them so they would not expose these humiliating things.

            Many different evidences and witnesses were presented to convict the brothers of first-degree murder making them earn 2 life imprisonment terms each. What happened with the defense was they tried to use abuse an excuse for murder which obviously did not fool the jury. Even with abuse as an excuse, there is still a difference between causation and responsibility.  Understand and forgiving are two different things.  Understanding crime does not necessarily reduce its occurrence which makes abuse not an excuse for murder. (Dershowtiz, 2000, p. 776)


Dershowitz, A.M. (2000). Review Essay Moral Judgement: Does the Abuse Excuse Threaten Our

            Legal System?” Buffalo Criminal Law Review, Vol. 3, pp. 775 – 784.

“Plaintiff and Respondent, v. LUIS ALBERTO-ACEVEDO CRUZ.” Retrieved 22 October 2008 from





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