Not long after the two brothers had been arrested for gunning down their parents in their multimillion-dollar mansion in Beverly Hills, 21-year-old Lyle Menendez put pen to paper to tell his brother what was on his mind.
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In a 17-page letter in 1990, Menendez told his teen brother, Erik, that he wanted to stay together.
“My greatest fear is that we would not end up in the same prison down the road,” he wrote, according to a 1996 article in the Los Angeles Times. “I think if Dad could give us one piece of advice that night in August, it would be never to abandon each other, no matter what the circumstance.”
After years in criminal court, the Menendez brothers were convicted in 1996 of murdering their parents and sentenced to life behind bars.
The two were sent to the same California processing center, then split up, according to the Times. Lyle was taken to a prison near Tehachapi, and Erik was taken to a prison near Sacramento, 100 miles away. At the time, a spokeswoman for California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told the newspaper that authorities were complying with protocol to keep crime partners apart.
“This will make their life sentences even more miserable,” Deputy Public Defender Terri Towery told the newspaper at the time. “I think it’s really, really sad and I’m sorry that our society has become so vindictive.”
Now, for the first time in more than two decades, the Menendez brothers are back in the same place — a housing unit at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility outside San Diego, where the inmates are “able to interact with one another as they pursue rehabilitation opportunities,” corrections department spokeswoman Terry Thornton told The Washington Post.
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Lyle, now 50, was transferred in February to the prison, where his brother had been for years, Thornton said. Then on Wednesday, she said, Erik, 47, was moved into the same housing unit at the prison where his brother is held.
It has been nearly 30 years since the Menendezes’ lives unraveled on a Sunday night in August 1989.
Authorities said the two brothers had bought two 12-gauge shotguns and two movie tickets for “Licence to Kill” — their alibi, according to the Los Angeles Times. Then, police said, the brothers opened fire on their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, as the couple watched TV in the library in their Beverly Hills home.
Erik Menendez initially said he and his brother had been out that night and, when they returned home and discovered their slain parents, “I was going through convulsions. I had never seen my dad helpless before. When we first walked into the room, I said, ‘No!’ ” according to a family profile published in the Times.
Lyle said that when he saw the scene, “I just entered into my dad’s mode” and took control of the family’s affairs.
Prosecutors said their father, a 45-year-old Hollywood executive, was struck six times, once in the back of his head; their mother was hit 10 times, including in the face, according to the Times.
“I’ve been in this business 33 years and I’ve heard of few killings as savage as this one,” Marvin D. Iannone, then the Beverly Hills police chief, told the Associated Press in 1990.
The double-murder case captured international attention as two wealthy young men, who had lived privileged lives filled with private school education and amateur tennis tours, faced a future in prison, or no future at all.
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The trial started in 1993 and ended in two deadlocked juries in 1994. The case was retried in 1995.
Throughout the years-long legal saga, attorneys for the brothers alleged that they had been neglected by their mother and emotionally and sexually abused by their father. Erik’s attorney, Leslie Abramson, argued that her client “could not take the worst of it anymore” and “went to his frankly equally screwed-up brother for help,” according to the AP.
“This is what happened,” Abramson told jurors, pointing to gruesome photos from the crime scene.
But prosecutors said the brothers, who were described by those who knew them as confident and somewhat cocky, killed their wealthy parents to inherit their large fortune.
“Erik feared, all right,” prosecutor Lester Kuriyama told the jurors, according to the AP. “He feared he’d have to get off his butt and work like the rest of us.”
In 1996, the brothers were convicted of first-degree murder.
The Los Angeles Times reported at the time:
As the verdicts were announced shortly before noon, Erik Menendez, 25, grasped the hand of defense attorney Leslie Abramson, looked toward the courtroom ceiling and then cast his eyes downward. Another defense attorney, Barry Levin, draped his arm across Erik’s shoulders to comfort him.
Older brother Lyle Menendez, 28, rested his chin in his hand, keeping his dark eyes fixed straight ahead.
Weeks later, after much deliberation, the brothers were sentenced to life in prison — avoiding the death penalty.
“It’s just a tremendous relief when you hear those words … life without parole,” Lyle’s attorney, Charles Gessler, said during a news conference at the time, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Lyle is relieved because he wants to live.”
The Menendez brothers were processed at the North Kern State Prison in Delano, west of the Sequoia National Forest. Thornton, the spokeswoman for the corrections department, said that was the last time the brothers were in the same facility, until now.
When asked about the brothers’ reunion, Thornton said she could not comment on the inmates’ personal lives. But she confirmed that the two men now have access to each other.