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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Interview With Erik and Tammi Menendez

Aired January 21, 2006 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIK MENENDEZ: My dad had been molesting me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight, exclusive Erik Menendez and Tammi Menendez, the woman who married him after he was jailed for life for the brutal murder of his own parents, the first joint TV interview on how their marriage works while he serves life in prison and on her shocking family secret and how it brought them closer together, Erik Menendez from California's Pleasant Valley State Prison, his wife Tammi Menendez, his attorney Chris Pixley all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We have an extraordinary show tonight dealing with an extraordinary new book. The book is "They Said We'd Never Make It, My Life with Erik Menendez," there you see its cover. It's available online at erikmenendez.com.

And it is a return visit to this show by Tammi Menendez and, in a little while, we'll be talking, I've been trying to do this and set this up for months, we'll be talking on the phone with Erik and Erik will be on along with Tammi.

Tammi, why was this book privately published? Why couldn't you get a publisher? It's an extraordinary book.

TAMMI MENENDEZ, WIFE OF ERIK MENENDEZ: I think we could have got a publisher but I decided that I wanted to have the end results to be my own and I...

KING: Who would have prevented that? It's such a heck of a book.

T. MENENDEZ: Well, when you do it with a publishing company they have the editorial rights and I was worried about it being my view on Erik and everything, so I didn't want to...

KING: You think they'd have tried to edit you out of it? It's an incredible story.

T. MENENDEZ: I think that they would have did their own spin on it and I wanted -- because they have the last say and I think that that's the reason why we did that.

KING: So right now the only way to get it is erikmenendez.com. T. MENENDEZ: Exactly, yes.

KING: Now, you've been on this show before. The last time was July 15th, 2004. Why did you write to Erik Menendez at all? I mean you're attractive. You're a beautiful girl.

T. MENENDEZ: Thank you.

KING: You have two kids. Why write to a murderer?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, I watched his first trial on Court TV and his first trial was televised the whole thing through and my heart went out to him as to what he was going through and I decided to write one letter. And, I didn't expect him to write back and if he did, he did. If he didn't, then that's fine but I...

KING: This was after he was convicted and everything?

T. MENENDEZ: No, it was before. It was his first trial.

KING: Oh.

T. MENENDEZ: And it was before.

KING: The mistrial?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes and I thought well, you know, I'll write to you and just let you know how I feel that I supported him.

KING: Was the feeling romantic?

T. MENENDEZ: Not then, no.

KING: No?

T. MENENDEZ: Not at all, no.

KING: You were married?

T. MENENDEZ: I was married at the time.

KING: Did your husband know you were writing a letter?

T. MENENDEZ: He did. He knew I was writing and he read the letters that Erik wrote back and there was nothing romantic about the letters, so yes.

KING: Were you surprised to hear from Erik?

T. MENENDEZ: It was about a month later and I was very surprised that he wrote back because I knew at the time I had heard through the media that he was receiving a lot of letters, you know, like 1,000 a week and so I was surprised to get a letter back from him, yes.

KING: Was your marriage unhappy?

T. MENENDEZ: It was very -- I was very alone in my marriage, very alone and...

KING: He wasn't a bad guy?

T. MENENDEZ: He wasn't a bad guy at all. He was a great guy. He just was into business and never home. I mean he...

KING: You had a child from a first marriage. That was quick though right that marriage?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, it was a year, yes.

KING: And then you had another child with the second husband?

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

KING: So you have two children from two husbands?

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

KING: Right?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes.

KING: OK. I'm told that you didn't know at the time you didn't when you were on this show the last time that there was a dark secret that you and Erik shared.

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

KING: Which was?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes. It's hard to come to terms with it and I think that writing the book and everything that's in the book really made me come to terms with what happened but it was that my husband had been sexually abusing my older daughter and that was -- I had written to Erik and told him what I was going through.

KING: That was Lisa (ph)?

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

KING: How old was Lisa?

T. MENENDEZ: She's 24 right now, yes.

KING: You don't look like you have a 24-year-old daughter.

T. MENENDEZ: Thank you.

KING: She was abused by your husband?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes.

KING: His own daughter?

T. MENENDEZ: It's not his daughter. It was from a previous marriage, so it was her stepfather to get it straight, yes.

KING: And that led you to discuss with Erik his abuse?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, I think that because he had been through a tragedy and I was going through a tragedy I wrote to him and told him that, you know, something tragic happened in my life and that I wanted to talk to him about it. I didn't reveal what it was. And he wrote back to me, "Please tell me what happened." And I think we had common ground, you know, there.

