In a rare interview from prison, convicted murderer Lyle Menendez tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue that he “still has sleepless nights” over the grisly 1989 shotgun slayings of his wealthy parents — which he committed with his brother, Erik Menendez.
“This tragedy will always be the most astounding and regrettable thing that has ever happened in my life,” Lyle says from California’s Mule Creek State Prison.
“You can’t escape the memories,” says Lyle, 49, “and I long ago stopped trying.”
The Menendez brothers’ first murder trial riveted the nation, thanks in part to it being televised.
Both brothers testified that they were armed with 12-gauge shotguns when they burst into the den of their home in Beverly Hills, California, and fatally shot their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, while the couple watched TV.
• Subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more about the Menendez brothers today.
The murders, the brothers claimed, came after years of sexual abuse by their father — abuse which they insisted was ignored by their mom.
But the prosecution argued their motive was financial, and the abuse claims were a cover to avoid the death penalty. Erik and Lyle embarked upon a lavish spending spree after the killings that involved expensive watches, cars and tennis lessons.
“This was all about money,” former L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Pamela Bozanich tells PEOPLE.
In 1996, three years after their first trial ended in a deadlock, the brothers were convicted of the first-degree murders of their parents and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Lyle, who was a Princeton University student at the time of the slayings, says he and Erik have spent the past 27 years behind bars “searching for meaning beyond the tragedy.”
Lyle has served as president of the inmate government for 15 years and runs a support group for fellow prisoners who have endured childhood sexual abuse and violence. Erik, who is incarcerated at a facility 500 miles away from his brother, devotes his time to terminally-ill inmates.
“I still carry the guilt,” says Lyle, who hasn’t been allowed to speak to Erik since 1996. “It will always be part of you. But it doesn’t have to define you.”