Menendez: 30 years ago

January 29, 1994 press conference in Leslie Abramson’s law office.

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.

Press Conference

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.

Headlines

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.

Headlines January 29-31, 1994

 

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.

Resources

Enough is Enough: The Menendez Tapestry (4 min. video)

30 years as a Menendez juror (1 min. video)

“30 years ago today” TikTok campaign

Website: http://menendezjuror.com

Book: Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menendez Juror

Social media: @menendezjuror on TikTok, Instagram, Twitter

What is Your Verdict? (flow chart)

 

Please share this post on social media and with anyone else you’d like to enlighten about the case!

Please leave a comment below…..that is, unless you are un-supportive of me or the brothers, in which case please refrain from commenting. Thank you!

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7 Comments

  1. Seana Turner on February 5, 2024 at 8:49 am

    What a wild, and sad, experience. I think the results would be different had it all happened today. I didn’t know the jury had split on gender lines. While I am not intimately familiar with the case, I imagine I would have landed where you did.

    • Hazel Thornton on February 6, 2024 at 2:13 pm

      I only wish I’d come up with my “What is Your Verdict?” flow chart DURING deliberations, instead of 20 years later! (It may not have changed anything, but would have made discussions easier, I think.)

  2. Julie Bestry on February 5, 2024 at 8:02 pm

    The more I learn about all of this, not just your experience on the jury but about all that I didn’t hear when half paying attention to the media circus decades ago, the more my eyes have been opened to the intricacies of the case. The more I’ve learned about “the sins of the father,” especially, the more disheartened I am for this complex mismanagement of justice. Thanks for being our eyes and ears!

    • Hazel Thornton on February 6, 2024 at 2:26 pm

      The only way to pay FULL attention was to be in the courtroom every single day. And even then both first juries were hung! The second trial was not only rigged, but there were no cameras in the courtroom either. In both trials the general public was dependent on the prosecution-biased media for updates.

  3. Julie Stobbe on February 6, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience on this jury. It must weigh heavy on your mind. I remember hearing about this case but not following it intensely perhaps because I am in Canada. It seems very difficult to have justice because each case is so individual yet societal laws are applied generally. Thank you for helping to give justice to this situation. Many people would leave it in frustration.

  4. Hazel Thornton on February 6, 2024 at 2:33 pm

    Speaking of “many people would leave it in frustration”, think about this: In the first trial there were two juries of 12, each with 6 alternates. Same for the second trial (but only 1 jury + alternates). That makes a total of 54 jurors, of which less than a handful are still speaking, agreeing to interviews, or can even be found. Why? Because it’s hard! I didn’t talk about it for 20 years, partly because there was such a long stretch where no one was interested, but also because my book was out of print (republished in 2016 and available ever since on Amazon). It’s a complicated case and no soundbite, or bunch of soundbites, can do it justice. Now I can speak freely, and if anyone wants more there’s my book, my website, social media, etc. to fill in the gaps between soundbites.

  5. Janet Schiesl on February 6, 2024 at 8:29 pm

    What an experience, I’m sure it was different back then than it is now. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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