When Erik and Lyle Menendez were first accused of murdering their parents Jose and Mary "Kitty" Menendez back in the early '90s, the brothers claimed self-defense. Their reasoning? Jose had been sexually abusing his sons for years, while Kitty turned a blind eye. Per Erik's testimony, the brothers lived in fear that their father would kill them to prevent the dark family secret from being revealed.
It was a defense that earned the brothers a mistrial in 1994, with some in the jury advocating for a lesser charge in light of the abuse claims, before the judge in their second trial ruled the evidence regarding the abuse wouldn't be allowed in the courtroom. And it's a defense that just may have you reconsidering your own thought about the brothers after watching ABC News' two-hour documentary, Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers—American Sons, American Murderers.
"The passage of time changes your perspective. People were so angry at the Menendez brothers for claiming abuse that they just didn't want to hear it. I always said if the Menendez brothers were the Menendez sisters, they'd be free today because people can understand that girls are touched by men, including sometimes their fathers. We don't want to believe that about boys," ABC News correspondent Terry Moran told E! News ahead of the special's big premiere. (Moran covered the trial for CourtTV in the '90s.) "And they had corroborating evidence. And people were very angry about it. Our attitudes today about sexuality and about abuse have changed and matured, and I think people watching this story may come to have more empathy for the Menendez brothers than they did at the time."
ABC's two-hour special promises to uncover the hidden clues of the Menendez family's "descent into hell," including never-before-seen home movies and photos, testimony of those in the Menendez inner circle, and, perhaps juiciest of all, an interview with Lyle himself, the first in 20 years. So, how did the network convince the convict to break his silence?
"When I covered the trial, Lyle Menendez occasionally would call me in my hotel from the LA County jail, trying to spin me. So he was always a little more forward, I think, with the press. And he was always a little more manipulative," Moran revealed. "I don't know why he chose to call us and talk to us. I'm glad he did because you get a sense an older, a more mature, a person with still profound regret every day. And yet, someone who's trying to get on with his life."
As Moran teased, the more viewers learn about the Menendez family during the special, the more they'll likely become as transfixed as audiences were back when the trial dominated the news cycle over two decades ago. "This is a story about what can go wrong in a family. All the great dramas are about families, and about young people in a family who can't take it anymore. What they say happened to them, they couldn't deal with," he said. "It's a ripping incredible story that, the more you look at it, the more you're fascinated by it, the more you're troubled by it, the more it haunts you."
For more from Moran, including why he thinks this case captivated the country like it did, be sure to check out the videos above.
Truth and Lies: The Menendez Brothers—American Sons, American Murderers premieres Thursday, Jan. 5 at 9 p.m. on ABC.