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Series / Law & Order: True Crime

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Law & Order: True Crime is the sixth addition to the Law & Order franchise. Different from the other Law & Order shows, this series is an anthology series, focusing on a different true crime story for each season, similar to American Crime Story.

The first season focused on the Menendez Murders, and the investigation and trials that followed. In 1989, brothers Lyle, 21, and Erik Menendez, 18, murdered their wealthy parents José and Kitty Menendez in their Beverly Hills home. Edie Falco played their attorney, Leslie Abramson.

Law & Order: True Crime provides examples of:

  • The '80s: The murders happened in 1989.
  • The '90s: When the trials happened. It was known as the "trial of the century" before the OJ Simpson trial happened.
  • Abusive Parents: José especially. He held a very tight leash on his sons, held them up to standards they could never reach, and sexually abused them. Kitty knew about the abuse and ignored it, and also abused Lyle sexually as a young child.
  • All Abusers Are Male: Averted. The show paints Kitty Menendez as an abusive parent as well as José's mother allegedly abusing him as a child.
  • Amoral Attorney:
    • Judge Weisberg, during the second trial, would not allow much of the defense's testimony about abuse, which much of their defense was based on.
    • District Attorney Gil Garcetti wouldn't allow for a plea bargain despite having confessions from both brothers, as well as a hung jury in the first trial. Because the Los Angeles District Attorney's office was embarrassed after a series of high-profile criminal trials that ended in acquittals (McMartin, Rodney King, and OJ Simpson), winning this trial was important to them, so they did whatever they could to ensure a conviction.
  • Asshole Victim: José and Kitty Menendez, as the show depicts.
  • Bad Liar: How the prosecution, the judge and some of the jurors deemed the defendants during the trial. However, many of the prosecution's witnesses were caught lying as well.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Lyle was very protective of his younger brother Erik, and was upset when he found out he was still being abused. His lawyer in the first trial, Jill Lansing, brought this up in her closing argument, that Lyle was protecting his brother.
  • Big Brother Bully: However, as a child, Lyle himself abused Erik, imitating the behavior of his father onto his little brother.
  • Crime of Self-Defense: The defense argued that the murders were committed out of fear, after Lyle had threatened to expose his father for sexual abuse, the brothers thought their lives were in danger.
  • Confess in Confidence: After being unable to handle the stress of murdering his parents, Erik confesses to his therapist, Dr. Jerome Oziel, who later records their therapy sessions without their knowledge or consent, and breaks this confidence after Lyle allegedly threatened him about it (but there was no proof of this). He was using these taped confessions as a form of blackmail against the brothers.
  • Crusading Lawyer: Leslie Abramson. After the first case ended in a mistrial, the family did not have much money left to pay for their defense, so she offered to represent them for a much lower price.
  • Dodgy Toupee: Lyle wore one to cover up premature balding, and his mother ripped it off during an argument. This ended up being an important factor in the trial.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: When Lyle talks about the sexual abuse by the hands of his mother, nobody believes him.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Male on Male: How people reacted when the brothers talked about the abuse by their father, people did not take them seriously.
  • Downer Ending: The judge reverses many of his rulings from the first trial into the second trial, to ensure the conviction he wants: first-degree murder. Although the brothers are spared the death penalty, they still get sentenced to life in prison without parole, and put into separate prisons, having not seen one another since 1996.
  • Freudian Excuse: The brothers claimed sexual abuse during their trial, and they committed the murders out of fear.
  • Functional Addict: Kitty Menendez was an alcoholic and pill addict, but on the outside, seemed like a normal, loving mom. People who knew her said otherwise.
  • Greed: What the prosecutors said the motives for the murders were.
  • Gold Fever: One of the first things the brothers buy with their inheritance money? Gold Rolex watches. To wear to their parents funeral, no less.
  • Intimate Psychotherapy: Dr. Jerome Oziel was having an affair with one of his patients, Judalon Smyth.
  • Jerk Jock: In the first few episodes, this is how the brothers come off.
  • Men Act, Women Are: José was the one who committed most of the sexual abuse against the boys, while Kitty was passive about it and did nothing to protect her sons.
  • Might Makes Right: José used his power (not just parental power, but his monetary power as well) to abuse his sons.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: The parents were shot 14 times.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: How the brothers felt after their parents' murders, especially Erik.
  • Parental Incest: Lyle and Erik claimed that both of their parents sexually abused them at different points in their lives. Jose abused Lyle from ages 6-8, and Erik from when he was 6 up until the murders when he was 18. Kitty also abused Lyle sexually as a pre-teen. After the verdict, their aunt Marta reveals to Abramson that her mother abused José as a child as well.
  • Parental Favoritism: José favored Lyle for being older and more dominant than his brother, while Kitty favored Erik for being more similar to her.
  • Parental Substitute: Abramson becomes a bit of this to the brothers before, during and even after the trial for a while, especially for Erik.
  • Police Are Useless: The police could have caught the Menendez brothers on day 1, by testing them for gun-shot residue right there at the crime scene (which they would normally do at a crime scene like that). Because they did not, the lead detective on the case, Leslie Zoeller, had a vendetta against the brothers, largely to cover up his own incompetence.
  • Self-Made Orphan: The Menendez Brothers, one of the most famous cases in history.
  • Spoiled Brat: The media and the prosecution painted the brothers as spoiled rich kids who killed their parents for money. The first few episodes show some of this behavior, before learning more about the motives behind the murders.
  • The Stool Pigeon: Judalon Smyth, the girlfriend of Dr. Oziel. She goes to the police after he breaks up with her, not because she wanted to report a murder, but because she wanted to ruin her boyfriend's reputation and report his malpractice.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: This series paints the brothers in a more sympathetic light compared to previous works and publications about them.
  • Tough Love: Much of José's parenting style, to say the least.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Basically everything bad that can happen to the Menendez brothers happens. Their parents sexually abuse them from a young age, they feel they have nobody to turn to. After their parents instill this fear in them that they were about to be killed by their own parents, they lash out in self-defense. Unable to hold this secret, they confide in a psychologist about the crime (but not the abuse), who then ends up recording their therapy sessions without their knowledge as a form of blackmail. When their psychologist's girlfriend goes to the police about it after he breaks up with her, they finally get arrested. The brothers and their lawyers then spend the next two years trying to keep these tapes out of trial, and although they initially succeed, the judge ends up allowing the tapes anyways. Then after hung juries in the first trial, the judge and the district attorney gut much of their defense and corroborating testimony about abuse, and disallowing the imperfect self-defense instruction, leading to their convictions of first degree murder. They then were sentenced to life without parole, and put into separate prisons on top of that.
  • Women Are Wiser: The female jurors were more willing to believe and accept the sexual abuse, while most of the male jurors refused to believe the idea that boys could be abused by their parents. During the jury deliberation scenes, the men were quick to dismiss the allegations, even praising the parents at some points, getting angry and emotional, yelling and getting physical if someone disagreed with them. The women on the other hand, were more willing to discuss the matters of the case calmly and with reason.