After spending 31 years in prison, convicted murderers Lyle and Erik Menéndez have accumulated an army of supporters that emerged from the hit app TikTok. The power young users pose in the media age is revolutionary to the point where the case could potentially be reopened after decades.
The Menéndez Brothers case had been closed and hadn’t seen any development in years, and we have none other than “TikTokers'' to thank for the sudden attention the brothers have been getting all over social media in the past few months. They are referred to as “The new Menéndez defenders” and among them have attracted 1 billion views through videos using the “hashtags ”#JusticeForTheMenendezBrothers and #FreeTheMenendezBrothers which in turn have raised the attention of news reporters and people involved in the case, raising the question: Are the Menéndez brothers getting a new trial?
From left to right: Lyle Menéndez, Kitty Menéndez (mother), Jose Menéndez (father), Erik Menéndez
If you’ve never heard of the Menéndez Brothers case, it is crucial to understand the basic facts that occurred leading to the arrest of brothers Erik and Lyle Menéndez.
Erik (now 50 years old) and Lyle (now 53 years old) grew up in Southern California as sons of an incredibly wealthy couple, Jose and Kitty Menéndez. On the evening of August 20th,1989, Erik (aged 18) and Lyle (aged 21) entered the living room of their Beverly Hills mansion and shot both their parents each with 12-gauge shotguns. At first, the brothers attempted to make it look like it was an organized crime and that they were merely innocent kids grieving their parent’s loss. The police were not hesitant to look into that possibility given that their dad was a wealthy man who had to have had some enemies, and the thought of two brothers killing their own parents seemed inconceivable. However, eventually, it became clear that the brothers had in fact committed the crime. They were arrested in 1990 and were tried separately with different juries for each brother, but that ended up resulting in a mistrial which later led to them being tried once more, this time together. The verdict convicted the brothers of murder in the first degree and sentenced them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Currently, the brothers are imprisoned at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California.
During the trial, the brothers gained a lot of public sympathy when the defense stated that they committed the crime after enduring years of sexual and emotional abuse inflicted upon them by their father Jose Menéndez. However, many news headlines and documentary programs followed the well-known “rich kids killing their parents for inheritance money” storyline.
For 31 years life in prison for the brother’s couldn’t have changed all that much, but beyond bars where social media has gained power to alter the justice system, a lot has changed.
When typing “Menéndez brothers” into the search bar on TikTok, hundreds of videos flood the screen.
A large part of the images/video clips included in these Tiktok videos show the shocking and upsetting nature of Erik and Lyle’s testimonies. Videos of them explaining to the courtroom the instances of sexual abuse they had suffered throughout their childhood with tears in their eyes and pure rage in their expressions with depressing music in the background.
The arguments made by the defenders center around not the fact that they killed their parents, but the backstory behind it. Many argue that the killings were self-defense in response to years of sexual abuse and “demand” that the case be looked at in a different light, especially nowadays where society is much more open about issues relating to domestic violence and sexual abuse compared to when the crime took place in 1989.
In a matter of months, the Menéndez Brothers went from being an old tale of true crime to a viral social media sensation. Today’s TikTok activists may be teenagers, but a few million likes may prove that they in fact know what they are talking about and have the power to shift the justice system.