Guilty As Charged Or Misjudged? TikTok Users Dive Into The Menendez Brothers Case

Lyle and Erik Menendez were both sentenced to life behind bars for the 1989 murders of their parents, José and Mary. Over three decades later, some TikTok users believe that they were actually the victims.

August 05, 2022
Lyle and Erik Menendez at their trial in 1994.

Lyle and Erik Menendez were both sentenced to life behind bars for the 1989 murders of their parents, José and Mary. Over three decades later, some TikTok users believe they were the victims.

Photo by: Ted Soqui via Getty Images

Ted Soqui via Getty Images

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Were Lyle and Erik Menendez greedy cold-blooded killers motivated to plot the executions of their parents in order to inherit a multimillion-dollar fortune, or were they victims of abuse, desperate to escape a horrific home life?

Over three decades after the slayings of José and Mary “Kitty” Menendez, the case is receiving renewed attention thanks to social media — especially on TikTok, where users who sympathize with the brothers say they were telling the truth about the abuse they claimed to have suffered.

On Aug. 20, 1989, Lyle and Erik, then 21 and 18, were armed with shotguns when they went into the den of their Beverly Hills home and fatally shot their parents. José was struck in the head and Mary suffered gunshot wounds to her torso and face.

At the siblings’ first trials, which were held separately, defense lawyers claimed Lyle and Erik’s father was sexually and emotionally abusive and their mother callously ignored what was happening to her boys behind closed doors.

“This was the opposite of a cold-blooded killing,” Lyle told Today from prison in 2018. “I think that the crime scene didn’t show that it was cold-blooded, it showed that it was very hot-blooded, very emotional. The outrage, the anger, the betrayal, the feeling that she knew all along.”

Prosecutors, however, argued at trial that Lyle and Erik killed their parents for their money and a life insurance payout and pointed out the pair went on a lavish spending spree following the murders.

The trials ended with deadlocked juries.

Both brothers were later retried and found guilty of the first-degree murder charges against them. In 1996, the two were sentenced to spend two consecutive life terms behind bars, without the possibility of parole.

While the Menendez case was a pop culture phenomenon at the time, both supporters of the brothers and those who believe they are guilty as charged are flocking to TikTok to discuss the killings. Posts to the social media site are racking up hundreds of millions of views and generating renewed interest in the family, especially among those who are learning for the first time what happened that night over three decades ago.

“I realized that there was just a tremendous amount of discussion going on that led to these subjects and our case online,” Lyle said in a recent interview. “They start from a perspective of understanding family abuse issues, and it’s not very hard once you understand how you could end up in a homicide.”

Celebrity criminal defender Mark Geragos explained to Los Angeles Magazine that Lyle and Erik, now 54 and 51, have exhausted all their appeals, but the brothers might hope to benefit from this new generation that’s diving deep into the case and taking the pair’s sexual abuse claims more seriously as a defense than the media and the public in general did in the late 1980s.

Still, the question remains: Will this newfound attention do anything to change the brothers’ situation?

“I would never diminish the ability of a movement to gain legal traction,” Geragos said. “Times change. People start to recalibrate. The law moves, and I’m a big believer that movements can have an effect.”

For more on this case and the TikTok movement to free the brothers, stream ID’s Menendez Brothers: Misjudged? on discovery+.

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