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tv   Dateline  MSNBC  October 4, 2020 11:00pm-1:00am PDT

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and not, you know, you can't cry all day. you still have to live life. >> that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm natalie morales. thank you for watching. this was a gruesome murder, a high profile executive and his wife shot to death in beverly hills. we don't really think that children can murder their parents. you have to have a lot of evil in you to shoot your mom and dad. >> young. rich. handsome. in a case made for hollywood, they were ready for the cameras -- >> it was the first televised courtroom drama that captivated the united states, it was a huge deal. >> reporter: erik and lyle menendez -- convicted of murdering their own parents. >> i ran around and shot my mom! >> it wasn't real. it just wasn't real.
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>> they're sociopaths -- and pretty big ones. >> now -- almost 30 years later -- chilling new details. evidence never broadcast before! a letter, hinting at secrets too dark to imagine. >> this is so outside of the norm something is going on in that house. >> did they kill in cold blood or in crippling fear? >> oh man it was gut-wrenching. i wanted to bust the door down. >> they spoke the truth about what had happened. tonight, hear from the brothers themselves. >> people were afraid of him. >> let's go through this bit by bit. >> there was no way he was gonna let this secret get out. >> silence destroyed our whole family. >> reporter: here it was -- the shining symbol of their success. here, finally, an address worthy of their long struggle -- their amazing rise.
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beverly hills, california. >> beverly hills emergency. >> reporter: careful what you wish for. >> someone killed my parents! >> reporter: 28 years later -- it's still the case that has the power to shock. >> it's beverly hills. it's the movie business. it's kids killing their parents. >> reporter: what possessed those two handsome young men. who had been given, everything. >> a porsche or a rolex. they got pretty much what they wanted. >> reporter: why did they give back murder. >> how do you plead? >> not guilty. >> a sensational murder trial. >> reporter: theirs was the case to usher in wall-to-wall tv coverage. even before o.j. >> i was just firing as i went into the room, i just started firing. >> reporter: the kind of horror you couldn't stop watching. >> what was in front of you? >> my parents. >> reporter: tonight you'll hear the real story, told by the investigators. >> his face was disfigured from the shotgun blast that he took to the back of the head. >> reporter: by the young men themselves.
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>> they weren't real. wax. >> reporter: the real-life details of the defense that shocked america. >> uhm, we would be in the bathroom, and uh, it would, he would put me on my knees. >> i'm lookin' to see, is he tellin' the truth or not? >> reporter: tonight, we'll ask the brother at the center of it all -- about truth. >> to this day i'm still dealing with -- with the controversy of it, obviously, my own guilt in what-- in-- in what happened. >> reporter: what really happened -- and why. so to understand, where to begin? how about here -- illinois. the 1940's. everybody who knows this story knows her as kitty. but that wasn't really her name, was it? >> no. it was mary louise. >> reporter: she was the baby of the family, said her older sister joan vandermolen. it was one of their brothers who came up with the nickname that stuck for life.
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>> how did she get to be known as kitty? >> i think it was when brian went out to get her for dinner one night or something. and he said, "here, kitty, kitty, kitty." and she came. >> reporter: and then, when kitty was three, her dad left the family for another woman. and as that little girl watched her mother struggle, she imagined a way she could do better. >> kitty grew up believing that she was gonna marry well, and have household help. >> reporter: how would she know such a thing? >> i think this is probably what my mother had maybe wanted for herself and never got. >> reporter: kitty was pretty. in 1962, she was crowned miss oak lawn. you should be in show business, her mother told her. so kitty studied radio and television at southern illinois university. was that wrapped up in the whole idea of if you're in that field, you're more likely to meet a successful man -- >> yes. absolutely. >> reporter: in college she met a bundle of ambition named jose menendez. he had fled communist cuba at he had fled communist cuba at 16
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with bold dreams of striking it big in business. just the kind of man kitty was searching for. and so they married in 1963. >> they were stars, in -- in our family, kitty and jose. >> reporter: diane hernandez was kitty's niece and lived with kitty and jose for a few years. >> reporter: i bet you idolized kitty. >> oh i did from the very beginning. and i was known as the k-- daughter kitty never had. >> reporter: of course, as the world would come to know, kitty and jose had sons. lyle and erik. >> reporter: did they seem to get along? did they like each other-- >> oh yeah. absolutely. >> reporter: very close? >> yeah. i think erik dependent on lyle a lot. >> erik was quite introverted. >> reporter: alan andersen was kitty's nephew. he spent a couple summers with the menendez family and bonded with lyle. >> he was a mischievous boy, to say the least. he liked to smile and laugh and giggle. oh, he loved to laugh and giggle. >> reporter: but what the menendez brothers did most -- said alan, was practice. and practice. and practice -- >> jose wanted his kids to be the best, and especially in
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sports, i noticed immediately. >> reporter: swimming, soccer, tennis. jose pushed his sons to excel at everything. as his own career skyrocketed. in the '70s, jose was the general manager at hertz, and impressed his sons by bringing the company's famous spokesman home to dinner. >> jose was, of course, living the american dream and he wanted his boys to continue that american dream that he had set forth for not only himself, for his family. >> reporter: in 1986, jose took a job with carolco pictures in los angeles. the company that produced megahits like "basic instinct" and the rambo series. carolco had just bought a video distribution company from a man named noel bloom. and they gave jose the job of running it. >> so we think 1989 will be a tremendous year, we think we will be very happy with the growth of the company. >> reporter: that was the year, 1989, when robert rand, then a
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reporter for the miami herald, went to las vegas to cover a trade show for the home video business. and happened to meet jose menendez. >> reporter: what was your impression of the guy? >> talked to him for maybe two or three minutes. seemed professional, dynamic. >> reporter: a high powered career. a beautiful family. and finally the one missing piece of jose's american dream -- the perfect home. jose moved his family from calabasas, then pre-kardashian and a relatively unknown enclave outside of los angeles, to a more tony address. joan was with her sister the day the realtor called kitty. >> they had accepted jose's offer, and kitty, you got your zip code. and that made her so happy. >> uh-huh. absolutely. >> reporter: 722 north elm drive. a six-bedroom mediterranean-style home. swimming pool. guest house. tennis court. elton john once lived in this very house.
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so did a saudi prince, and even prince himself. by august 1989, jose had truly made it. now, to ensure his sons did, too. by then lyle was a student at princeton. younger brother erik was going to ucla in the fall. so perfect. so why did diane feel this way? >> i said, "well, i know this sounds crazy. but unless i am crazy somebody who's really close to me is gonna die. and it's gonna be horrible." >> reporter: horrible? that it certainly was. >> someone killed my parents! >> uh, were they shot? >> yes. >> when we come back -- something chilling in the den. >> the first thing i noticed was jose menendez seated on the couch. >> it was grotesque, what happened. >> questions from the very beginning. >> we didn't see any shotgun shells. >> reporter: what did that say to you? >> somebody collected the shotgun shells, somebody that
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reporter: it was august 20th, 1989. just before midnight, a 911 operator picked up a call from an apparently hysterical young man. his name was lyle menendez. >> someone killed my parents! >> ah. were they shot? >> yes. >> they were shot? >> yes. >> what happened? >> who was the person that was shot? >> my mom and my dad. >> your mom and dad? >> my mom and dad. >> okay, hold on second. >> reporter: les zoeller was a detective back then. one of a grand total of two detectives in the beverly hills police department who worked homicides. >> how many murders occurred in beverly hills in those days?