KING: To the world you and Chuck had a happy marriage right?

T. MENENDEZ: Right, right.

KING: To the world outside.

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, yes.

KING: Were the kids good with Chuck?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, yes. He was a good father. He...

KING: Does he still see them?

T. MENENDEZ: Well he committed suicide.

KING: Over this?

T. MENENDEZ: Over what he did to his daughter, yes.

KING: Oh.

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, yes.

KING: You've had some life.

T. MENENDEZ: A long, yes, long history.

KING: So you began to what talk to Eric on the phone about these common things or all in letters?

T. MENENDEZ: No, we started talking on the phone and...

KING: How does that work he has to call collect?

T. MENENDEZ: He has to call collect. It's very expensive. It's, you know, really hard to be able to afford his phone calls and so we talked and then I went to visit him and we, you know, became best friends.

KING: What was the first visit like? Where did it take place?

T. MENENDEZ: It took place at Folsom, New Folsom Prison.

KING: This was after the conviction, the second trial?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, yes, and...

KING: Up until then it had just been letters and calls.

T. MENENDEZ: Right, right. And, the first visit was very intense and I was really happy to finally meet him because we had been talking on the phone for a long time and it was a nice visit. I was able to talk to him about a lot of things that had been going on.

KING: We'll take a break. The book again is "They Said We'd Never Make It," what a great title, "My Life With Erik Menendez," available online at erikmenendez.com and Erik is E-R-I-K.

And, we'll be right back. Chris Pixley, the attorney for Erik Menendez, will be joining us in a little while. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At that point, Mr. Menendez, what did you think was happening?

E. MENENDEZ: I thought my dad was going to come up to my room and have sex and I thought they were going to kill us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you love your mom and dad?

E. MENENDEZ: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And on August 20, 1989 did you and your brother kill your mother and father?

LYLE MENENDEZ: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you kill your parents?

L. MENENDEZ: Because we were afraid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was you telling Lyle what?

E. MENENDEZ: That my dad had been molesting me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want something from your brother is that why you told him?

L. MENENDEZ: I just wanted it to stop. I just told him that I didn't want to do this and that it hurt me and he said that he didn't mean to hurt me. He loved me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And we're back with Tammi Menendez. OK, what attracted you to someone who admittedly killed his parents?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, I think...

KING: No matter what the -- he was abused then.

T. MENENDEZ: I know.

KING: But what would attract you to someone who you knew in the wildest of circumstances did what he did?

T. MENENDEZ: I think that it was -- I think that it was different. I just want to make it clear that if he had been a serial killer or somebody that was out on the street killing for -- randomly, I think, you know, I wouldn't have ever written to him but I realized that something must had really been gone wrong for him to kill his parents and I think that that was the reason why my heart went out to him.

KING: How about Lyle?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, you know, I was always focused on Erik.

KING: Do you know why?

T. MENENDEZ: I don't know. I remember seeing Erik on trial on the stand on TV and I just really felt sorry for him and I wasn't -- I wasn't focused on his brother. It was just I could feel, it seems like I could feel Erik's pain that he was going through.

KING: So, therefore, you could put yourself in his place.

T. MENENDEZ: Well, I...

KING: Could you? I mean could you see yourself doing that with what he went through?

T. MENENDEZ: I couldn't see myself doing what he did but I could try to understand what he did and the pain that he must have went through because something must have went wrong in the household for him to be able to do what he did.

KING: Were you surprised that a lot of people didn't buy the story?

T. MENENDEZ: I was a little surprised. I think that people believe what they want to believe and I think that now being close to the story and that's why I wrote the book was to shed some light on really what did go on in the household and what he went through and why he did what he did. It's all in the book and that's why I wrote it.

KING: And we'll talk to Erik because Erik worked with you on the book.

T. MENENDEZ: He did. He did a lot of editing on the book, yes.

KING: So, you would send it to him. He would read it and send it back?

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

KING: Did the prison try to edit the book?

T. MENENDEZ: No.

KING: Did the prison take out things?

T. MENENDEZ: They didn't.

KING: They read everything don't they?

T. MENENDEZ: They read everything. They're not allowed to do that but...

KING: They're not allowed to read everything?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, no, they can read everything but they're not allowed to like edit things but things disappeared but we worked around that. And, you know, it was a long process to do that but the long run is the result of the book and I think that book is, you know, is really amazing.

KING: Wasn't it hard to write?

T. MENENDEZ: Very hard.

KING: Cathartic?

