If you haven’t already heard, the highly anticipated NBC show, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders premiered last night. It kicked off with the night of the murder with the investigation following afterward. Like the show’s title suggests, the show delves into the 1989 murder case of the Menendez family. I, however, wasn’t born yet so I did some research beforehand. Specifically, I found Barbara Walter’s 1996 interview and the 2016 documentary, Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers – American Sons, American Murderers to be extremely helpful.
Some Background Information
Before the trial and the murder, the Menendez brothers were seen as extremely spoiled rich kids. Their father, Jose Menendez, made his family rich by successfully making his way through multiple industries. Their parents saw their children as a reflection of their success so they were very controlling over their reputations.
On Aug. 20, 1989, Jose and Mary “Kitty” Menendez were brutally murdered in the den of their Beverly Hills home. Erik, 21, and his younger brother, Lyle, 18, called 911. They lied by saying they discovered someone killed their parents when they got home. Months later, investigators discover the boys shot their own parents in a therapy confession. In the actual trial, it’s revealed that not only did the boys lie and kill their parents, but they were also both molested by their father. And they allegedly killed their parents in fear as a way to defend themselves.
The show starts with the night of the murder right on to the investigation. The detectives at the time speculate about a possible mob connection. Not long later, they delve into the Menendez family’s life trying to find a suspect. The episode also explores parts of Jose and Kitty’s funeral, where their aunt (played by Constance Marie) gives them their father’s wallet. Then, we get a glimpse into Leslie Abramson’s life, their attorney, as she sees the Menendez brothers on TV. Surprisingly, she immediately predicts they’re the ones who did it.
The most interesting parts of the episode were the flashbacks and all the family’s complicated relationships. Jose’s depicted as a firm, determined businessman that only cares about his and his family’s reputation. Their mother, Kitty, sobs over their marital problems and she’s shown as someone in a suicidal state. The episode never gets to the boys’ confession or much of the trial, but it still delivers. We get to see multiple different perspectives, all done with a wide range of emotions. Detective Les Zoeller’s suspicious of the boys due to the evidence they find later as other family members step in to help the boys transition. Most importantly, we see Erik start to mentally break down from his guilt at the end of the episode.
In all of the show’s promos, it repeatedly asks why the boys did what they did. More importantly, were they justified in their actions? And was their life sentencing fair? It’s the prime example of moral lines being blurred. I suspect most people find it hard to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, myself included. But Law & Order True Crime forces us to ask ourselves, who’s the real villain of this story? While the boys murdered their parents, their parents aren’t necessarily innocent either. Overall, it makes for a compelling story and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the story plays out.