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>> in those days, approximately two a year. >> reporter: detective zoeller was asleep that august night when his boss called. >> and he said, "come on in, we've had a murder." and i asked him for some information and he gave me the address of 722 north elm. >> reporter: zoeller drove to the mansion, walked inside. >> it was eerily quiet. and when i went into the den library, the first thing i noticed was jose menendez seated on the couch. he was slumped to one side, his head was to the one side. >> reporter: it was bad. very bad. >> i could immediately tell that his face was disfigured from the shotgun blast that he took to the back of the head. he was wearing shorts. and he had a shotgun blast to his thigh, blood soaked all the way down to the white couch. and then i noticed his wife, kitty, at his feet on the floor --
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>> reporter: she was curled into a fetal position. and, like her husband had been shot many times, several times near her knee. and, most horribly, kitty was shot point blank in the face. >> shotgun killings are very messy. and there were brains and blood everywhere. >> reporter: back then, pamela bozanich was an l.a. county prosecutor in the organized crime unit. but nothing prepared her for this. jose and kitty had been riddled with 15 shots. one image in particular lives with her still. >> there was a contact wound on kitty menendez's face. it blew out her eye. i mean, it was grotesque, what happened to her. >> reporter: to investigators, it appeared jose and kitty had been relaxing in the den. an empty bowl of cream and berries and erik's ucla paperwork were on the coffee table. the television set was on. there was no indication of a break-in. but something did stand out to detective zoeller.
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>> we didn't see any shotgun shells. >> what did that say to you? >> somebody collected the shotgun shells. >> but who does a thing like that, if they've got a messy crime scene of that sort? >> somebody that didn't want fingerprints on the shotgun shells, is the only thing i could think of. >> reporter: while investigators examined the crime scene, lyle menendez, then 21, and erik, 18, went to the station to speak to police. >> the brothers said they were in and out throughout the day. and then as evening approached, they decided that they wanted to go to the movies. they wanted to see a james bond movie. but it was sold out. so they saw the batman movie, which they had both seen before. so they decided to see that again. >> curious. >> reporter: after the movie, they told detectives, they'd planned to meet a friend for a drink at the cheesecake factory, but they had to go back to the house to pick up erik's fake i.d. and when they walked in, they said, they saw a haze in the
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air, smelled gun powder smoke, went into the den, and then dialed 911. >> someone killed my parents! >> reporter: the news spread quickly. >> i got a phone call from my brother. and i remember putting the phone down on the table. and walking around the house screaming. >> reporter: reporter robert rand's phone also rang. it was a friend who had attended the las vegas trade show with him 10 days earlier. >> the friend had said, "hey, you remember that guy, jose menendez? you know, that you met briefly last week?" and i said, "sure." and he said, "well, he and his wife were blown away last night in beverly hills." >> reporter: now that, thought rand, was a story tailor made for the miami community he was writing for. a rags to riches story, capped by murder. he worked the phones and soon met up with jose's sister who told him -- >> you know, the family was so close. they were loving. they did everything together. she said, "you have to interview erik and lyle." and i said, "of course i wanna interview erik and lyle."
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>> reporter: as he would find, getting to the brothers was not so easy. but then, they'd just lost their parents. >> lyle and erik menendez were the grieving sons. >> reporter: alan abrahamson is a journalism professor at usc. back in 1989, he was a reporter for the la times. >> nobody quite knew who had -- who had killed the parents. was it because of jose's position in business? had he been taken out by the mob? >> reporter: after all, both jose and kitty had been shot in the knees. a mafia signature, perhaps? and then there was the company jose was running. "live entertainment" distributed all kinds of movies, including children's movies. but it got its start in porn. >> a lot of pornography is organized crime backed. 'cause it's a great way to make a lotta money in a industry that's not, you know, very well regarded. >> and there was actually a homicide in the valley a few
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weeks before they were murdered. and jose mentioned to his sons, "you know, this is what happens. this guy was into the pornography business. and he was murdered." >> reporter: plus, jose was known to be aggressive when it came to business. and investigators found two rifles in his bedroom. was jose worried someone might come after him? >> reporter: could lyle and erik be next? the brothers hired bodyguards. and in an interview, erik menendez voiced his suspicion. >> uh, noel bloom sounds like the most logical possibility. if he did kill them, i know they hated each other. >> reporter: noel bloom. the founder of the company jose was running and an unapologetic distributor of adult entertainment. the menendez boys were not alone in their suspicion about noel bloom. >> reporter: coming up -- rivals at the office. was that a motive for murder?
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>> you didn't kill jose menendez? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: noel bloom speaks. then -- and now. >> were you sorta day-by-day waiting to be taken and put in handcuffs? >>yes. >> reporter: when dateline continues. frustrated that clothes come out of the dryer wrinkled? next time try bounce wrinkle guard dryer sheets. the world's first mega sheet with 3x more wrinkle relaxers. look at the difference of these two shirts... the wrinkle guard shirt has less wrinkles and static, and more softness and freshnes*á to tame wrinkles on the go use bounce 3in1 rapid touch up spray bounce out wrinkles with bounce wrinkle guard dryer sheets and touch up spray! both, with a money back guarantee.
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they do one of the most deven in normal times.s, our frontline health care workers. and when these heroes lack the resources they need, that risky job gets ten times harder. prop fifteen makes corporations pay their fair share.
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to invest in our communities, in our clinics, in the essential workers who treat everyone- rich, poor, and in-between. whether it's this pandemic or the next health crisis, vote yes on prop fifteen. for all of us. reporter: kitty menendez shot this home video in august 1989, capturing images of what looked like a happy family. >> okay, wave goodbye everybody --
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>> reporter: 12 days later, kitty and her husband's murders were front-page news. >> it was a big story from the get-go because it happened in beverly hills, california. >> reporter: the big story became a big problem for carolco pictures. >> the company was getting beaten up in the media because all the media stories were, "this was a mafia hit, somehow related to shady dealings that this company was doing." >> reporter: carolco hired a prominent publicist to help calm the media storm. sylvester stallone spoke warmly of jose. >> he was a true cornerstone of this company, which i love. >> reporter: and jose's memorial service was held at the directors guild of america headquarters on sunset boulevard. all of which might have led people to believe he was a beloved hollywood insider. >> but the reality was jose menendez was really not known in the hollywood community at all. and most of the people at this memorial probably had never heard of him. >> reporter: lyle and erik
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arrived late to the service in a chauffeured limousine. they'd spent the night before in the ultra chic hotel bel-air. >> how'd they'd behave when they were there? >> lyle menendez was -- very cool, calm and collected. >> reporter: kitty's sister joan was at the memorial too and heard something disturbing about jose. >> several men that worked with jose talked to me at that memorial service and told me how he loved to humiliate other men. >> pretty shocking thing to hear at somebody's memorial service, isn't it? >> uh-huh. yeah. not very memorial. >> reporter: so, jose had made enemies. the brothers confirmed it. and knew where to point the finger. >> they indicated that their father was involved in -- in some -- shady business contacts. and one in particular was a gentleman by the name of noel bloom -- >> reporter: that name again, noel bloom had founded the
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company that became known as "live entertainment" and then wound up working uncomfortably with jose. >> they bickered about a lotta things? >> well, mostly it was because of the pornography. jose didn't like that at all. >> did it seem to you that there was a motive there? >> possible. >> reporter: we found this tape of bloom deep in the nbc archives. >> you didn't kill jose menendez? >> absolutely not. >> reporter: and wondered what he had to say today. >> what are you doin' with yourself now? >> well, i'm retired. kinda like forced retirement -- >> oh, but your resume? your resume is special -- >> my resume -- could scare people. >> reporter: noel bloom, known for years to law enforcement authorities as a kingpin in the porn trade with alleged ties to east coast mobsters. >> why would they say you were involved with organized crime? >> because people had a perception that people in the adult business were in organized
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crime, which is totally not true. at least i had -- i wasn't -- >> were some of the people who you associated with members -- >> there was a couple of companies back in new york that i believe was. >> reporter: in the 1970's bloom was one of the biggest porn producers and distributors in then he made an unlikely turn to distributing children's programming "care bears," for example. >> along the way, you encountered this guy, jose menendez? >> unfortunately. >> what was he like in the office? >> jose could be very sweet. smile at you. even charming. >> uh-huh? >> but he was very ruthless. he would scream at people. if he fired somebody in his office and fired 'em, even though he had no business doing so you would hear him laughing like it was a big joke. >> reporter: jose fought with his own family, too, said noel bloom. >> i -- i met kitty several times. she was sometimes goin' to the -- into his office, and -- you know, yellin' and screamin' and hollering. i mean, really loud. >> oh, so they'd argue a lot? >> oh, yeah.