T. MENENDEZ: Yes, very emotional, very hard to go through, a lot of explosive things in the book, yes. It was very hard.

KING: Was it hard to deal with Chuck?

T. MENENDEZ: Oh, yes, it was a very difficult...

KING: How do you explain to him that you fall in love with someone who killed his parents?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, you know, it was -- it was difficult to deal with that and after Chuck passed I struggled along the way and Erik really helped me get through everything that I went through so.

KING: Did Chuck leave you a note?

T. MENENDEZ: He did, yes. He left me a note and I didn't read it for a year after. I couldn't bear the pain to read it but after a year I did read it and it's in the book too.

KING: Why enter into a marriage where frankly you can't have sex?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, you know, sex isn't everything but I will say that...

KING: But it ain't number three or four right?

T. MENENDEZ: I know. I know exactly but I really get emotional support from Erik and I think with my first marriage with Chuck I just didn't get that, so with Erik I get emotional support and that means more to me than anything.

KING: But you go to bed alone.

T. MENENDEZ: I do and it's hard. It's a hard -- I wouldn't wish it upon anybody. I mean it's a hard, difficult life. It's not -- I mean I struggle with it every day him not being home Monday through Friday. I do struggle. It's very difficult, so I, you know, I can't minimize it at all.

KING: How old are you?

T. MENENDEZ: I'm 44, yes.

KING: And you intend to live the rest of your life married to Erik?

T. MENENDEZ: I can't see my life without Erik. He's my best friend and he's a really good person and I just can't see my life without him.

KING: How often do you talk?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, we try to talk it seems like every other day but the phone calls are really expensive so it's really difficult.

KING: Why are they expensive?

T. MENENDEZ: Because with the phone company that has it they charge extra money to inmates that call collect to their families.

KING: And how often do you visit him?

T. MENENDEZ: Every weekend, Saturday and Sunday.

KING: And he's where?

T. MENENDEZ: He's in Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga.

KING: Do your children go too?

T. MENENDEZ: My one daughter does, yes.

KING: We'll be right back and Erik Menendez will be joining us by phone. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Menendez, during the summer of 1989, were you being sexually molested by your father?

E. MENENDEZ: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did that begin? How old were you?

E. MENENDEZ: I was six years old.

L. MENENDEZ: I told her to tell dad to leave me alone and he keeps touching me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What did your mom say?

L. MENENDEZ: She told me to stop it and that I was exaggerating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

E. MENENDEZ (by telephone): The only book that's ever told the true untold story about me, what I did, the secrets I've never spoken about, about my childhood and prison.

KING: Why did you decide to do it now?

E. MENENDEZ: Well, for many reasons. One of the foremost is because I wanted people to really be able to get a sense of what Tammi and I are like together and what she means to me and hopefully what I mean to her and who I am because no other book or movie or documentary has ever, ever showed who I am as a person. Certainly, nothing's ever been written about me by someone that actually knows me.

But there's another reason, one that's very meaningful and important to me and that's that in being married to me, and Tammi will tell you all about this, she's faced a lot of hardship and in fact this book has outraged a lot of people. Some people thought it shouldn't be written and I disagree.

With this book, Tammi isn't just standing up for me and standing up for herself, she's standing up for millions of prisoner wives and family members who have been demeaned and outcast because they love a prisoner.

KING: Who would be outraged, Tammi? Who's outraged?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, my family for one and a lot of people that -- I -- I get a lot of e-mails from people that just, you know, don't understand why I wrote the book, why I'm writing it, you know. I get a lot of, you know, negative e-mails.

KING: Erik, we hear little beeps. Do they monitor your calls?

E. MENENDEZ: All -- all the calls are monitored and definitely recorded.

KING: Have they moved you around prison to prison?

E. MENENDEZ: They -- I spent nine years at Folsom Prison, at old famous Folsom Prison so it was the New Folsom. Now I got transferred to this prison about a year ago and I was in the Los Angeles County Jail for over six years.

KING: But how do you adjust to incarceration?

E. MENENDEZ: Human beings adapt. The one thing that we never are able to really adapt to is the level of violence and the angst between prisoners and guards and prisoners. Having to survive each day in here is -- is very difficult.

I wrote, I don't know if you're aware of the fact, I wrote a separate chapter to this book because I really wanted people to get a sense of what I go through in prison each day and what Tammi and I go through just to be together and get it in my own words and I wanted people to be able to see that because it's really an -- it's such a difficult experience to describe in just a few sentences that it's -- I felt it important to put it down on paper.

KING: How old are you now?

