On the night of August 20, 1989, Jose and Kitty Menendez were shot to death in the den of their Beverly Hills home. The sons of the victims, Eric and Lyle Menendez have confessed to the murders. The brothers are claiming imperfect self-defense, allegedly believing that their parents were allies in a plot to kill them in an effort to hide allegations of Jose’s sexual abuse of his youngest son, Eric (“The Menendez Brothers”).
Indications of Inaccurate Memories
The main point of the defendants’ story that points to an inability to remember what occurred, lies in the actions of the Jose and Kitty Menendez at the time of the murders. At one point upon questioning, Lyle has stated that he remembered his father “…at some point sort of coming forward in my direction…” Upon firing the gun at his father, Lyle states: “…I believe he fell back.” These statements imply that either he is not certain exactly what occurred, or he is lying in an attempt to back up the imperfect self-defense theory. In addition, Eric later admitted that he did not actually see his father coming towards him, which had previously been stated as the reason why he and his brother fired in a “blind panic” (The Menendez Brothers). These inconsistencies in memory may also be caused by the stress of the situation.
Common Traits of Deceptive Intention
There are some physical, behavioral, verbal and written clues the prosecution should watch for that could help pinpoint areas where the defendants are not being truthful.
Physical and behavioral clues may include:
· Higher pitch in voice
· Pressing lips together
· Unusual stillness
· Thinking for too long when a reply should be immediate
Verbal clues may include:
· Answering rapidly for questions that were able to be anticipated, while answering more slowly for questions that were not
· Unwillingness to talk very much
· Stories that do not sound logical
· Lack of hand movements
Written clues may include:
· Fewer 1st person pronouns used in effort to distance themselves from any responsibility
· Fewer words such as except, but or nor. A lack of distinguishing between what they did and did not do (Adelson)
Polygraphs are more accurate in determining guilt than they are at determining innocence. This could work in favor for the prosecution. However, a study done by the U.S. Congress reveals a “wide variability of results” from several individual studies, making it “impossible to determine a specific overall quantitative measure of polygraph validity.”
Since the defendants have admitted guilt in this case, the relevant question is whether or not they should be allowed to plead imperfect self-defense. The types of questions that may be asked would be referring to what their thoughts were at that particular moment. It is my opinion that given the evidence in the case, it is not worth the risk of giving the test, and having the defendants pass, as this would potentially cause the jury to lean in favor of the defense.
Adelson, Rachael. (2004). “Detecting deception”. Retrieved May 9, 2007, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/julaug04/detecting.html
“The Menendez brothers”. Retrieved May 9, 2007, from http://www.courttv.com/ trials/menendez/
U.S. Congress Office of Technology and Assessment. (1983). “Scientific validity of polygraph testing. A research review and evaluation”. November 1983. Retrieved May 9, 2007, from http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/polygraph/ota/conc.html