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a lot. and i think a lot of it was about the kids. >> what was your impression of them? >> they were kinda quiet. they weren't that friendly, but it seemed like they were a bit troubled. and you know, i know they were afraid of him. >> reporter: afraid of their father, jose. >> i saw him just stare them down a couple of times -- >> reporter: but after jose was murdered, lyle and erik seemed to be afraid of noel bloom. they told police they thought bloom may have killed their parents and might want to kill them, too. bloom had been arrested before on obscenity charges, but never convicted. still, with the brothers' public accusations. he was nervous. >> were you sorta day-by-day waiting for somebody to call you -- >> oh, yes -- >> be taken and put in handcuffs and -- >> yes. >> reporter: oh, the cops would be calling and the investigation would take a turn one that no one expected. coming up. new questions about the case.
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and about the grieving sons. >> lyle, the way he was spending money was very strange. >> you begin to see a pattern here and begin to think of greed. when "dateline" continues. deadline is only weeks away. with so many changes, do you know if your plan is still the right fit? having the wrong plan may cost you thousands of dollars out of pocket. and that's why i love healthmarkets, your insurance marketplace. with healthmarkets' fitscore, they compare thousands of plans from national insurance companies to find the right medicare plan that fits you. call or visit healthmarkets to find your fitscore today. in minutes, you can find out if your current plan is the right fit and once you've let the fitscore do the work, sit back and enjoy not having to shop for insurance again. healthmarkets' fitscore forever technology will continuously scan the market for the best coverage at the best price. so you can shop once and save again and again and again. rest easy knowing you'll have the right plan at the
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president trump could be discharged from the hospital as early as mondays according to it his doctors. he took a break from the treatment and brief le left the hospital sundays to drive past a group of supporters. vice president test ds negative again. he and senator kamala harris are planning to debate wednesday night. now back to "dateline." reporter: in the weeks after the menendez murders one name, one whispered suspicion, noel bloom.
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>> i got a call from beverly hills police department. they wanted to meet with me and ask me a few questions. and i said, "i've been waiting." >> reporter: that meeting, it turned out, was about all it took. >> he was very cooperative. we couldn't determine that he had a motive at all. >> reporter: so noel bloom was no longer a suspect. and the rumored mafia connection to the crime? "not a chance", said prosecutor pam bozanich. >> the number of shots would tell you that it wasn't a organized crime hit. >> reporter: why do you say that? >> because they were torn apart. if-- if you think about what the media portrays or-- or hollywood portrays as a mob hit, it would be. >> reporter: it's just a little hole in the back of the head? >> like, a .22 or a .38 to the back of the head. >> reporter: but the kneecappings, the missing shell casings to investigators those were signs it was staged to look like a mob hit. hours after the murders, detective zoeller looked at the scene, puzzled.
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and right around that time, lyle showed up at the house. >> he said, "we wanna get our tennis equipment." and i said, "well, where is that?" he said, "it's in the library where my parents were murdered." >> reporter: what was their demeanor? >> he was matter of fact and didn't seem very upset to me. >> reporter: then zoeller learned something very odd. lyle and erik went to the bank days after the murders, looking for jose's safety deposit box, trying to find the family will. did that surprise you, that they would do it so soon? >> oh, definitely. >> reporter: so why would the brothers worry about the will? zoeller learned that jose had threatened to disinherit them. lyle had been caught cheating at princeton. erik had fought with his father over tennis. but there was a bigger issue, too. >> well, in the first house they took the whole safe. the second house, they got into the safe.
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>> reporter: lyle and erik had burglarized the homes of their friends' wealthy parents. one of the burglaries was in the exclusive community of hidden hills. had you ever heard of such a thing before? >> no. it was just because "we could do it." "look what we can do." >> reporter: at the time, jose hired a prominent criminal attorney who arranged for the younger brother, erik, to take the fall. >> because he was a minor, knowing that erik probably wouldn't get any jail time. and part of the disposition was that he contact a therapist. in comes jerry oziel. >> reporter: dr. jerome oziel, you'll want to remember that name. a beverly hills psychologist who specialized in phobias and sex therapy -- so, therapy and no jail time for the burglaries. but were they written out of the will? they finally did get hold of it. and discovered jose hadn't disinherited them after all. so now they stood to inherit the family's 14 million dollar estate.
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and what the brothers did after the murders shocked the whole country. >> they were just spending, spending, spending. >> reporter: three rolex watches. a private tennis coach for erik -- a porsche -- lyle even bought a chicken wings restaurant. >> i love to shop. but i think that i might even wait a day or two. >> reporter: lyle went to visit his cousin alan in chicago after the murders. >> he ordered some of the most expensive shirts i've ever seen in my life. he ordered some jewelry, ordered these shoes-- these expensive shoes. and i was like, "wow." the way he was spending money, for me, was very strange. >> reporter: but to other relatives, the spending was just lyle and erik doing what they always did. "lyle was grieving", said cousin diane. >> people would ask, you know? people were like, "what's he doing?" and i would defend him and say, "well, everybody reacts differently when somebody dies. this is just his way of coping i guess." >> reporter: their casual
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behavior after the murders, the hunt for the will, the spending spree, none of it was criminal. but it certainly caught the attention of the prosecutor. >> you begin to see a pattern here and you begin to think of greed. >> reporter: but to police, lyle and erik kept repeating the same story they told the cops the night of the murders. they had no idea what happened. >> reporter: were they believable in those conversations that you recall? >> yes. >> reporter: so they didn't seem to be lying or obfuscating or-- >> no. they answered our questions willingly. >> reporter: so maybe they were spoiled, and self-centered. but, it was a long way from that to killing their parents. except another interview was coming, one that would reveal so much more. coming up. >> i've never seen my dad helpless. >> reporter: an emotional erick menendez speaks out about his father, his family and a killer script. >> that story was about a young
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man who murders his parents and inherits 157 million dollars. liz, you nerd, cough if you're in here! shh! i took mucinex dm for my phlegmy cough. what about rob's dry cough? works on that too, and lasts 12 hours. 12 hours?! who studies that long? mucinex dm relieves wet and dry coughs.
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reporter: reporter robert rand had been working the menendez story hard. he was writing a biography of jose menendez, but he couldn't complete it without talking to two people. jose's sons, lyle and erik. the brothers had blown him off for several weeks.
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but finally, on october 20th, 1989, exactly two months after the murders, rand got his shot. >> i showed up at the menendez mansion at 3:00 in the afternoon. and -- a young woman in her twenties answered the door and she said, "oh erik and lyle are out playing tennis. th -- they'll be back at some point." >> reporter: the woman invited rand in to tour the house. >> and immediately in front of me is the room. the room where jose and kitty menendez were killed. and -- i ha -- i had a chill up my spine. i felt creeped out. >> reporter: he waited. they arrived, eventually. >> erik and lyle came bouncing in the house wearing tennis whites and looking tan. and they were laughing and joking. and i'm as -- >> reporter: as if nothing had happened. >> -- as if nothing had happened. and i'm kind of torn up inside. i'm just thinking to myself, "i wouldn't be anywhere near this house if my parents had been killed here." >> reporter: rand pulled out his tape recorder and notepad, but lyle stopped him. >> lyle menendez said, "hang on," he said, "we don't wanna do
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the interview today. we'd just like to meet you and get to know you." >> reporter: the brothers had flaked on rand before. he was annoyed, but obliged. they chatted informally. and made plans to meet later that weekend for an official interview. but when rand arrived -- >> lyle had left for new york on a red-eye the night before. he had a problem with his chicken wing restaurant in -- princeton. >> reporter: erik, however, was home. and this time he was willing to talk. >> erik was emotionally appropriate. he -- he would cry at times. and he was telling really lovely stories about how wonderful his parents were. >> just an incredible man. and uh, people were afraid of him. people were afraid of him because they would walk in the room and know that this man was more powerful. this man was more intelligent -- >> reporter: erik said his father wanted to get into politics. >> he was going to become senator of florida, and then he was gonna' spend his life making cuba a territory of the united states.