E. MENENDEZ: I am 35. I just turned 35.

KING: Do you ever regret what you did?

E. MENENDEZ: Immensely so, immensely so, not a day goes by when I don't wish I could undo this or I could bring them back. It's my unending regret and in a sense it's my real prison.

KING: Children do not have to love their parents. I guess parents love their children. Children don't have to love their parents.

E. MENENDEZ: Well, I think that -- I think that all children love their parents. I think that children love their parents even more than parents love their children. Parents are like gods to kids.

Certainly my parents were the only -- the greatest figures I've known. I was literally dependent upon them for survival and I think that kids love their parents more than parents love their kids.

KING: Do you ever see or talk to Lyle?

E. MENENDEZ: I have not spoken to Lyle in over ten years. I have not seen him in over ten years. The last time I saw Lyle we were -- it was three o'clock in the morning and we were put in separate vans and we were chained up and there was that experience where I -- where I last saw him.

But Tammi really captured -- she writes about -- writes about this and she really captures it. It's very hard to describe that last moment when I saw him. You're going to have to read about it.

KING: Why can't one prisoner talk to another prisoner somewhere else?

E. MENENDEZ: You just can't get around the prison system, Larry. The prison system is what it is. KING: Why commit to a marriage to this beautiful, young lady? You're never going to have sexual relations. Why didn't you say to her "I'll be your friend. I'll write to you. I'll talk to you. Get a romantic life."

E. MENENDEZ: You know that's a good question and -- and Tammi is going to have to help me answer it. I mean the first time I looked into Tammi's eyes I felt like I had come home. She's not just my best friend. She's my -- she's my great love, Larry.

This woman is everything to me and so at the beginning of our relationship we tried to just make it a friendship and it was a friendship for many, many years, a platonic friendship.

But then when she came up to visit, and you can tell him about this baby, when she came up to visit, I just -- I saw so much more in her and I fell hopelessly in love with her and I couldn't help falling but I never expected her to fall in love with me.

Marriage was certainly the farthest thing, you know, in the back of our minds, well certainly hers and I just, you know, that's something that we go through now and as you read in the book it's been her great struggle.

I think it's a great struggle for anyone that marries or is with a prisoner is that separation and joining the two different worlds. It's still a struggle that we go through but it's our love that keeps us together but it's not an easy road.

KING: You don't feel he subjected you to something, in other words that he could have said "I'm madly in love with you but you have a right to a life outside of this"?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, I mean I know that he struggles with that every day, you know, especially when we talk about the appeal later. You know, we've had some bad news with the appeal and I know that he's come to me and he said, you know, "I don't know if I can let you do this life."

And, I know that he -- it's not like he's like you got to be with me and this is it. He struggles with it. He wants to release me but yet, you know, it's a pain within him that wants me to stay so, you know.

E. MENENDEZ: It's the hardest thing I can -- I can -- I can go through is exactly what Tammi said. It's like I want her to be free. I want her to have pure happiness. She's a beautiful woman. She's intelligent. She's incredibly compassionate.

She can -- she can -- there's 100 guys that can give her more on a physical level than I can but I -- so I can -- I can -- I have to focus on just cherishing her and appreciating her beautiful finer qualities and pour all of my energy into her and that's what gives me joy.

It's the only thing that gives me happiness in prison and letting it go it would -- it would certainly all but ruin my life. I mean just devastating. It would be the end of me. But, at the same time, I struggle with it because I want her to have that and Tammi as long as she'll have me I will -- I will cherish her forever.

KING: The book is "They Said We'd Never Make It, My Life with Erik Menendez," available online at erikmenendez.com. It's a hell of a read. We'll be right back with both of them right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Erik Menendez and Tammi Menendez. They are married. They are happily married. They are the -- I guess they're the co-authors, although she's listed as the author, "My Life With Erik Menendez" available online at erikmenendez.com. Do you often, Erik, think what any man would think -- she's got to be with somebody tonight?

E. MENENDEZ: You mean in terms of her being unfaithful?

KING: Yes. I mean, who wouldn't think it?

E. MENENDEZ: It's a fear that's almost primal, that I certainly had early on. But Tammi is -- Tammi's a remarkable woman. I mean, any woman that could be with a guy in prison is going to be remarkable. but she is -- she's something really, really special. And she calms my fears, and just her morals and her values and her ethics. I don't doubt her. And I've -- it's inconceivable to me.

T. MENENDEZ: I'm always available for his calls. If I wasn't available for his calls, then he might get a little...

KING: ... You never see a man you're attracted to, ever?

