Some people saw them as spoiled Beverly Hills monsters that killed their parents for money. Others saw Erik and Lyle Menendez as good boys who acted out of fear of a powerful and abusive father.
The Menendez brothers' trial transfixed millions of Americans who tuned in to watch the riveting courtroom drama play out. For better or worse, the young and handsome brothers became celebrities.
Thousands of people wrote to Erik and Lyle in the Los Angeles County Jail. One of those people was a middle-class wife and mother from Minnesota who years later would shock everyone who'd ever known her by becoming Mrs. Erik Menendez.
On Aug. 20, 1989, 21-year-old Lyle and 18-year-old Erik burst into the family den and killed their father Jose, a successful Cuban-American business executive, and their mother, Kitty.They used shotguns they had bought days before the crime.
Prosecutors said the boys' motive was pure greed — Erik and Lyle simply wanted to get their hands on the family fortune.
But Erik told a rapt courtroom that he and his brother believed they were about to be murdered themselves, because their father would rather see them dead than have a shocking family secret revealed. The secret, according to the boys' testimony, was that their father had sexually abused them. Erik said he had been abused for many years.
The initial six-month trial of Lyle and Erik ended Jan. 13, 1994. Tammi said she recalls watching with her heart in her throat as the jury announced it was unable to reach a verdict. Half of the jurors believed, as Tammi did, that the boys should be convicted of manslaughter because of the abuse they had suffered. The others thought the boys had done it for the money and voted for first-degree murder.
Judge Stanley Weisberg declared a mistrial.
The second trial proceeded far differently from the first: No television cameras were permitted in the courtroom, Judge Weisberg reversed himself and excluded the testimony of dozens of defense witnesses, perhaps most importantly, he decided not to give jurors the choice to vote for a manslaughter conviction.
The two were convicted of first-degree murder on March 20, 1996, and sentenced to two consecutive life prison terms without the possibility of parole.
Erik Menendez said he felt "tremendous remorse" for the slayings in a 1996 interview with ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what happened and wish I could take that moment back."
Erik never mentioned his nearly three-year correspondence with Tammi in that interview. In fact, though the marriage lasted only briefly, his brother Lyle was then just days away from marrying former model Anna Erickson. In that interview, Lyle had told Walters, "the exchange of love and sharing" kept him in touch with himself and kept him from becoming hardened by prison life.
Ironically, on the day that Walters' 1996 interview with Erik and Lyle was broadcast, Tammi's husband of nine years died. It was several months before she wrote to Erik again. This time, she said, she was the one looking for support.
Though she had never met him, Tammi said she trusted him. "There was just something about him. Maybe it was because he was incarcerated and I knew that he … was my safety place. He was very safe for me," she said.