Even before rapt viewers tuned in for O.J. Simpson's trial, the televised proceedings of the Lyle and Erik Menendez murder case caused a sensation with the public. The details of the brothers' crimes were shocking, but the defense raised even more appalling allegations to explain why the brothers did what they did. The case has been revisited a few times already this year and now a new variation of Law and Order will be devoted to the case. But how accurate is Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders?
It's difficult to say before the Sept. 26 premiere, but it seems like the show will try to tell an accurate and honest story of Lyle and Erik's trial. The tagline of an early trailer boldly claimed that "the true story will finally be told." However, that doesn't mean it will be without speculation. Many of the details of the case appear to be faithfully recreated for the NBC series, like the 1989 murder of their parents, Kitty and Jose Menendez, the subsequent strange behavior of Erik and Lyle following the horrific event, their confession and arrest later on, and the trials that viewers at home obsessed over for many months. But as the series shifts its focus to the motives behind the crime, it will edge into topics that have not been officially proven.
As actress Edie Falco (who plays the brothers' lawyer Leslie Abramson) said in a trailer for the series, "It wasn't a question of if they did it, it was a question of why." Erik and Lyle were eventually apprehended after Erik confessed the crime to his psychologist and the taped sessions made their way to police. Once the brothers were taken in, there was no question of other suspects. Instead their defense team — headed by Abramson — sought to explain what pushed Lyle and Erik to such drastic action. Which is where things wade into uncertain territory.
In the real Menendez case, the defense alleged that Lyle and Erik's father had been emotionally and sexually abusive to both brothers and their mother hadn't stepped in to stop it. Lyle and Erik came to believe that their father would kill them, so they had to act first, making the murders self-defense. It is accurate to what happened during the trial for the NBC series to depict this, but the sexual abuse wasn't proven outside of the brothers' testimony and the self-defense theory was not enough to sway the jury in the end.
Much of Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders seems to be taken directly from real life, with Falco telling Time in an interview that many of her lines came from actual trial transcripts. The allegations of abuse, while not proven during the court case, are accurate to what unfolded in real life as part of the defense. There may be some creative liberties taken, but early information makes it seem like the show is trying to stay true to what happened, so that those unfamiliar with the case can watch it unfold firsthand and those who do remember the details can perhaps look at it in a different light many years later.
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