T. MENENDEZ: Well, I mean, it's rare. It's rare. But I have seen a few, you know...

E. MENENDEZ: ... Well, that's not a fair question, Larry. Have you ever seen a woman you're attracted to?

KING: Yes.

E. MENENDEZ: You're married.

KING: Of course.

T. MENENDEZ: But I mean, no. I had a friend that I worked out with, a body-building body friend of mine. And Erik was really...

E. MENENDEZ: We don't like to talk about him.

T. MENENDEZ: ... Nervous about me being with him and working out with him, who -- he eventually became Mr. California. And, you know, so -- that was a little -- yes. But I mean, yes, we have that, because he's in there.

KING: Do you understand, Tammi, why Erik -- can you understand why he did what he did? Because he regrets it. Do you understand it?

T. MENENDEZ: I understand the way he is, and the way he sees fear, and the psychological end of it where he doesn't think like a lot of people do as far as -- he's always -- takes things extremely. You know, there's always a fear level that's heightened in him. And I think it's from the years of abuse. So I do understand that, you know, he might have not been thinking clearly that evening because of what he went through. And it's not that you know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have 120 seconds left on this call.

KING: OK, now let's explain what that was. What was that, Erik?

E. MENENDEZ: That was the...

T. MENENDEZ: The terminator -- it was the terminator.

E. MENENDEZ: ... That was the call being -- letting us know that we're running out of time.

KING: Now since you're allowed to have -- what do you do, you call back when that runs out?

E. MENENDEZ: Yes.

KING: OK, that was a two-minute warning we've never heard.

T. MENENDEZ: Yes.

KING: You were saying?

T. MENENDEZ: No, it was the terminator. So I understand what he went through that evening.

E. MENENDEZ: It's important to -- that I get across, Larry, one, I've never hidden anything from Tammi. Tammi and I talk about what happened that night. And I tell her everything.

And she's -- it's her love has really allowed me to really begin the long road to healing. Because I don't think that it's something that I'll ever fully be able to have. But I'm no murderer.

KING: So you're not a murderer, how do you look at yourself?

E. MENENDEZ: Let me call you right back and I'll tell you.

KING: OK. Erik will call us back as soon as they let him call us back. He gets a half hour to make a call. We've used 15 minutes. And we'll take a break. The book again is "They Said We'd Never Make It." What a great title. "My life with Erik Menendez" available online at erikmenendez, one word, .com. And Erik is E-R-I-K. And we'll be right back. Chris Pixley, the attorney for Erik Menendez will be joining us in a little while. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

E. MENENDEZ: I was just firing as I went into the room, I just started firing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In what direction?

E. MENENDEZ: In front of me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What was in front of you?

E. MENENDEZ: My parents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you were firing at your parents.

LYLE MENENDEZ, BROTHER: Yes. There were things shattering and the noise was phenomenal. And we fired many, many times and there were just -- glass, and you could hear things breaking and you could hear the ringing noises from the booms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Erik's back, with another 15 minutes. OK, I forgot the question already. You don't feel like a murderer. Why not?

E. MENENDEZ: It's, you know, it's not who I am. I never was, and I never will be. I didn't do this crime because I'm a bad person. That night, even 15 years later, I remember the horror I felt at that moment. I truly believed I was going to die. I don't have any doubt in my mind at that moment that my life was about to end. And I burst inside. I've never been so scared in my life.

See, it's hard to translate how I felt in that moment, because -- and -- unless you've lived that life, unless you walked in my shoes, had been molested and dealt with the man that was molesting you, you can't get an appropriate sense of the incredible fear that just takes over every sense in your body.

You know, I'm not justifying it. I've never tried to justify it. Even an hour later, I collapsed in grief. I did not want this to happen. I never wanted this to happen. And I will spend the rest of my life regretting that this happened.

KING: Why, Erik, though, after it happened, did you live a life of buying stuff, cruising Rodeo Drive, which indicated almost like a guilt?

E. MENENDEZ: Well, that's been way blown out of proportion. I never went on any spending spree. I never went -- the one thing I bought was a Jeep. You know, and I tried to keep my life going. I was holding this incredible secret.

And within 60 days, within 45 days, yes, about a month or two I went to a psychiatrist because I couldn't even go to a priest and face God. I just said, "I can't live with myself anymore. And I'm going to kill myself. I can't deal with this." And that's ultimately what led to my arrest. There was no guilt-free life. It was just the opposite. KING: How do you feel about what happened to Tammi, with the molestation of her daughter?