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>> reporter: now, with his father's death, erik said he and his brother wanted to fulfill his father's dream. >> i wanna become senator of florida and my -- my brother wants to become president of the united states. >> reporter: then the mood shifted and erik described what he saw when he walked into the family den on august 20th. >> they weren't real. >> no. >> they -- wax -- they looked like wax. it's something that -- i've never seen my dad helpless. you know, i think that possibly if lyle and i would've been home, if we would've been able to do something about it maybe uh, maybe my dad would be alive. i definitely would give my life for my dad's. >> reporter: and, this was curious, erik also told rand about a screenplay he had written called "friends." >> that story was about a young man who murders his parents and inherits $157 million.
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>> reporter: fancy that. erik wrote the screenplay with a close friend of his named craig cignarelli. when detective zoeller interviewed craig, he learned that craig and erik often fantasized about committing the perfect crime. which, in their screenplay, became the story of a man killing his parents and evading police. >> they thought about the perfect crime. and here their parents are murdered. we don't have a suspect yet. it's looking like a perfect crime to me, at that point. >> reporter: zoeller began to wonder if erik's fantasy could be playing out in reality. and then craig told zoeller about his visit to the menendez house after the murders. >> erik said, "do you wanna know what happened?" and he described shooting the parents. and then he summed it all by saying, "it could happen." and craig thought about it. and he says, "well, is he saying that's what he thinks happened here at the house? or did they actually commit the crime?"
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>> reporter: strange. as was the story the brothers told about discovering their parents' bodies. >> the brothers said they saw this haze in the air and some smoke that they smelled. >> reporter: like gunpowder smoke or -- >> gunpowder smoke. but i mean, that dissipates pretty darned quick. well, the officers got there right after they did. and they didn't smell anything. >> reporter: the gunpowder smoke, and fantasizing about the perfect crime, and the screenplay, and even what might be called a confession. it all led detective zoeller to start thinking the unthinkable, that the brothers had murdered their mom and dad. and he wondered, would erik tell the story of the shooting to craig again? this time on tape. >> they decided to wire up craig and go to this restaurant. >> reporter: but this time, erik wasn't at all talkative. >> erik didn't admit anything. but i think his conscience said, "you better not talk too much about this."
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>> reporter: not that day, anyway. and not to craig cignarelli. but erik did talk, eventually. and what he said would change everything. >> reporter: coming up -- >> lyle burst into the room. she heard him say "why did you tell him?!" >> reporter: the explosive secret, hidden until now. >> reporter: could you believe it? >> no. no! it was absolutely devastating, shocking, just beyond words. when "dateline" continues. dust mite droppings? ewww. dead skin cells? gross! so now, i grab my swiffer heavy duty sweeper and dusters. dusters extends to 6 feet to reach way up high... to grab, trap and lock away gross dust. nice! for dust on my floors, i switch to sweeper. the heavy duty cloths reach deep in grooves to grab, trap and lock dust bunnies... no matter where they hide.
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robinwithout the commission fees. so, you can start investing today wherever you are - even hanging with your dog. so, what are you waiting for? download now and get your first stock on us. robinhood. reporter: detective les zoeller had a very disturbing suspicion. that lyle and erik menendez had shotgunned their parents to death in the den of their beverly hills mansion. and then one day, he just knew. >> was there a particular time when you thought, "okay, yes,
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it's them"? >> well, when we got a call from judalon smyth. >> reporter: a name he'd never heard before. >> what did she have to tell you? >> her whole purpose was to talk about this doctor. and how he was her therapist. and he was having an affair with her. >> reporter: not relevant information to a homicide detective. but this was -- >> what was his first name, dr -- >> dr. jerry oziel. >> reporter: doctor oziel, the psychologist erik was sent to after those burglaries. two months after the murders, judalon smyth said she was with dr. oziel when erik menendez called to schedule an emergency session. smyth wouldn't talk to us for this report, but she did back then. and here's what she told us dr. oziel said after getting that call. >> well all of a sudden he's saying, you know, "i hope i'm not going to hear what i think i'm going to hear."
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>> reporter: smyth told zoeller that dr. oziel was worried about what might happen at the session. and so he asked her to stay in the waiting room of his office while he met with erik on october 31st, 1989. >> reporter: she also told zoeller that from the waiting room, she overheard erik tell dr. oziel the very thing investigators had suspected for months, but couldn't prove. >> erik said that they shot their parents. >> and dr. oziel immediately says, "we need to call your brother and have him come over here right away." >> reporter: lyle menendez, who had been at the elm drive home, passing out candy to trick-or-treaters, rushed over to dr. oziel's office. >> and lyle burst into the room. >> reporter: judalon smyth told zoeller she heard lyle confront his brother. >> and she heard him say, "why did you tell him? we're gonna have to kill him now." >> seriously? >> yes. and erik said, "i can't kill anymore."
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and he burst in tears and left. well, lyle and dr. oziel, more or less, followed him. and lyle got to the elevator. and dr. oziel said, "am i in danger?" and lyle said, "that's all i can tell you is have a good life, dr. oziel." and it freaked him out. >> reporter: what followed was a strange and nervous dance, oziel told lyle and erik to come back for follow up therapy sessions. the brothers, afraid oziel might go to police, agreed. during one of those sessions, they both confessed to killing their parents. and oziel recorded the conversation. judalon smyth learned about the recording and told detectives, who promptly seized the tape. just one problem, they weren't allowed to listen to it because of doctor/patient privilege. >> how frustrating was that?
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>> well, it was very frustrating. yeah, a good piece of evidence and i couldn't even listen to it. >> reporter: even though investigators didn't know whether they'd ever get to play that tape in court, they thought they had enough evidence to arrest the brothers. >> it was march 8th, 1990. >> detectives arrested joseph lyle menendez for the august murders of his mother and father. >> reporter: erik was playing a tennis tournament in israel at the time. >> erik menendez is being sought by detectives of this department. >> reporter: he surrendered to police three days later. >> could you believe it? >> no. no. it was absolutely devastating, shocking, just beyond words. >> reporter: former l.a. times reporter alan abrahamson. >> who would imagine that these two young men of privilege, position and power-to-be could -- could kill their parents. that's -- that's the kinda stuff
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that shakespeare wrote about. >> reporter: and yet, it seemed that's exactly what happened. a few weeks after the arrests, detective zoeller confirmed another tip judalon smyth gave them. >> judalon said that the guns were purchased at a gun store in san diego. i was lookin' through gun records. and i said, "this is it." >> reporter: the name on the sale was an old friend of lyle's from princeton. but the friend was not even in california when the guns were purchased. and he was missing his i.d. >> we learned later that lyle had taken the wallet. >> reporter: it seemed like overwhelming evidence that lyle and erik killed their parents. >> two rich kids from beverly hills. greedy. murder
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murdered their own parents in cold blood. actually hit it. made it look like a mob hit. tried to get away with it. and went on a lavish spending spree. state. t over state the public' disgust with the young men. on the other side of the country in a new jersey town a few miles from princeton, people began comparing memories. >> their home at the time was a home on a lake. >> this is the home where they grew up. a young tennis coach when he met jose. and certainly impressed. >> there were two clear sides of him. the very friendsly out going joking person. the flip side was how driven and controlling he was. >> jose engaged bill to teach his son. and watch the lesson.
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but didn't just watch. >> he would physically come onto the tennis court and start givi givi giving instruction while i was there. it was very strange. very uncomfortable. >> only much later he learned jose hired several coaches. the 10 year-old was working hours every day to learn tennis. >> he was incredibly quiet. >> neighborhood memories about a successful but imposing family. >> everyone seemed to look up to them. but not draw closer to them s. l >> a friends and neighbor of the family. >> the minute they come into a room. they took the air out. >> wow. >> and we're all very careful. >> why?
