Menendez: 30 years ago
30 years ago this week, in late January 1994, both juries were declared hopelessly deadlocked in the first Menendez brothers murder trial.
Who knew that 30 years later they would still be behind bars?Who knew that 30 years later the Menendez brothers would still be behind bars? Enough is enough! Set them free. Click To Tweet
Two Hung Juries
I always say that Erik’s jury deliberated for a month — rather than reporting days or hours — because that’s how much of our lives was spent on it. The trial (including a month of jury selection) occupied our brains every waking moment, including weekends, for seven months altogether. We exhausted every avenue of reconciliation before reluctantly giving up and allowing the judge to declare a mistrial.
Lyle’s jury took two weeks longer to admit defeat, in part because they were interrupted by the 8.7 Northridge earthquake. Well, most everyone was asleep at 4:00 a.m, when they were rudely shaken out of their beds, but deliberations were delayed briefly as a result and had to move to a different location.
Both juries were split roughly along gender lines, with men leaning towards murder and women leaning towards manslaughter. Erik’s jurors were evenly divided — 6 men, 6 women. An unfortunate initial show of hands started us down a path of no return that no amount of deliberating, arguing, fist pounding on the table, or name-calling could save us from. It was later (and is still, to this day) reported that we couldn’t DECIDE on a verdict. Oh, we each decided, all right. But we couldn’t AGREE on a verdict.
Erik’s jury was not allowed to speak publicly about the trial until Lyle’s jury was finished deliberating. By then the women on Erik’s jury had attended a dinner at defense attorney Leslie Abramson’s house (something that used to be the first thing every reporter asked me about), and she had arranged for some of us to speak to the press when the time came.
On Saturday, 1/29/94, Leslie Abramson, “her girls”, and a handful of trusted journalists (trusted to be fair and not prosecution-biased, that is), including Robert Rand and Linda Deutsch, gathered in her law office for a press conference. News of Erik’s jury room gender split made headlines across the country on Sunday, 1/30/94, but I didn’t know that until many years later.
Fast forward 20 years (or so), to a time when I had a subscription to Newspapers.com. As any good genealogist would, I searched for both elusive and prominent ancestors; my grandparents; my parents; and myself. I found a few articles I hadn’t seen before — my 8th birthday party in small town Cayuga, Indiana; the new preacher’s family coming to Boise, Idaho; one of my Junior High piano recitals; and — wait, what’s this? Dozens and dozens of articles dated January 30, 1994.
Sure, I knew it was a big trial and had been covered by Court TV and all. But I had no idea how many newspapers across the country had published stories about the two hung juries and specifically about the gender split on Erik’s jury. They mostly ran a handful of the same few articles, because there had been only a handful of reporters at the press conference. And most of them used the photo I’ve included above. But some newspapers printed longer articles, and included different photos. And they all had different headlines.
Menendez 30 years later
Here are just a few highlights — good and bad — of the past 30 years:
- My trial diary was published in 1995, and was almost immediately eclipsed by the shadow of the O.J. Simpson double murder trial, the new “trial of the century”.
- The second trial, in 1995-6, was successfully and cruelly engineered by the judge and the DA to guarantee murder convictions. (As described in the “20 years later” edition of my book.)
- A resurgence of public interest began in 2016 and continues today, triggering what I call The Menendez Miracles, a post containing more highlights!
- A new habeas corpus petition was filed in May 2023 to reopen the case. It is still being considered by a judge as I write.
The women in the first trial did not see the brothers as innocent. But most of us gave them the benefit of our reasonable doubt that they had killed out of fear (imperfect self-defense) and had not planned it (murder). The burden of proof was on the prosecution, after all, to prove the elements of murder. The burden was not on the defense prove the various types of abuse alleged by the brothers and corroborated by a parade of family members, coaches, teachers, and expert witnesses.
The maximum penalty for manslaughter would have been 11 years per count (per parent killed), or 22 years total (per brother). Given that they were arrested in March 1990, that means they’ve been behind bars for nearly 34 years. Enough is enough! They should have been released years ago.
Enough is Enough: The Menendez Tapestry (4 min. video)
30 years as a Menendez juror (1 min. video)
“30 years ago today” TikTok campaign
Social media: @menendezjuror on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter
What is Your Verdict? (flow chart)
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- Hazel Thornton is an author, genealogist, and retired home and office organizer.
- Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror
- What’s a Photo Without the Story? How to Create Your Family Legacy
- Go With the Flow! The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook
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- Copyright 2024 by Hazel Thornton, Organized for Life and Beyond