T. MENENDEZ: I think that it's something that is horrible for a mother to go through. It's horrible for a daughter to go through. And it's something that I've tried to help her with in terms of her grief.

I understand what her daughter went through. And I just feel horrible. And it's -- the death of her husband and the whole tragedy surrounding it has allowed her to understand me a lot more.

KING: Why have you spent so much time in solitary?

E. MENENDEZ: Well, Tammi and I have faced a lot of backlash for being together. One of the dirty secrets about the prison system is that they try to tear families apart. And certainly prisoner wives and prisoner families will attest to this.

It's not the guards, it's the administration. They try to tear families apart, the prisoners and their wives, and the prisoners and their families. And Tammi and I have had to struggle with that and the officials really did some underhanded stuff. And as well as, I was intently working with the inspector general on a prison reform project that I began called the ladder system. And I faced a lot of retribution about that. And I spent a lot of time in solitary because of it.

KING: What's the ladder system?

E. MENENDEZ: It's a system of reform, about how prisoners should be housed in California. Right now, eight out of every 10 prisoners that get released come back in California. And it's not because these are terrible people, it's because they're not given the tools while in prison to successfully reintegrate into society. And the ladder system improves upon that.

KING: Have you been sexually abused?

E. MENENDEZ: While in prison?

KING: Yes.

E. MENENDEZ: No.

KING: Does that shock you?

E. MENENDEZ: No, I've faced a lot of violence in prison. And Tammi writes about it in the book, many times that I was attacked.

T. MENENDEZ: But there's a lot of sexual abuse that goes on in the prison.

E. MENENDEZ: There's a ton of sexual abuse, there's a ton of rapes and killings.

KING: How do you avoid that?

E. MENENDEZ: By standing up for yourself. By putting your foot down and saying, "No, not ever. You're going to have to stab me to do it." And bullies generally like to pick on people that don't...

T. MENENDEZ: ... And he's lucky because he's a big guy. He's not little. He's six feet.

KING: What keeps you going day to day, Erik?

E. MENENDEZ: My wife keeps me going day to day. You know, something that I'm asked a lot about is people say that my wife is crazy for being with me. You know, essentially that's one of the things you were hinting at, why is she with me.

And I want to say this about Tammi. This is the most selfless, sensitive woman I have ever met. And I worry about her, because she's very shy. She doesn't -- she doesn't like cameras in front of her. This is a very shy, hometown Minnesota girl. And this book has become very controversial.

And I think it takes a lot of courage to stand up. And she's doing this and saying, "You're wrong for stigmatizing us because we have a family member in prison. You're wrong for stigmatizing her. And you're wrong for demeaning her. And she's not going to be ashamed anymore."

And that's one of the reasons she put this book out. And I'm really proud of her. And I want the world to know how proud of her. And I love you, baby. You are amazing. She has faced so much backlash because of this book.

I mean, at one point, a major chain store said they wouldn't even sell it, because it's just too controversial. And we're putting it out. And I think that this truth needs to be told. And I want to urge people to e-mail Tammi or e-mail me through the Web site and show her your support. It's really important that this message get out.

KING: No matter what you think, it's a heck of a read.

T. MENENDEZ: It is. You can't put it down.

KING: No, it really is. It's a heck of a read. Let me take a break. And when we come back, the attorney for Tammi and Erik, Chris Pixley, an old friend of ours, a frequent guest on this show, will join us during the remaining moments we can spend with Erik. And then we'll spend some time with just Tammi and Chris. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Erik Menendez's book, "They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life with Erik Menendez" is written by his wife, Tammi. And if you want to order it, you should, because it's a hell of a read. You can order it online at erikmenendez.com. No matter what you may think, it's always good to advance thinking by learning from others. Chris Pixley, Erik's on the line. What's the appeal based on? CHRIS PIXLEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Oh, gosh. You know, the appeal comes down to this, Larry. When Erik and Lyle went to trial the second time around, of course, everybody in the country, most people that were around to remember that there were two juries that each split right down the middle during the first trial.

So what does the L.A. county district attorney have to do? He's got to go right back to trial. Unfortunately, he went back to trial six days after O.J. Simpson was acquitted and set free. He went back to trial just months after the McMartin case had been lost, the biggest child abuse case in the history of California.

So, Gil Garcetti, the district attorney's office, they had a P.R. problem that they needed to deal with. You add to that the fact that this judge was -- it was somebody that had overseen the Rodney King case and knew firsthand how disastrous, you know, an unpopular a verdict can be. And there was all kinds of political pressure for a conviction.