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>> he tended when he drank too much to become very derogatory of other people. >> oh. >> so people didn't want to be embarrassed by him. >> the next target. >> you maybe the next target. yes. >> did you see examples of that? >> no. >> that house. >> it was like it was covered with a shield. like that was -- >> she was lisle's ninth grade spanish teacher. >> was he a good student? >> he tried to be. he was not particularly talented. at the language. >> one she caught him cheating. and said, eric cheated too. >> i think teachers understood deep down inside what they were going through. >> being pressured. from their parents to perform. to do well. >> right. >> it seemed to be taking a
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toll. she remembers more than once seeing him outside her office staring. blankly. >> i wish to this day that i had gotten up and said please come in. >> did you talk to kitty or jose? >> i didn't reveal anything to them. not anything that could get them in trouble. >> the young boys she remembered were adults now. in serious trouble. charged with killing the parents who expected so much from them. their stir of why they did it, had the family and the rest of america speechless. >> the battle begins. with the powerful new ally standing by the brothers. >> how does he walk into the room with a shot begin. this kid. it doesn't add up. i'm totally puzzled.
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>> reporter: continuing our story. lyle and erik menendez are under arrest for the murders of their parents this the family mansion in beverly hills. >> it was grotesque what happened. >> blood soaked. >> i had a chill up my spine. >> could you believe it? >> no, it was absolutely devastating just beyond words. >> the question now? what drove them to kill? >> how does he walk into a room with a shotgun? this kid i mean, i'm totally, totally, puzzled. >> a dark secret was about to come to light. >> i just told him that i didn't want to do this. >> something horrible is going on in the family. >> oh, man, it was gut wrenching. i wanted to bust the door down and say what's going on here? >> reporter: lyle and erik menendez had been charged with the unthinkable. murdering their mother and
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father. alicia hertz, their former neighbor and teacher, recalled two young boys, whose parents seemed formidable, even to adults. like many others, said alicia, she was careful around kitty and jose menendez. but there was one episode she found too disturbing to ignore. a dinner party at the menendez home. jose told his guests he'd brought back a vhs tape from a trip to brazil. >> and i have to show you guys this because it's so unique. and so, he puts it in. and i don't remember the name. >> reporter: she said the film showed adults engaging in sex acts in front of children. >> and we saw a few seconds of it. a few minutes. and we made excuses. a lot of us stood up and said we have to leave. we couldn't stand to see it. to watch. >> but jose found this engaging? >> hysterically funny. >> reporter: these stories of the menendez family have been
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buried for years. until, the sons were charged with murder. and she signed on to defend them. veteran criminal defense attorney, leslie abrahamson. known for her brass style with the press. reporter robert rand, who wrote a book on the menendez case, recalled the attorney's passionate devotion to her clients. >> i've never seen anybody with the power of leslie. watching her in court was like watching great theater. >> reporter: in this old interview from our archives, leslie described how her defense strategy began to take shape. >> i am hearing a lot of very negative and -- and at least heavily psychologically abusive things but it's not answering what's wrong with this kid? because he's incredibly sweet. how does he walk into a room with a shotgun? this kid? and it doesn't add up. i mean, i'm totally, totally puzzled. and that's when i bring in vicar
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y. >> then, a forensic psychologist and a graduate of harvard law school agreed to meet with the brothers in jail. he knew, going in, police believed they killed their parents for money. >> but based upon the dozens of paracide cases i had worked on in the past, that's not the exception, that's the rule. the rule is something horrible's going on in the family. >> reporter: and something was going on in the menendez family. something very secret. but, what was it? coming up. new evidence seen on television, for the first time. a letter from lyle to erik hinting at the horrors in that house. >> you cannot go down the hall when jose is with his kids. >> kitty didn't go down the hall, either? >> no. no. uh-uh. >> oh, man, it was gut wrenching. just the screams and the, daddy, don't hit me. daddy, don't. you know, that kind of stuff.
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>> reporter: when "dateline" continues. >> reporter: when "dateline" continues. there he is. oh, wow. you're doing, uh, you're doing really great with the twirling. dad, if you want to talk, i have a break at 3:00. okay, okay. i'm going. i'm gone. like -- like i wasn't here. [ horn honks ] keep -- keep doing it, buddy. switch to progressive and you can save hundreds. you know, like the sign says. switch to progressive and you can save hundreds. this, is why we no longer have to worry flushing too much toilet paper, will back up our system. but dad, rid-x contains billions of enzymes proven to break down even paper to keep your whole septic system healthy. for paper, grease or waste breakdown. use rid-x.
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>> reporter: lyle and erik menendez. the boys from beverly hills sat in jail, charged with the shotgun murders of their parents and the great wheels of justice ground slow. the main issue was the confession tape admissible? or should doctor-patient privilege keep it out? the arguing went all the way to california's highest court. >> we sat around, for a couple years, waiting for the supreme court to rule. >> reporter: during which, the menendez brothers resided at the men's central jail where, soon after their arrest, lyle slipped his brother a letter. "dateline" obtained a copy. it had never been broadcast, before. in it, lyle wrote about their father and the murders. he bore two brilliant children. only two. they carry his name and his
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pride. we did not do anything for the money. he went on. we, alone, know the truth. we, alone, know the secrets of our family's past. i do not look forward to broadcasting them around the country. i pray that it never has to happen. secrets? at this point, even attorney leslie abramson knew none of them. lyle and erik revealed nothing. not to abramson, and not to the forensic psychiatrist she hired, william vicary. >> what struck me, in that initial interview, was how together the older brother, lyle, was. i mean, he was articulate. he made good eye contact. he had very thoughtful, organized answers. >> reporter: erik, on the other hand, seemed broken. >> he, very rarely, made eye contact. he was biting his finger nails. so, i was thinking, in my head, boy, i sure hope i get to work with the older brother and not the younger brother because this
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is going to be a piece of cake with the older brother. >> reporter: hnot wrong he was. after a few sessions with lyle, dr. vicary hit a wall, and moved on to eric, who, month after month, seemed to stick to a kind of script about his wonderful father, his loving family. >> and the minute something would leak out about, maybe, things weren't so wonderful in the family. he would start crying. and he would, kind of, dissolve and -- and -- and whimper and he just wouldn't go any further. >> reporter: vicary put erik on anti-depressants. and slowly, a trust began to form. >> as the months rolled by, i got more and more pieces of information and it got worse and worse and worse, as to what was going on in this family. until finally, the dam broke. >> erik and lyle's cousin had
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lived with the menendez family and knew the public didn't understand. >> they just knew that, okay, we got these rich kids. boom. shot their parents. now, they're -- think they multimillionaires. well, that's not the case. >> reporter: alan had begun thinking back to some very disturbing things he had witnessed at the menendez house. as had cousin, diane hernandez. >> he would take their heads and push them under water, until they started panicking, he would let them up again. >> jose's way of teaching his quite young boys to swim. >> what did kitty seem to think about it? >> i mean, if jose did it or said it, there was no questioning about it. absolutely, none. >> not boy the boys, not by kitty. >> she became like his right-hand man in enforcing things. >> reporter: including, what diane and alan came to know as the single-most important rule in the menendez host. >> you cannot go down the hall when jose is with his kids.
