The newest branch of the Law & Order franchise, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, is set to dramatize the crime and trial that captured the public in the mid-'90s. The series looks like it's trying for authenticity, but watching videos from the Menendez brothers' trial will make it easier to tell if the fictional show stayed true to the real events. The first Menendez trial was televised, which was how audiences at home became so obsessed with it; that also means that there is plenty of footage to be found, though sometimes it requires a little bit of digging.
If you're interested in an overview of the case along with key moments from the trial, then the episode of the old TruTV docuseries Mugshots that focuses on the brothers is a good place to start. Available for free on Amazon Prime, Mugshots: Menendez Brothers — Blood Brothers is just under an hour and has video of the Menendez trial along with additional footage and interviews. However, if you're not an Amazon subscriber, then YouTube has got you covered. A quick search yields many videos from many different sources, including CNN and ABC News, that allow you to take a look back at the case.
The media was a big part of what made the Menendez trial blow up on such a massive scale, and it pre-dated other heavily publicized cases like O.J. Simpson and JonBenét Ramsay. It's no surprise that all three cases would spark renewed interest all these years later, because each had unique factors that kept people interested in figuring out the truth of exactly what had happened. With the Menendez brothers, however, it was never a question of guilt or innocence; after an initial attempt to get away with their crime, Lyle and Erik had confessed to killing their parents. The question that consumed the trial — and made viewers so intrigued — was why.
The Menendez trial was really like nothing anyone had ever seen. It wasn't only the details of the case that fascinated people (including the wealth of the family and the shocking violence of the murders), but the defense constructed by lawyer Leslie Abramson. She alleged that the brothers had been abused sexually and physically by their father for years, and this resulted in such a tense and traumatic home environment that they eventually lashed out at their parents in what they viewed as self-defense. Both Lyle and Erik shared the painful details of this alleged abuse in their testimony during the trial, and it was broadcast to all of the millions watching.
In video of the trial, one can see that both of the Menendez brothers are overcome by emotion, but many still didn't believe what they had to say about their childhood. It was assumed that they had killed their parents for the inheritance and the sexual abuse charges couldn't be definitively proven. That led both the home audience and the jury to discount the allegations.
The brothers' behavior after the murder also called their motive into question. They had removed shell casings from the scene of the crime and lied to the police. They also went on spending sprees with their newly inherited cash. All of the conflicting information caused the first trial to be declared a mistrial. In the second attempt, the judge banned cameras in the courtroom. By that time the Simpson trial had caused its own media frenzy, too, and public opinion might have been able to compromise the proceedings.
Watching video of the Menendez trial now makes it clear why people were so captivated — but also reveals what a complicated case it truly was.
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