I didn’t talk about it for 20 years. And now I can’t shut up about it!
Once upon a time…
…when I lived in Los Angeles… I reported to jury duty one day in 1993 and stayed for 7 months. The first Menendez brothers murder trial resulted in two hung juries (one for each brother). I kept a journal as a way of dealing with the stress of the trial. It was a media circus, covered in full by Court TV, and the brothers’ defense story sparked a national “abuse excuse” debate. The juries were not treated kindly by the media. In particular, the women who voted for voluntary manslaughter were ridiculed and thought to be indecisive, emotional, enamored of the brothers, and too stupid to understand the jury instructions.
20 years passed…
…during which I moved to Albuquerque, started my organizing business, and DID NOT talk about the Menendez trial. Why not? Well, for one thing, there were no more books. It was simply TOO HARD to talk about my experience without being able to end a conversation by suggesting that you read the book to learn more. And, really, what was I supposed to do? Introduce myself to new clients, colleagues, neighbors, friends, co-volunteers, and book club members as, “Hi, I’m Hazel Thornton, owner of Organized for Life and the author of an out-of-print book about the highly controversial first Menendez brothers trial”…???
…in the space of a week…several amazing things happened.
1.) I was released from having to serve on another high-profile trial — the biggest NM has ever seen (what were the odds?) — the police shooting of homeless and mentally ill James Boyd in the foothills of Albuquerque. (Click here to read a FAQ about my jury duty history.)
2.) I “came out” on Facebook as having served on the Menendez trial.
3.) ABC 20/20 contacted my then-publisher looking for me, and Temple University Press (from whom I had not heard in 20 years) asked me if I wanted to do the interview. It was the 20 year anniversary of the murder convictions, and true crime was all the rage again on TV. I knew this from turning down interview requests earlier in the year. I told them that one of the reasons I wasn’t interested was that there were no more books, so…
4.) …they agreed to republish the book with new material.
And then a miracle occurred.
I now refer to it as Miracle #1.
On August 3, 2017, Dick Wolf, Executive Producer of the 8-part series Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, made a public statement that changed my life. He said he believes the Menendez brothers received too harsh a penalty and that there was collusion between the judge and the DA in the second trial to ensure murder convictions.
O.M.G.! That’s what I think, too, and wrote about in my book, but I had never heard anyone (other than defense attorney Leslie Abramson, of course) say it publicly, and in front of such a large audience.
For all I knew it was going to be yet another hack prosecution-biased dramatization and I was going to have to hate Edie Falco, who has since been nominated for an Emmy for her spot-on portrayal of Leslie.
Dick Wolf’s statement gave me courage and hope. I didn’t talk about my experience for 20 years, and now I can’t shut up about it
Since then I have done interviews for several new news programs and documentaries (some linked to below). It’s hard to believe there is such a resurgence of interest. None of it is likely to change the legal status of Erik & Lyle Menendez — that will take another miracle — but the way I figure it is this: Any degree of validation and understanding for the Menendez brothers equals validation and understanding for me, a female “manslaughter juror” on the first trial. And who knows what the future may bring?
The prosecution-biased media….
…has controlled the narrative of this crime, the trials, and the aftermath. For nearly 30 years the public has been inundated with prosecution-biased headlines, articles, books, news stories, documentaries, comedy sketches, and dramatizations. The brothers have been vilified, and the two first-trial hung juries have been mocked.
It is only in the past year that the tide has turned in favor of the defense point of view, as reflected in NBC’s Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders 8-part series, and A&E’s “Erik Tells All” 5-part series. Yes, it really does take that long to tell the whole, true, story!
— Hazel Thornton, January 2018