“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” begins its eight-episode run at 10 p.m. Tuesday evening on NBC with what executive producer Dick Wolf calls “a collective agenda,” a first for his many hours of programming.
“This is one of the crimes of the century,” Wolf said last month during NBC’s portion of the Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour.
“It’s absolutely horrible, but when you see the information, I think people are going to realize `They did it, but it wasn’t first-degree murder with no possibility of parole.’ They probably should have been out eight or 10 years ago because they should have been convicted of first-degree manslaughter.”
Wolf said evidence that brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez were molested by their parents Jose and Kitty, which was presented in the first trial, were “major mitigating circumstances” that should have resulted in manslaughter convictions instead of murder.
Fellow executive producer Rene Balcer, who wrote the scripts for the series, said “the defense argued that the boys had an unreasonable but sincere belief that their lives were in imminent danger from their parents because the secret was about to come out that the father had been molesting them.”
“Under that theory of imperfect self-defense, anything from a second- degree (murder) conviction to first-degree manslaughter is allowed,” Balcer said. “But this was (about) 25 years ago. What we understood about molestation, especially of boys, was primitive compared to what we understand now.”
In both trials — their first ended in a mistrial when jurors were unable to agree on convicting them of murder or lesser manslaughter charges — the brothers maintained in their testimony their father would hunt them down and kill them were they to reveal that he had been molesting them since they were children.
No proof was given to substantiate the claim.
“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders” stars four-time Emmy winner Edie Falco as Leslie Abramson, the brothers’ attorney. Balcer described the series as being about “how justice becomes influenced by issues that have nothing to do with the case, by political issues.”
“O.J. (Simpson) allegedly killed his ex-wife and an innocent bystander, gets charged with first-degree murder, but no death penalty,” Balcer said.
“These kids killed their abusive parents, they get charged with first- degree murder, with the death penalty. What is that about? That is about privilege.” Although the death penalty was sought, the judge went along with the jury’s recommendation for life without parole.
“Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” is at least television’s fourth depiction of the 1989 shotgun killings at the family’s Beverly Hills home, following made-for-television movies that aired in June on Lifetime and in 1994 on Fox and CBS.
An element in this production “that is probably not well known is the degree of implicit political collusion between the judge and the District Attorney’s Office in the second trial to assure a conviction,” Balcer said.
In a reference to the acquittals in the McMartin preschool trial and the cases against the Los Angeles Police Department officers in the Rodney King beating and Simpson, Balcer said, “The DA’s Office had a pretty huge chip on its shoulder and was definitely looking for a conviction by any means.”
In response to an email seeking comment, Shiara Davila-Morales, the chief of media relations for the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, wrote, “We politely decline to comment.”
—City News Service