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>> kitty didn't go down the hall, either? >> no. no. huh-uh. >> but they did hear things. >> i've heard them being wl whipped. oh, man, it was gut wrenching. just the screams. you know, daddy, don't hit me. daddy, don't. that kind of stuff. >> to the defense, began to explain what those young men did to their parents. but how do you get from disturbing stories to a double murder? the brother's lawyers began to connect the dots. their defense would be unique and daring. coming up. the prosecution versus the defense. the fireworks were about to begin. >> i felt that the brothers were evil, but not as bad as she was. >> reporter: when "dateline" continues. >> reporter: when "da" continues. is that for me? mhm aaaah! nooooo
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hello, i'm dara brown. here's what's happening. president trump could be
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discharged from walter reed military medical center as early as monday, according to his doctors. he took a break from his coronavirus treatment and briefly left the hospital sunday to drive past a group of supporters. he is improving. they also acknowledged he had a high fever on friday and that his oxygen levels had dropped below normal, twice. once thursday and once friday. now, back to "dateline." back t" even before the menendez brothers went on trial, the defense scored a big victory. the california supreme court ruled that the confession tape made by dr. azil could not be presented as evidence. of course, the defense had already conceded that lyle and erik killed their parents. nearly four years after the murders, july 1993, if convicted here, lyle and erik could face the death penalty. their judge was stanley wiseberg, who had already presided over high-profile
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cases. notably, the rodney king beating case, whose results sparked the l.a. riots. judge wiseberg ruled that each brother would have his own jury. and -- >> the electronic media that wants access to this courtroom. >> reporter: he allowed cameras in the courtroom. >> the idea that there was a camera in a courtroom in california was so new, so novel. >> reporter: reporter alan abrahamson, once an attorney himself, covered the trial for the l.a. times. >> you weren't just playing to the jury. you were playing to all of america. >> reporter: the judge's decision turned a local l.a. story into an international sensation. how big was it? the menendez trial was the case that put an entire network, court tv, on the broadcast landscape. prosecutor pam bazanich knew all of america was watching her every move. >> how did you feel as you prepared to make your opening
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statement? >> as i walked down the hallway, all the cameras were there. and you know, i just threw up. because i -- i thought, oh, god. you know, this is really stressful. >> what's more, the prosecutor was going against two fierce opponents. leslie abramson, defending eric. and jill lansing, defending lyle. >> these are three very smart, strong women. >> definitely. >> engaged against each other, over these boys. >> yes. >> i say boys but they weren't really boys, were they? >> they weren't boys, at all. in fact, that's what the defense wanted everybody to hear was boys and these poor boys. these orphans. >> reporter: orphans. an impression the defense tried to play up. leslie abramson wrapped her arms around their shoulders. had them trade their dapper suits for preppy sweaters. >> everything that jill lansing and leslie abramson was deliberate and calculated. >> she steeled herself,
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determined not to let the optics distract the jury. >> based upon this evidence, it will become apparent that this murder was unlawful, unjustified, and wholly premeditated. >> in basic english, the prosecution's case was this. just the facts, ma'am. >> reporter: fact number one. lyle and erik driving down to san diego two days before the murders, to buy shotguns and with a stolen i.d. >> why are you using the fake i.d.? cause you know you're going to be using the gun to do something you shouldn't be doing. that is evidence of intent. >> reporter: after the murders, the prosecution showed the brothers lied to the police, for months, starting from the very moment lyle called 911. >> someone killed my parents. >> reporter: and they did it all for the family fortune, the state said. remember, lyle and erik had searched for the will, just days after their parents' murders. and went on a lavish, multi-state spending spree. >> they were very aggressive about spending money, as soon as
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possible. >> yeah. >> which i thought was very strange. >> reporter: it was pretty obvious, said the prosecutor, first-degree murder, and they did it for the money. >> at the end of the prosecution case, i was like, okay. these -- these two brothers are so guilty, it's not even funny. >> reporter: but then, there was her. >> ms. abramson for the defense. >> thank you. >> we had a joke. investigator, myself, and my co- -- co-counsel, lester, the joke was you have a gun, you have two bullets. you go in the courtroom. who do you shoot? okay. so, both the guys say they would shoot lyle and erik. and i -- my thing was i'm going to shoot leslie twice. i felt that the brothers were evil but not as bad as she was. >> reporter: abramson had a reputation for doing whatever it took. >> you guys haven't been fair to these boys, and you're not fair to them now. >> reporter: and she had an unusual strategy for defending the brothers. a law known as imperfect self-defense. >> that is to say, under all the
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circumstances, it was reasonable to the person to think that they were acting in self-defense. but the reality is that, that wasn't the case, at all. >> reporter: in other words, an honest but unreasonable belief that one's life is in danger. the defense argued that the brothers weren't spoiled, they were damaged. subject to years of abuse that made the decision to kill their parents seem, to them, like an act of self-defense against imminent danger. if the jury agreed, the menendez brothers would get manslaughter, instead of murder. >> our witnesses will paint a portrait of jose and mary louise menendez, as parents, that will make understandable to you, how they could have died at the hands of their children. what they did to their children to bring this about. >> the parents were as much on trial as lyle and erik menendez were on trial. and -- and while the prosecution tried to -- to stick to a just-the-facts-ma'am narrative,
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the defense strategy was emotion, emotion, emotion, emotion. >> the defense called teachers and coaches and family members to testify about emotional and physical abuse. one of them was cousin, alan. >> and would you see bruises on the boys after that? >> yes. and above their -- above their thigh area where about would be hit. >> reporter: and then, cousin, diane, took the stand. and here came the most explosive issue of the trial. diane testified that the abuse jose inflicted on his sons was not just physical, but sexual. >> he and his dad have been touching each other, and he indicated that it was in his genital area. >> reporter: and diane told us she observed even more. >> three of them would take showers together. lyle was 15 and erik was 12. >> reporter: the prosecutor was, to say the least, skeptical. >> if my daughter needed me to
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lie for her, i'd lie for her if it was a life-and-death thing, of course, you would. if it's your cousin that you grew up with, of course, you would. >> you're pretty sure that they were doing that? >> i'm positive. >> reporter: one reason why? >> a relative came do me and said that she felt that the defense was made up. that she'd confronted lyle about it. and he said to her that's the way it's going to be. >> reporter: so, we had to ask. did the brothers ask you to lie for them? >> no. >> did they ask you to, sort of, like shade things or tell certain stories and not other stories or anything like that? >> huh-uh. huh-uh. huh-uh. >> reporter: the defense contended the abuse was real. went on for years. and finally. >> they came to believe that something terrible was about to break loose. >> reporter: specifically, that their parents were going to kill them if they didn't kill their parents, first. mental health experts testified and said that was understandable.
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>> erik and lyle menendez purchased the shotguns for their own protection. >> reporter: it was a high-stakes defense. and by far, the most important witnesses would be the brothers, themselves. would the jury believe them? would america? >> coming up. >> my dad had been molesting me. >> i just told him that i didn't want to do this. and that it hurt me. >> reporter: shocking, then. chilling, even now. was it the truth? when "dateline" continues. conti. my bladder leak pad? i thought it had to be thick to protect. but always discreet protects differently . with ultra-thin layers, that turn liquid to gel.
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as >> reporter: according to leslie abramson, there was only one relevant question to consider in the menendez murders. >> why did these killings occur? >> reporter: a question the brothers believed they could answer best.
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no one had ever seen televised testimony like this, before. >> joseph lyle menendez. >> reporter: the brothers testified, in graphic, emotional terms, about what they said were the darkest secrets of their family. >> between the ages of 6 and 8, did your father have sexual contact with you? >> yes. we would be in the bathroom, and it would -- he would put me on my knees. and have oral sex with him. >> did you want to do this?
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at some point, did he do some other things to you? >> he'd rape me. >> did you ask him not to? >> yes. i just told him that i didn't want to do this. and that it hurt me. and he said that he didn't mean to hurt me and he loved me. >> what did he tell you about telling people? >> he just said that it was our secret. that bad things would happen to me, if i told anybody. >> reporter: lyle testified his father stopped abusing him when he turned 8. but he said, for years, he had no idea his brother was a
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victim, too. then, erik took the stand. >> he would me give -- oral sex. and he would stick the needles or the tacks into my thighs as he was doing this. >> reporter: erik testified that when he refused to cooperate with his father's demands. >> he came back with the knife. he put it on my neck. he said, i should kill you and next time, i will. >> reporter: reaction to the brothers' testimony was, to say the least, polarized. >> you either totally believed that the brothers had been abused. or thought the whole thing was a complete crock of you know what. >> the brother's explosive claims were just the lead-up. the backstory to what really prompted the murders. >> what do you believe was the originating cause of you and your brother, ultimately, winding up shooting your parents? >> me telling lyle that --
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>> you telling lyle what? was it you telling lyle about something that was happening? >> my dad. my dad had been molesting me. >> reporter: and had been right up until the murders, erik said. and he testified that his mother was aware of it all. >> she says, i know, i've always known. what do you think, i'm stupid? >> reporter: lyle says he confronted his father several days before the murders. >> i told him i would tell everybody everything about him. i would tell the police, and that i would tell the family. >> reporter: then, according to lyle, his father said something that sounded like a threat. >> he said, we all make choices in life, son. erik made his. you've made yours. i thought we were in danger. >> reporter: and so, the brothers drove down to san diego to buy the shotguns for protection, they said.