KING: But is that appealable?

PIXLEY: And what happens in the second trial -- that isn't appealable. All that back story isn't appealable. And of course it's very difficult to even get that into your brief. But what it led to was a situation where the judge had almost -- had all this pressure and almost no choice, but to gut the defense. And so we lost 13 witnesses. We had, you know...

KING: ...Any rulings yet?

PIXLEY: We've had a ruling from the Ninth Circuit. First of all, we had great success getting to the Ninth Circuit. We had great success in getting five issues before the Ninth Circuit, which is extraordinary. They heard those issues.

KING: And?

PIXLEY: They denied ultimately the appeal.

KING: So what do you do now?

PIXLEY: The next step is to bring it to the United States Supreme Court and ask them to review the case.

KING: You're asking for certiorari?

PIXLEY: That's right.

KING: Erik, are you hopeful at all?

E. MENENDEZ: I'm always hopeful. I hope deeply that I'll be out of prison one day. I want to spend my life with Tammi. I want to spend my life, you know, being a family man. And it's terrifying to think about spending the rest of my life in prison.

But what gives me hope is the fact that I've got love in my life. And that's one of the most valuable things that families of prisoners and the wives of prisoners is given. They instill hope. And in fact, the studies show, Larry, that for people that get out of prison, the recidivism rate, the number of people that come back to prison, is dramatically reduced when people have love -- when prisoners have love in their life. The woman sitting there with you, that's my hope. And that should be said.

KING: Aren't there bad days, Erik -- Erik, days where you give up hope? Erik, days where you get depressed?

E. MENENDEZ: Absolutely. Absolutely. There's days when I think the worst thoughts that I'm not going to make it, and maybe I shouldn't. And maybe it would be better off if I didn't, and maybe Tammi would be better off if I didn't.

When I say that to Tammi, she wants to wring my neck. And I could never abandon her, and I will never abandon her. But it's -- prison is hard. Not just for me, but for everyone in here. Isn't it supposed to be hard? But it's not the physical, it's the emotional hell that people go through in prison that makes it so hard.

KING: By the way, when you were in the L.A. county jail, did you speak or talk to O.J.?

E. MENENDEZ: I was with O.J. for months in the L.A. county hail. In fact, I was watching the chase on television, that infamous chase. And they had had me clean out his cell a few days ahead of time because they knew he was coming.

Tammi writes all about this in the book. I'll just tell you in a few sentences though, summarize it. That they knew he was coming to jail a few days ahead of time before he even knew. And I was watching the chase, and then about, oh, when he goes home, about 45 minutes later, he comes walking down the hall, shackled and chained with about 15 deputies.

And he says, "Hi, Erik." And then we had a whole interaction for weeks and months that you'll have to read the book to find out about it. But yes, I was with him there.

KING: How do you feel about his acquittal?

E. MENENDEZ: Well...

T. MENENDEZ: ... That's a tough question.

E. MENENDEZ: I felt that -- I think you'll read about why when you read the book.

KING: Did you like him?

E. MENENDEZ: I thought -- O.J.'s a very charming person. O.J. is -- he's an upbeat, charming person. But I felt that -- well, he's an interesting guy. You know, I feel that...

KING: Does he ever write to you? E. MENENDEZ: No. No. No, O.J. and I are not friends.

KING: Can people write to you?

E. MENENDEZ: Yes, people can -- the fastest way for me to get letters is to e-mail through the Web site and Tammi sends them on to me.

KING: That's in the erikmenendez.com?

T. MENENDEZ: Right.

E. MENENDEZ: Right. And I want people to know this. That I received a lot of letters asking me questions about my life. If you want to know what prison is like. I get a lot of questions, all kinds of range. And if after reading this chapter, it's not included in the book, but they can get it for free on the Web site.

You know, after reading this chapter, if there's anything specific that anyone out there wants to know about, and have me write about, they can contact me through the Web site and I'll do it for free. The extra chapter is free. And I just want people to have this information.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments. Chris Pixley, Tammi Menendez, and as long as they let Erik stay with us. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with our remaining moments on this extraordinary show tonight with Tammi Menendez, the author of "They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life with Erik Menendez," available online at erikmenendez.com.

Chris Pixley, the Atlanta-based defense attorney, frequent guest on this show, who is representing the family. And from his prison cell at California's Pleasant Valley State Prison, Erik Menendez. By the way, where are you physically in the prison as you talk to us?

