Lyle Menendez has exclusively told DailyMailTV of the ‘wonderful’ and ’emotional’ moment he hugged his brother Erik during a prison reunion almost 22 years after the siblings were convicted of killing their parents in their Beverly Hills mansion.
The Menendez brothers are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for fatally shooting Jose and Kitty Menendez in 1989 after suffering years of horrible abuse.
The last time they saw each other in person was September 10, 1996 following the end of their second trial at which they were both found guilty of first-degree murder.
But in a long-awaited meeting at the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego. California, on April 4, the pair were brought back together.
In an exclusive prison interview, Lyle Menendez, 50, told how he tightly embraced his younger brother Erik, 47, and said to him, ‘finally’ as they both burst into tears.
Lyle said: ‘It’s been 22 years. So it was just something I wasn’t sure was ever going to happen.
‘It was just a remarkable moment for me and my whole family who’s had to visit us in separate prisons in two parts of the state.
‘I burst into tears. I had to walk a long way to see him…when he got brought over in a van, I was able to see him coming off and meet with him and I wasn’t sure how I would react… I just felt a lot of adrenaline and just, I ended up bursting into tears, which is quite an emotional moment… just wonderful as you’d expect. Very emotional for my family… we’re happy about it.’
Guilty: The two brothers were at the center of the high-profile case after they infamously murdered their parents in 1989 – but mounted a defense that claimed they had been sexually abused by them for years, leading to a trial which fascinated and divided the nation
Life behind bars: Erik (left) and Lyle (right) were sentenced to life in prison in 1996, the two had not seen each other since. Now Lyle is telling DailyMailTV about the extraordinary reunion
Perfect family: The siblings fatally shot their mom Kitty, a socialite and dad Jose Menendez, a Cuban immigrant who went to land an executive role in the entertainment business – shattering the image of wealth and success which all four had to the outside world
Back together: The brothers – Lyle (left) and Erik – Menendez who killed their parents in Beverly Hills in 1989 had enjoyed materially privileged childhoods but they say that the reality was that their parents were abusing them
Notorious: Chilling crime scene photos showing the blood-soaked couch where Jose Menendez was shot five times by his own sons became central to the prosecution
Lyle said both men said ‘I love you’ on meeting and the word ‘finally’ was said over and over again.
Prison officials let the brothers spend an hour together in a room and the pair did their best to catch up after two decades apart.
Lyle said the ‘sudden separation’ in the ‘dead of night’ had been difficult to deal with in 1996 when the pair was removed from their jail cells and sent to two different prisons.
He said the separation was ‘hugely traumatizing’ for both of them.
‘We just always knew that one of the things we wanted to do was try to be reunited,’ he said.
‘And luckily for us the CDCR (The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) changed their policy related to family members in prison.
‘I don’t know that I really ever recovered from that. It’s like a healing of a wound to be reunited. It’s been 25 years since the trials, I think that’s long enough,’ said Lyle.
In a phone call from his prison unit to DailyMailTV Lyle – prisoner K13758 – explained how he and Erik – prisoner K14101 – are now adjusting to the new reality.
He said they are very different people to the young men whose wealthy background and crimes fascinated the world when they were locked up in 1996.
It has been nearly 30 years since Lyle and Erik shot dead their wealthy parents in Beverly Hills.
On August 20, 1989, the brothers walked into the den of their $5million Beverly Hills mansion and shot their father Jose point blank in the back of the head, then shot their mother Kitty in the leg as she tried to run out of the room.
In the end they shot their father five times and their mother nine, with the final bullet for each going into their kneecaps in an attempt to make the murders look like a mob hit.
It was not until March of the following year however, that police had enough evidence to arrest them, and the two were not convicted for the murders until 1996, with both given life sentences.
The brothers argued that they were driven to murder their father and mother after a lifetime of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.
Erik said that he was sodomized by his father for the first time when he was six years old, and Lyle testified that Jose also made him molest his own brother when they were children.
The younger brother also testified that Jose forced him to perform four different kinds of sexual acts: oral sex, anal sex, hand massage, or having pins stuck into his buttocks or thighs.
Lyle said that in addition to his father, his mother also sexually molested him.
He also testified that his father forced him to perform oral sex on his mother multiple times and sodomized him when he was just a child.
Jose’s sister testified that this was not true, and while the juries were deadlocked the first time the brothers were tried, they did not get the desired result in their second trial.
On March 20, 1996, the brothers were found guilty of first-degree murder, receiving life sentences and being spared the death penalty.
They appealed their case all the way up to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals but were denied every time.
For Lyle the decision was a bitter pill to swallow given what he believes were mitigating circumstances.
‘I definitely had bitterness at the time, but here decades later, and seeing the country change and have a much better understanding of (the abuse of) women and then eventually children, sex abuse of women and then eventually sex abuse of boys, it sort of flows.