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two days later, said lyle, he and his father had another argument about the abuse. after which, lyle said his parents went into the den and shut the door. and? >> i thought they were going ahead with their plan to kill us. >> reporter: remember, jose and kitty kept two rifles in the house. >> so, what did you do? >> i ran upstairs to tell my brother that it was happening now. >> reporter: they ran out to the car, loaded their guns, and burst through the den door. >> i was just firing as i went into the room. i just started firing. >> in what direction? >> in front of me. >> what was in front of you? >> my parents. >> at some point, was your gun empty? >> yes. i could see somebody moving. seemed like moving, in the direction of where my brother should be. >> reporter: lyle said he returned to the car, reloaded, and ran back into the house.
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>> and what did you do, after you reloaded? >> i ran around, shot my mom. >> reporter: so, did they act while in the mistaken belief they were defending their own lives? yes, said the defense. a classic case of imperfect self-defense. perfect nonsense, said the prosecutor. she grilled lyle on cross-examination. >> when you put the shotgun up against her left cheek and you pulled the trigger, did you love your mother? >> yes. >> and was that an act of love, mr. menendez? >> it was confusion, fear. >> you were afraid of her, at that point? >> they slaughtered their mother, in a way that was so cruel, she got up to run and they went out and they reloaded and they put the gun up to her cheek and blew her brains out.
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i'm sorry. that is the height of cruelty. >> reporter: what's more, observed reporter alan abrahamson. >> let's count how many seconds it might take to go out to the walk. walk. walk. walk. grab the shotgun shell. put the shotgun shell in. run back in. remember, time is ticking. time is ticking. you put the barrel of that shotgun against her cheek and you pull. that is intent. no doubt about it. >> reporter: the prosecution believed the brothers were flat-out lying about the abuse and the events leading up to the murders. and, as it turned out, their testimony gave the state a big opening. >> they offered their mental state, as a defense. and when you offer your mental state as a defense, you have waived your psychiatric patient privilege.
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>> remember that? by testifying, the brothers had put their mental state on center stage, meaning the tape was now fair game. >> the defense played the tape to take the sting out active. >> what erik and i did took a courage beyond belief. >> reporter: detective zoller, remember, had never heard the tape before and he was dumbfounded. this was supposedly a candid confession tape but on it, the brothers never once mentioned the issue that was now the very core of their defense. >> why did you ever murder your parents? oh, because they were sexually molesting us. that never came out. why wouldn't he tell his therapist? >> reporter: big deal? the prosecution thought so. but, by then, the jury had already heard many hours of tearful testimony about abuse. and that is when, in december 1993, they retired to consider a verdict. >> we made a mistake, right off the bat. >> hazel thornton was on erik
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k's jury. >> we took a show of hands as to what level of guilt we thought they were. and it became immediate that it was men against women, murder versus manslaughter. >> the main issue, said hazel, was the brothers' story of abuse. the women believed them. the men did not. >> did discussions get heated? >> oh, yes. the public thinks that the women were emotional in the trial. it was the men who were emotional. they pounded their fists on the table. they called us names. they yelled at us. >> reporter: those tumultuous deliberations carried on into the new year. and then, a massive, 6.7 earthquake shook southern california. the backdrop against which the juries would deliver a decision that shocked the world. coming up. o.j. simpson. that explosive case is about to cast a shadow over this one. when "dateline" continues. ke to play crocodile on the floor.
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my job is to help new homeowners who have turned into their parents. i'm having a big lunch and then just a snack for dinner. so we're using a speakerphone in the store. is that a good idea? one of the ways i do that is to get them out of the home. you're looking for a grout brush, this is -- garth, did he ask for your help? -no, no. -no. we all see it. we all see it. he has blue hair. -okay. -blue. progressive can't protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle with us. -keep it coming. -you don't know him.
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>> reporter: after six months of trial, two juries, one result. >> therefore, i find that the jury is hopelessly deadlocked. and the court declares a mistrial. >> reporter: the juries couldn't make up their minds. nearly half of them, on each panel, voted for manslaughter. da garcetti vowed to retry the case. >> we have an ethical, professional, and moral responsibility to go forward with this case as a first-degree murder case. >> reporter: but, before that second trial could begin, oj happened. and suddenly, the stakes were even bigger. >> when o.j. simpson went home, at the end of his trial, it was very hard in the da's office. we were, you know, nationally
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considered to be, kind of, losers. >> reporter: the second menendez trial began just eight days after o.j.'s acquittal, with judge wiseberg presiding, again. the same judge. the same case. but this time, the trial was fundamentally different. >> the first, major ruling judge weissberg made was no tv camera in the courtroom. >> this time, one jury for both brothers. judge weissburg also scaled back testimony about the brothers' physical and sexual abuse. cousin, diane, for example, was able to testify, just not about lyle telling her that his father was molesting him. one reason that couldn't come in was because, this time around, lyle didn't take the stand to lay the foundation about abuse, in the first place. >> in between the two trials, there were allegations that he was asking people to fabricate testimony. >> reporter: letters surfaced after the first trial, in which lyle was alleged to have encouraged people to lie for the defense.
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>> so, the defense decided they couldn't put him on the witness stand. so, erik menendez had to carry the ball for both brothers and he was a good witness. but he was not as strong as lyle menendez had been if at the fir trial. >> and that expert testimony about the impact of the abuse on the brothers' state of mind. judge weissburg severely limited the number of experts because he felt their testimony was repetitive. one not allowed to testify was dr. vicary. >> i was shocked. i said, well, they've got the defense. i mean, there is no defense without that. >> that specific ruling was, in large part, due to the objections raised by the new prosecutor leading the people's case. deputy da david koenn. >> the approach that the prosecutor took was to attack, at every -- at every turn and not give any free passes there.
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>> reporter: andrew wolfberg is a lawyer, today. back then, he was the youngest member of the menendez retry jury. >> this was a family that was win at all costs. the ends justify the means. to say that their parents had abused them was almost like the ends justified the means. let's make up this story about abuse. >> reporter: but one thing jurors figured was not made up was that confession tape. this time, the prosecution got to use that wildcard the way they wanted to, as their smoking gun. and they highlighted a section where the brothers seemed to have no remorse about what they had done. >> you miss just having these people around? >> i miss not having my dog around. >> that really just was like a punch in the gut. >> and then, just before the jury went out, judge weissburg's last ruling. and quite possibly, the most important one of all. >> the jurors would not be allowed to consider an imperfect
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self-defense. >> judge weisberg basing his decision on a california supreme court ruling that came down after the first menendez trial said imperfect self-defense didn't apply because the brothers initiated the confrontation with their parents. >> do you think, in retrospect, had you been offered imperfect self-defense, that you might have, maybe, started in a different place? or come to a different conclusion? >> i'm pretty confident that we would not have because we literally started from first-degree murder. and when every element was satisfied, we were done. >> this time around, the deliberations were quicker, more congenial. and certain. >> the verdict is guilty on all counts with special circumstances. >> reporter: guilty of first-degree murder. but the fates of lyle and erik menendez were not the only headlines. more came in the penalty phase. dr. vicary finally got to testify and, under oath, he had to admit something. >> the drama involves this man.
