Erik Menendez wants to set the record straight on what compelled him to murder his parents on August 20, 1989.
Erik and his brother Lyle gunned down their father, Hollywood executive Jose Menendez, as well as their mother, former beauty queen Kitty Menendez, at close range inside their Beverly Hills mansion. Over the years, the brutal slayings have inspired TV movies, books and even a “Law & Order” miniseries. The criminals are currently separated and serving life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Erik, now 47, is opening up for the first time in over a decade for an A&E limited series, titled “The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All.” Producer Nancy Saslow, who interviewed Erik for the special, told Fox News he was eager to tell his side of the story.
“The national narrative of what people walked away with… was that these were two Beverly Hills rich kids who killed their parents for money,” said Saslow. “I think Erik wants at least an opportunity to have people take a second look… That is not at all his truth, and he wanted the opportunity to not only explain, but I think really open up the conversation for more understanding of what he says he went through.”
Getting Erik to speak candidly about why he killed his parents was no easy task.
“Erik is in prison at a place called Donovan Correctional Facility, which is right on the border with Mexico in San Diego,” she explained. “As part of his incarceration, it’s not like he gets a lot of access to the phone. Most inmates don’t. So Erik and I spoke over quite a long period of time for several months in more or less 12-13 minute increments.
"Occasionally he would bargain with some other inmate for a little extra time… [And] there were times and recollections [from his childhood] that were so difficult, so painful that we would essentially lose him for a couple of days. He just wouldn’t be able to hop back on and talk with us… And I think we could all understand that if we were reliving for an audience the worst period of your life.”
In the series, Erik described in jaw-dropping detail how he was allegedly molested by his father from age six until 18. The reported sexual abuse both brothers endured would ultimately compel them to retaliate out of fear, he claimed. While the brothers made a similar claim in court, a jury disagreed and convicted them both of first-degree murder.
“What happened in that moment started when he was six years old,” said Saslow. “This was a product not necessarily just of years and years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. This was a crime committed out of fear… When you have been told over and over again that if you tell, you would be killed. I think the message for them is that they didn’t kill their parents for money. They didn’t need money. One of the things their parents never did was deny them money.”
Erik claimed both brothers attempted to tell relatives about the alleged abuse, but were too afraid to face their father if the truth somehow came to light. Erik also said his father allegedly threatened death if anyone knew what was happening in their home.
“When Lyle was a young boy, their cousin Diane had come to live with the Menendez family and she slept downstairs,” Saslow alleged. “And Lyle came down one night and asked if he could sleep in the other bed. She said, ‘Why? You have your own room.’ He said, ‘I just don’t like it up there became my dad has been touching me.’ Diane, who was 16 at the time, went up and got Kitty Menendez and told her.
"And Kitty grabbed Lyle’s hand, took him back upstairs and they never spoke about it again. Erik believes [the abuse] then stopped with Lyle at that point and his dad moved on with him… But these kids were not going to tell. They were too afraid. They had nowhere to go… The parents were revered in their family. They were the stars of their family.”
Saslow also stressed Erik expressed remorse over the brutal slayings and has wondered over the years what he could have done differently to stop the alleged abuse.
“There are a number of times when he says unequivocally, ‘I wish I could take this back. I wish I could go back and not have done that,’” she explained. “It pains him. He misses his mom. He misses his dad. He loved them both, and he wishes that he could take it back. He wishes he could talk to that really mixed up kid who made that decision and pulled that trigger.”
But Erik hasn’t considered what it would be like to be free again. Instead, he has made the most of his life behind bars. He’s even managed to develop a romantic relationship with pen pal Tammi Ruth Saccoman, whom he married in 1999.
“His life is work,” said Saslow. “He’s had several jobs in prison. He works at construction, he works at a number of other things. He facilitates a men’s group, which is more or less a hospice group… He paints a great deal. His paintings are quite extraordinary, especially for someone who is untrained."
However, Saslow made it clear Erik's attempt to move on doesn't eliminate the fact he commited a terrible crime against his own parents.
"I don’t want to paint him as Saint Erik, but I will tell you, this is someone I have heard the California Department of Corrections [say] they have no problems with [him]… basically a model prisoner," she said. "I think he does what he can… to find some sort of peace.”
As for Lyle, Saslow added the pair have limited their communication over the years.
“There are letters that they can send back and forth,” she said. “I don’t know the frequency or the volume, but I sense it’s been less over the years.”
For the series, Saslow isn’t expecting the audience to forgive Erik for committing such heinous crimes. Rather, she hopes it will prompt them to hear from him directly what may have caused him to forever change his life on that fateful evening.
“He certainly talks about regret and remorse and the pain he caused,” she said. “… It’s not like he hangs up the phone and there’s a whole support system there. He’s in prison. It was extremely difficult to get that interview… [but] he hung in there. That was not an easy ask, given his circumstances and given what we were asking him to relive.”
"The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All" premieres November 30 on A&E.