‘I think one of the things that was not understood then… is who are the sexual predators, who are monsters in our midst and society, are they the creeps in the shadows or are they sometimes in our own homes and communities… they don’t have that look, like a predator.
‘And so it was difficult for the acceptance, of what the evidence was showing.
‘I think the laws had to catch up to that and I think we’ve seen that now.’
Wealth: Prosecutors said that the brothers shot their parents for the sake of their vast wealth, because they feared their father would disinherit them – but the brothers told a darker story, saying they had been raped since they were children and that they could take it no longer
Facade? The brothers claimed they suffered years of emotional and sexual abuse at the hands of their father, and that he forced them to perform sex acts on their mother
Crime scene: This was the scene outside the Menendez family’s Beverly Hills mansion when police arrived on August 20, 1989. It was months before they arrested the brothers, when Erik’s confession to his therapist changed their investigation entirely
He added: ‘We stay hopeful but we pretty much live each day, not looking back on it with any bitterness…really just trying to stay focus on what we’re doing daily, be positive.’
At the time of their conviction in 1996 the judge in the case, Superior Judge Stanley Weisberg, and the Los Angeles District Attorney were under a huge amount of pressure after OJ Simpson was acquitted in the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman the year before.
The feeling at the time was that they needed a win.
And many believed that ultimately this affected the outcome of the second Menendez trial – also a huge a case.
Lyle believes this was a factor in the verdict and sentencing.
‘I do think the OJ phenomenon certainly had its effect on the District Attorney’s office’s political outlook on this case and the public’s weariness with any high profile defendants at that time, so it was unfortunate.
‘And definitely, when you can have multiple trials, when you have a system that basically they can try you many times, there’s really no limit, it definitely makes it more difficult to sort of explain and get your explanation out, so I think the OJ phenomenon probably didn’t help.’
I don’t think my brother and I are sitting here saying that it was not a crime… It wasn’t a justifiable event, act. We never said that. We don’t believe that today.
Lyle says he stills has nightmares about the night of the murders and the years of abuse he and his brother suffered.
And looking back he does have ‘tremendous remorse and regret’ about what they did and wishes he had ‘taken his chances’ and gone to the police to report the abuse at the hands of his father.
‘I don’t think my brother and I are sitting here saying that it was not a crime… It wasn’t a justifiable event, act. We never said that. We don’t believe that today,’ he explained.
But Lyle said he doesn’t blame himself or his brother for the overwhelming emotions they felt.
‘I just think emotionally at that time in our family, we didn’t have that faith in any of that and we were just really consumed by the emotions that were just over the top at that time that week (the week of the murders).’
Lyle admits that his and Erik’s chilling actions that night have brought them a ‘life of suffering’.
‘We sort of accept that and understand that and take responsibility for that,’ he says.
However he said he believes that a changing culture may have changed attitudes to their case.
Lyle explained: ‘I think the culture is sort of changing and understanding what the ramifications of sexual abuse and families are, especially when it comes to boys, so I feel like there’s been a little more acceptance and understanding of the childhood that Erik and I went through, but it’s still difficult.
‘It’s a real personal responsibility to bear, how we dealt with that situation.’
Asked what he thinks of his brother after seeing him, he replied: ‘I’m very proud of him, you can come to prison and learn to be an effective criminal if you want to hang out all day talking to people about that, or you could do something productive with your time and become a better person and involve yourself in a positive way.
The boys’ alleged history of alleged sexual abuse was revealed in court when Erik said that he was sodomized by his father for the first time when he was six years old, and Lyle testified that Jose also made him molest his own brother when they were children
Fascination: Erik (left) and Lyle (right) Menendez’s first trial became a televised event, with the two brothers’ preppy clothing part of the daily scene which unfolded in living rooms across America, and the wider world
Never getting out: The two men were convicted of first-degree murder and were sentenced to life without parole in 1996 after a retrial
‘And Erik really has chosen to do that coming in at 18 years old. And I’m really proud of him.’
Every few minutes a recording interrupts our conversation to say the call is being monitored and recorded by prison authorities.
After 20 years behind bars the brothers are very much a product of the prison system.
But Lyle says he and Erik, who have kept in touch by writing letters over the years, have never had any moments of animosity during their prison journey and says, ‘I love him deeply’.
Even when Erik famously confessed the murders to his therapist, Dr Jerome Oziel, which was ultimately what led to their conviction, Lyle says he ‘forgives’ and ‘understands’ what happened.
Erik could’ve easily been suicidal in prison and not made it. I was actually very fearful that he wouldn’t make it. So to see him become the man that he has grown up to be, it’s quite amazing.
