Ex-member of Menudo says he was raped by father of the Menendez brothers
It was a gripping case that was one of the first to draw a daily national audience to a televised criminal trial. Two affluent young men were charged three decades ago with murdering their parents by marching into the den of their Beverly Hills mansion with shotguns and unloading more than a dozen rounds on their mother and father while they sat on the couch.
Lyle and Erik Menendez were convicted in 1996 of murdering their mother, Mary Louise, a former beauty queen who went by Kitty, and their father, Jose, a music executive, despite defense arguments that the brothers had been sexually molested for years by their father and had killed out of fear.
Now Roy Rosselló, a former member of Menudo, the boy band of the 1980s that became a global sensation, is coming forward with an allegation that he was sexually assaulted as a teenager by Jose Menendez.
The assertion was aired Tuesday in a segment on the “Today” show that outlined some of the findings of a three-part docuseries scheduled to air on Peacock, the streaming service from NBCUniversal, beginning May 2. The series, “Menendez + Menudo: Boys Betrayed,” based on reporting by journalists Robert Rand and Nery Ynclan, is largely focused on Rosselló. He describes an encounter with Menendez but also recounts separate incidents of sexual abuse that he said were inflicted on him by one of Menudo’s former managers when he sang as part of the group.
“I know what he did to me in his house,” Rosselló said of Menendez in the clip of the docuseries that aired on “Today.”
It is unclear what impact, if any, Rosselló’s account will have on efforts by defense lawyers to secure a new trial for the brothers, whose prior appeals have been denied.
The credibility of the brothers’ account and the admissibility of defense arguments that pointed to sex abuse as a mitigating factor in the case were central to the criminal trials that unfolded after the discovery of the murders in 1989. The first prosecution, which began in 1993, ended with two hung juries and mistrials. When the brothers were retried together two years later, they were found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, where they remain.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the cases in the 1990s, did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Tuesday morning.
The “Today” report previewed interviews with Rosselló in which he is said to describe a visit to the Menendez home in New Jersey when he was 14 — a visit during which he said Jose Menendez drugged and raped him.
“That’s the man here that raped me,” he said in a clip of the docuseries, pointing to Menendez in a photo. “That’s the pedophile.”
He is also heard saying, “It’s time for the world to know the truth.”
Menendez was affiliated with Menudo because he had signed the group as an executive of RCA Records.
Rosselló has previously described being sexually abused as part of Menudo. Others have also said they were verbally, physically, emotionally and sexually abused as part of the band in the four-part HBO Max docuseries “Menudo: Forever Young.” No one has ever been criminally charged in connection to the allegations.
One of Kitty Menendez’s brothers, Milton Andersen, 88, used an expletive to describe Rosselló’s allegation as flatly false and said the Menendez brothers should not be set free.
Andersen said his brother-in-law was not a sexual predator and objected to the idea that the new accusation could in any way lead to Lyle and Erik Menendez having their case reexamined.
“They do not deserve to walk on the face of this earth after killing my sister and my brother-in-law,” he said.
The Menendez murders drew wide public attention, in part because the brothers had been children of affluence. Lyle Menendez was attending Princeton at the time of the killings. Erik Menendez was pursuing a career in professional tennis. Prosecutors presented them as coldblooded killers, interested in getting unfettered access to their parents’ $14 million estate.
Jose Menendez was shot five times, including once in the back of the head. By the brothers’ own testimony, after they had discharged several rounds, Lyle Menendez went to his car, reloaded his 12-gauge shotgun and pushed the muzzle of his gun to his mother’s cheek and shot her again.
The police initially believed that the slayings were tied to the Mafia. But investigators turned their attention to Lyle Menendez, who was 22 at the time of his arrest, and Erik Menendez, 19, after the brothers bought Rolex watches, condominiums, sports cars and other items in the months after the murders.
Although they initially denied any role in the killings, they became primary suspects after the discovery of taped recordings of conversations the brothers had with their psychologist in which the brothers explained what had led them to kill their parents.
As the first trial neared, the brothers’ defense lawyers came forward with their own explanation for the crimes: that Lyle Menendez had confronted his father about the family’s sex abuse secrets, that his father had become enraged and threatening, and that the brothers had killed out of concern for their lives.
The defense argued that the murder charges should be reduced to manslaughter because the defendants had honestly, if incorrectly, believed that their lives were imminently threatened.
The trials, which played out on Court TV, ushered in a new era of televised courtroom drama. At least some jurors in the first set of trials believed the brothers, who had movingly testified of the abuse they suffered. The testimony left the jurors split between manslaughter and murder verdicts and contributed to the impasse that led to the mistrials.
When another jury convened to decide the brothers’ fate, the circumstances had changed. The judge banned cameras in court and severely restricted witness testimony and evidence related to Jose Menendez’s parenting. Prosecutors, who had let the brothers’ molestation accusations go unchallenged at the first trials, went right at Erik Menendez when he took the stand, seeding doubt about whether the abuse had happened at all.
“Can you give us the name of one eyewitness to any of the sexual assaults that took place in that home,” the lead prosecutor, David Conn, repeatedly asked Erik Menendez as he ticked through the places the brothers had lived.
According to transcripts of the testimony, Menendez kept repeating the same answer: “No.”
The defense also did not present at trial anyone beyond the brothers who described Jose Menendez as a sexual predator.
As the trial wound to a close, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, ruled that the “abuse excuse” argument could not be used at all. The ruling essentially forced jurors to decide between letting the brothers off entirely or convicting them of murder.
They did the latter.
“We did think there was psychological abuse to some extent. I think most of us believed that,” one juror, Lesley Hillings, told The Los Angeles Times afterward. “Sexual abuse? I don’t think we’ll ever know if that’s true or not.”
Legal experts said that even with the new allegation brought by Rosselló, the lawyers defending the Menendez brothers would face an uphill battle if they sought to have the case reexamined.
Laurie Levenson, a professor of criminal law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who provided legal analysis of the Menendez case in the 1990s, said Rosselló’s information might come “too little, too late.”
“In the end, in the second trial, the jury just didn’t believe them,” Levenson said of the brothers and their sex abuse allegations.
Rosselló’s account “could be something you could file with the court and claim that it’s newly discovered evidence and that it would have made a difference in the case,” she added. “But they will have the burden to show that.”
In the segment aired by “Today,” Alan Jackson, a criminal defense lawyer, agreed that the brothers had “a big mountain to climb.” Still, he said the assertion brought forward by Rosselló provided the brothers a “glimmer of hope.”
This story was originally published at nytimes.com.