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defense psychiatrist, william vicary, who has disclosed that he deleted dozens of portions of his notes because, quote, leslie abramson told me this has to come out. >> what did it feel like to be you, in that particular circumstance of your life? >> well, it was very traumatic. >> reporter: traumatic, indeed. the doctor said leslie abramson asked him to delete notes she felt could be viewed as evidence of premeditation. and reluctantly, he said, he agreed. the california medical board punished vicary. 34 months probation. abramson disputed vicary's version of events and, after an investigation, the state bar, years later, cited insufficient evidence of vielgdss aolations closed her case. in the end, all the efforts did not spare the menendez brothers from a life sentence. decades later, that question, whether the second trial was fair, is still being debated. >> it's a tale of two trials.
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the trials couldn't have been more different. >> cliff gardener was the attorney appointed to handle lyle's appeal. >> so, it was sort of a one-two-three punch. no source evidence, no expert testimony, and then your defense doesn't go to the jury. >> but it was the same judge in both trials. >> it was the same judge. >> so, what's explanation for the difference? >> it's -- it's a very good question. i don't have an answer to it. >> reporter: in this audio of lyle's federal appeal hearing, a judge also questioned why so many key rulings changed in trial number two. >> i find it a little distasteful when the state doesn't succeed in convicting somebody under one set of rules, it will change the rules dramatically. >> grounds to vacate their convictions? and what did the brothers have to say, all these years later? we'll ask lyle menendez, next. coming up. >> the outside world saw what they thought was evidence of
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premeditation. >> i'd have to say that's not really entirely accurate. >> when "dateline" continues. >> when "dateline" continues
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>> reporter: in 2005, after years of failed appeals, the menendez brothers' case went to the federal court. it was their last chance. the court denied it. maintaining the state court made reasonable rulings, in light of the facts, and did not violate federal law. lyle menendez was 49 years old, and ithad spent nearly half his life in prison when he agreed to talk to us. >> hello? >> hello? >> so, here we are. >> we spoke with lyle menendez for more than two hours. he was confident, articulate, and 28 years later, still, eager to explain why he and his brother killed their parents. he shared intimate details about his childhood, and the betrayal he said he felt when erik
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confided to him, days before the murders, that their father was still molesting him. >> my father's rapes, i said nothing. and i just feel like part of that pact i had with my dad, and i am keeping this secret. and for you to have done this to my brother, like i kept my part of that sort of devil's pact and you didn't. you know? and my -- my brother, just, you know, you let your children wake up in the home of a child molester, every day? >> reporter: lyle testified in the trial that, not only did his mother cover for her husband's actions, she, also, sexually abused him. more than a quarter century after the murders, those feelings of anger and hurt were still close to the surface. >> my mother was very cruel. i -- she just, very much, resented my brother and i, from early, early on. >> as if you and erik had come between her and your father? >> yes, exactly.
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>> reporter: we reminded him of what his prosecutors still say about him. >> that lyle is still trying to avoid some level of responsibility by blaming abuse, when the abuse doesn't appear to have been so bad, as to -- as to cause a person to do that. >> i would trade my entire defense for a 30-second video of my father raping me. i would trade my whole case for it because i think it's so sanitized and so easy to use the word abuse. oh. abuse. the abuse wasn't so bad. >> let's get down to the incident, itself. when did you and erik decide to kill your parents? >> we didn't decide to do it. it was we finally just kind of got overwhelmed with this panic and emotion, and made the decision to run in that room. >> the outside world saw what they thought was evidence of a lot of premeditation. using a friend's driver's
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license to, you know, hide the fact that you went to san diego and got weapons. >> i'd have to say keep it. there is, you know, it's just not really, entirely accurate. i didn't have a california i.d. so there was no way to purchase a weapon, other than my brother using this other kid's i.d. >> reporter: but no disputing it, they did buy the guns, in advance, with a stolen i.d. and there was this irrefutable fact the prosecutor pointed out. lyle reloaded and fired that final shot at his mother's face, while she was still alive and crawling, desperately, to get away. >> they saw that as the evidence of premeditation and cruelty. >> i, certainly, in the room, wasn't making kind of decisions in a chaotic situation like that. but, you know, reflecting afterwards, you know, it haunts me. it does haunt me. >> the other comment that would come out was, well, they -- you know, they could have just gone
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out and got in the car, and driven away. you know? they didn't have to do this. >> a person like my father is not going to allow you to just take something that will ruin his life, that he has so carefully crafted. he's not going to. he's not going to. >> no, but -- but -- but you could have left. that's the point i'm trying to make. >> but leave and do what? leave and just wait for yourself to be killed in a parking lot? leave and tell who? >> reporter: they didn't believe anyone would help them, said lyle. not even the police. speaking of which, that 911 call lyle made? >> who was the person that was shot? >> my mom and my dad. >> you were so, you know, grief-stricken on that call, and lying at the same time. >> yeah. what -- i don't think i was gri grief-stricken. i think i was just absolutely broken down with stress. both of us were just in stuchuc
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state of trauma that it just poured through on that call and made it easy to make that call, really. >> but you could have told them. instead, you misled them. why that? >> well, i -- i mean, i don't think i was going to tell the beverly hills police department that, yeah, i killed my parents. and here's why. and they were going to go, okay, go back home. so, just self-preservation, at that point. >> reporter: lyle strongly denied the prosecution's claim that he and erik killed their parents for money. furthermore, he said he didn't think their case should have even gone to trial. >> this case should've been settled. there are, like, 2 to 300 paraside cases a year. and they are almost all related to abuse and they are all settled. >> but, lyle, it was different. guys like you in places like you live and acts like you committed. i mean, this is -- it's -- this
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is a big, splashy deal. >> exactly. i think that it was very easy because it was beverly hills. my father had a lot of money. to sort of sell this headline that these brothers killed for money. >> you haven't seen erik in how long? >> wow. 1996? >> hmm. getting to be a long time. >> yeah. i miss my brother, every day. >> reporter: erik menendez declined our interview request. at the time, he had been married for 18 years. lyle, for 14. and remember, erik had said both he and his brother wanted to pursue careers in politics. in a highly unusual way, they've done it. sort of. erik started a life care and hospice program for inmates at the richard donovan correctional facility near san diego. and 500 miles north, lyle was president of the inmate government at mule creek state
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prison. >> i know it's going to be a suffering for me. but i feel like i can find some purpose here. >> reporter: then, in february 2018, a reunion, of sorts. lyle was moved to the same facility where erik was serving his sentence. they were even housed in the same unit. lyle's former appellate attorney told us, if the brothers can produce new evidence of the abuse, it would be the first step toward, perhaps getting a third trial. even he admits it's a long shot. but if it did happen, two people, surely, wouldn't be there. defense attorney leslie abramson is retired from law and did not respond to our interview request. as for prosecutor pam bozanich. >> you really think that this kind of wrecked your career? >> oh, it did. of course, it did. but it's okay because if i had won the case, i probably never would have been the mother. i probably would have gone on
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some book tour or something and i wouldn't be natalie's mom. and so, it does have a happy ending. >> reporter: before she left the d.a.'s office, pam bozanich took something with her. a picture of kitty. not this one, no. she took one from the crime scene. >> she had blue eyes and one little, blue eye is open. and the other one's gone. you probably think i'm a little crazy to keep that picture. but it's a reminder of what those horrible children did to her. can you imagine giving birth, and then giving everything you have to these two kids and they k kill you? >> reporter: the menendez brothers have supporters, who hope they get out of prison, one day. when we last checked, lyle's facebook followers numbered more than 8,500. fair to say, pam bozanich is not one of them. >> life in prison for those two is just fine. i hope they live a long, long life.
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this sunday, the president's health. the white house calls the president's condition very concerning, contradicting his doctor's upbeat public assessment. >> this morning the president is doing very well. >> the white house last night scrambling to get on the same page. >> he's made unbelievable improvements from yesterday morning when i know a number of us, the doctor and i, were very concerned. >> mr. trump releasing a video from walter reed hospital last night. >> i came here, wasn't feeling so well. i feel much better now. we're working hard to get me all the way back. i have to be back. >> the virus now spreading among those who attended white house events

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