E. MENENDEZ: I'm in the day room. There's a -- there's about 100 cells that wrap around me. And there are prisoners out and about. And there's the C.O's, the correctional officers in the control booth and around. So I'm in the day room. You can probably hear people in the background.

KING: Yes. What's the key, Chris, to the Supreme Court taking it?

PIXLEY: The key to the Supreme Court taking it's kind of a novel issue, novel federal issue. And it's harder to get to the Supreme Court, but when the Supreme Court accepts a case, Larry, we have much less concern that they will be frightened away by the Menendez name.

You know, it's been very hard for us to appeal this case in California before the Ninth Circuit, which has been labeled as the most liberal jurisdiction in the country.

Because if they are to overturn the Menendez brothers' conviction, they put a name to that label. They're no longer just the liberal Ninth Circuit, now, they're, "Hey folks, you remember the Ninth Circuit, they overturned the Menendez conviction. You can't trust them."

KING: Have you filed the accord (ph) already?

PIXLEY: No, we will be filing in the next 60 days.

KING: Erik, how much are you paid?

E. MENENDEZ: I'm paid about 11 cents an hour for my job.

T. MENENDEZ: I said 12 cents.

E. MENENDEZ: Twelve cents is fine. Maybe they'll give me a raise.

KING: Is that 24 hours a day or for only when you work?

E. MENENDEZ: Only for when I work.

KING: What's your job?

E. MENENDEZ: I'm a porter in the day room. I clean, I sweep. I'm a janitor, essentially. I call myself the essential maintenance worker.

KING: What's it like when you go there, Chris?

PIXLEY: Well, you know, again, we see the best of it. When you go and visit, you're in the visiting room. And prisoners know, you don't act out in a visiting room, you lose that contact with your family. So you see the very best of them.

And yet what Erik goes back to is a world of violence. And it's a difficult world. You know, it must have been six weeks ago, we were out to visit with Erik. We had some things we had to go over. We weren't allowed to visit with him. Turned out an inmate just a few cells down from him had been murdered by his cell mate. And that kind of thing goes on.

KING: We were supposed to do this three or four times, Erik. What is a lockdown?

E. MENENDEZ: A lockdown is when the prison is slammed and the prisoners, we're locked in their cells 24 hours a day because of a threat against staff or a threat or against prisoners, or a potential of a riot or stabbing is going to occur. Prison is a violent place.

PIXLEY: And that means when a spoon is missing, they go on lockdown.

E. MENENDEZ: Well, sometimes a spoon is missing because knives can be made out of weapons like that.

KING: How are you largely treated by the other prisoners, Erik?

E. MENENDEZ: You know, I've made some friendships. I've gotten into conflicts with others. I'm very well-known. And so I -- you know, I -- but I think I'm respected. I stand up for a lot of prisoner issues. And I think the prisoners have come to respect me for that. And like me.

KING: They're a hidden society, aren't they, Chris?

PIXLEY: Oh, they are. They are. And Erik mentions that he stood up for prisoners. I really do think that that's going to be his life's calling, whether inside prison or outside prison. You know, this idea of this ladder system, where a prisoner's exemplary behavior can actually lead to better privileges.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have 120 seconds left on this call.

PIXLEY: That eliminates this feeling of absolutely no control over your life, and that's the biggest problem. But they're a forgotten society.

KING: Wait, Paul (ph) says we have 120, but we have a minute.

E. MENENDEZ: I want to say this before I go on that issue. You know, when the prison system takes away all rights, they're taking away Tammi's rights. Sweetie, and you can talk about this after I go. And so it's not just our rights. We have very little power.

But the families and the wives of prisoners, they have all the power. And in my opinion, they need to come out of hiding and stop being ashamed because they're stigmatized by society, because they come to visit a prisoner.

And they need to band together and take a hold of their rights and their political influence. And Tammi's going to be setting up an e-mail newsletter and I think they need to e-mail Tammi and give them their address and really begin to create change, because we can't do it, only they can.

KING: Thanks, Erik.

E. MENENDEZ: Thank you, Larry. I love you, sweetie.

T. MENENDEZ: I love you.

E. MENENDEZ: All right, I'll talk to you soon, I'll see you soon.

T. MENENDEZ: OK.

E. MENENDEZ: I miss you.

T. MENENDEZ: I miss you, too.

KING: I feel like I'm invading.

E. MENENDEZ: Larry, get out of here. You have 60 seconds left on this call.

KING: "They Said We'd Never Make It: My Life with Erik Menendez" is available online at erikmenendez.com. We thank our guests for joining us. We thank you for joining us.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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