Speaking out in a new documentary special on A&E, The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, premiering Thursday night and exclusively previewed above, Erik details a version of the much-disputed explanation that the brothers have made for themselves for decades: that their parents’ murders were essentially in self-defense, after years of abuse.
“I am 100 percent sure that they fabricated their defense,” Pamela Bozanich, a prosecutor on their case, said in 2015. “I’m not 90 percent sure; I’m 100 percent sure.”
While Erik has spoken out before, including to PEOPLE in 2005, he says the A&E interviews are the most comprehensive he has ever given. (Lyle, too, has become more outspoken in recent months.)
For the docuseries, Erik talked to Menendez Murders executive producer Nancy Saslow in a series of 12-minute prison phone calls over several months.
Describing the night of the killings, after 10 p.m. on Aug. 20, 1989, Erik says that he and Lyle got into an argument with their parents at their Beverly Hills, California, home.
The fight then escalated, he claims.
“I was in the foyer,” Erik recalls in the preview clip. “Lyle was coming out of the den and my mom was following him and saying, ‘You’re not going out,’ and Lyle said, ‘Why?’ And my mom said, ‘Because I said so,’ and then my dad came out and he told my mom to shut up. He looked at Lyle and said, ‘You’re not going out.’ He told me to go to my room and he told me he would be there in a minute.”
And then, Lyle has said in court, he told his father: “You’re not going to touch my brother.”
“We had a big argument,” said Lyle, whose testimony is also excerpted in A&E’s series. “I was saying that he wasn’t going to touch Eric.”
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“Dad, he charged at Lyle and he yelled, ‘I do what I want in my family. He’s not your little brother, he’s my son,’ ” Erik says in the A&E series.
Lyle claimed their mother “said that I had ruined the family, then my dad came out and took her by the arm and they walked into the den and then my dad closed the doors. I was sure that that was it.”
“I realized that they had been waiting for Eric to get home like I had been,” he said. “And I just freaked out. I thought they were going ahead with their plan to kill us.”
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Lyle said he “ran upstairs” to tell Erik “it was happening now” as Erik says he was grappling with his own heightened emotions.
“I felt like my heart was going to explode, it was just pounding, and I felt like — I felt like my life was over right then,” he says.
Lyle has said he felt similarly that night, and has described how he felt after calling 911 to claim someone else had murdered their parents. “I think I was just absolutely broken down with stress,” he told Dateline in an episode earlier this month.
The subsequent investigation showed that Erik and Lyle — 18 and 21 at the time, respectively, and now 47 and 49 — were armed with shotguns when they burst into the den of the family home while their parents watched TV.
By the time the gunfire was over, the pair had shot their parents more than a dozen times. They fired on father José at point-blank range and kept shooting at Kitty, their mom, as she attempted to flee.
Prosecutors said the brutal slayings were part of a larger scheme to get the Menendez parents’ $14 million estate. But the brothers claimed, in detail, that they acted in self-defense after years of abuse.
Jurors were unconvinced and Erik and Lyle were convicted of first-degree murder in 1996, after which they were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All premieres Thursday (10 p.m. ET) on A&E.