Dr Oziel later told his girlfriend in detail what had happened, and after the two broke up, she went to police and revealed that the brothers had killed their parents and threatened Oziel’s life.
She also informed police that the sessions had been taped.
Lyle and Erik were arrested soon after, and in a massive blow to their defense the state ruled that when Lyle threatened the life of their psychologist he voided the doctor-patient relationship that would normally have prohibited Oziel from testifying in court.
Some of the tapes were also allowed into evidence. ‘It was going to come out,’ Lyle explains of his brother’s mistake.
‘In the moment, of course, I wish that he had just talked to me and spent some more time going to his parish priest…but I don’t blame the circumstances for why I’m here.
‘I don’t blame any involvement he had afterwards that caused us to be arrested.
‘When you have such a toxic family situation like that, I think you just have to forgive and accept the fact that nothing good is going to flow from that.
‘Erik could’ve easily been suicidal in prison and not made it. I was actually very fearful that he wouldn’t make it.
‘So to see him become the man that he has grown up to be, it’s quite amazing.’
Lyle described the torment and horrific abuse the brothers were subjected to as children by their father Jose, a Cuban immigrant who went to land an executive role in the entertainment business.
But Lyle says the ‘horrible’ experience brought them closer together.
‘My brother and I grew up together, very close, in a very chaotic home, so we sort of bonded really closely, maybe more than most brothers,’ he said.
New life: Lyle says he also kept his sanity by working with the inmate government of prisons, but his greatest ‘joy’ has been his marriage to second wife, defense attorney Rebecca Sneed
Also married: Erik married Tammi Saccoman (right) in 1999. Their relationship started with her sending him letters for years
‘We were not twins, but it was almost like we were twins and with my brother being a sexual abuse victim, it was just very scary going into the prison system.’
Lyle says it was a long process to finally be reunited but he credits a change in the ‘culture’ of the modern prison system towards rehabilitation that helped.
He also said he and his brother ‘earned’ their way to it through good behavior.
The brothers now see each other daily inside R.J. Donovan’s newest unit, Echo Yard which is built around a dirt and concrete lot the size of two football fields.
The huge unit, which houses around 800 men, is bordered by 70ft high concrete walls with ground-floor doors leading into cell blocks.
Echo Yard, classified by the CDCR as a ‘non-designated programming facility,’ runs a special program that doesn’t follow the usual prison rules.
Cells are a racial mix, sex offenders and transgender inmates are housed with everyone else and gang affiliations are banned.
All the inmates take educational and rehabilitation courses and prisoners publish a monthly newspaper, perform music in bands and raise service dogs for wounded veterans and autistic kids.
There are yoga sessions, art classes, and correspondence courses in geography, history and other subjects.
Lyle was moved in February from Mule Creek State Prison in Northern California to the San Diego prison following a lowering of his security classification.
But the brothers were placed in separate units in the large prison which houses nearly 3,900 male inmates, so they never saw each other.
That changed on April 4 when Erik moved into Echo Yard.
Erik and Lyle were finally brought together at San Diego’s R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in Southern California on April 4, where they are in Echo Yard, a special unit which bans gang affiliations, offers classes and allows male and transgender inmates to mix freely
He details his journey through the prison system and says the abuse he and Erik suffered meant he was able to help other inmates deal with their trauma.
‘A huge number of inmates, I know for me personally, have throughout my years in corrections, come to me with their own secret abuse histories that happened to them with their fathers and other family members… that sometimes they have never told anyone else. And we’ve kept those secrets and we’ve been able to relate to people like that. So it’s been interesting.’
Lyle says he also kept his sanity by working with the inmate government of prisons, but his greatest ‘joy’ has been his marriage to second wife, defense attorney Rebecca Menendez.
‘I’ve been married 14 years, I’ve had sort of a stable marriage. It’s been the biggest joy in my life for sure,’ he explains.
Erik is also wed, marrying Tammi Menendez in 1999, as their relationship started from her sending him letters for years.
Lyle says both received a lot of mail over the years, especially from people who have suffered abuse in the home, that has kept him busy.
‘I’ve stayed very active with that community, it’s painful, those things can trigger back memories,’ he said.
As for fan mail from female admirers, including photos of scantily-clad pen pals, Lyle adds: ‘Maybe Charlie Manson got a lot of that, I don’t think Erik and Lyle Menendez did.’
As for now the brothers are committed to helping improve the prison system and ‘shape’ programs that help rehabilitate inmates.
‘We have a great camaraderie with the prison culture,’ he said.
‘We’ve been living our lives within it for 20 years now, so a lot invested in seeing corrections start working in the way it should.
‘I’d say the first 10, 15 years, it was just warehousing and Erik and I were kind of fighting against the grain. Now for the first time they are looking at the system differently and really expecting inmates to raise above their game.’