"Law & Order" has been known to take stories from headlines, but they've always done so with some liberties. Now, Dick Wolf and his franchise are tackling the Menendez trial, one of the most high-profile murder cases in the past 30 years. What makes this case so interesting for true crime fans, however, isn't just the crime itself but rather all the questions people still have decades later ahead of tonight's premiere at 10 p.m. on NBC.
Were they the victims of abuse?
This is probably the biggest question. The core of defense attorney Leslie Abramson's defense was that Lyle and Erik Menendez were driven to murder after a lifetime of abuse by their parents. Their father, José, was known to be strict and very controlling and the defense claimed that the two were also the victim of sexual abuse, but the only evidence that was circumstantial. Erik and Lyle had never discussed it with anybody ahead of the trial.
Who was the mastermind?
The going theory is that Lyle, the older of the brothers, was the mastermind behind the killings. He's normally seen by experts and observers as somebody with a bad temper and with sociopathic tendencies (although he's never been diagnosed). Erik confessed to the killings in a session with his therapist, L. Jerome Oziel, but Lyle eventually threatened Oziel. However, Erik wrote a screenplay before the murders about a rich man who murders his parents for money.
What was the real reason?
The on-the-record reason is that Lyle and Erik killed their parents after years of sexual and physical abuse, but since that evidence is circumstantial, the jury is still out on the real motivations, so to speak. Another going theory is that the brothers did it for money, since both spent a lot in the months after the murders -- almost $700,000 according to Vanity Fair.
What's the deal with the guns?
Erik testified that he and his brother went to a Santa Monica store to purchase handguns for protection, yet were told there was a 15-day waiting period. However, in cross examination, lawyers said that the store the duo claimed to visit had stopped selling guns three years before the murders took place. Erik and Lyle then bought shotguns.
Did the authorities screw up?
The police didn't immediately test the brothers for gunshot residue at the crime scene, which is one strike against authorities, but there is also suspicion that the judge and the District Attorney were colluding with each other. Since many believed the abuse defense, it always confused people, including Abramson, how the two got life sentences.
Did Abramson lie?
Abramson certainly became as big a part of the Menendez story as the brothers themselves. However, following the main trial, she became the target of accusations that she tampered with evidence. Dr. William Vicary, Erik's psychiatrist, specifically said that he had deleted notes of his sessions with the accused "under pressure by the defense." The State Bar of California closed its investigation because of insufficient evidence.
Will Abramson or others watch the show?
Well according to Abramson, who spoke with TheWrap ahead of the premiere, that's a no. But what about the brothers? Both are still alive.