Lyle and Erik Menendez, accused of murdering their wealthy parents in Beverly Hills for a $14-million inheritance, grew up with all the advantages of privilege and rank.
Friends and relatives generally described the brothers as extremely self-assured, although sometimes arrogant.
A friend from Calabasas, Craig Cignarelli, said he was attracted to Erik by a shared sense that they were special.
"People really looked up to us," Cignarelli said in an interview last year. "We have an aura of superiority."
Although their father, Jose Menendez, a Cuban emigre, struggled as a young man to make his way in America, his sons attended a private school in New Jersey and toured the amateur tennis circuit with the sons of other well-to-do businessmen.
Still, friends described the Menendez family as close--and competitive.
Kitty Menendez, a former hometown beauty queen who met Jose Menendez in a college philosophy class, always had her door open to neighbors. Her two sons played all the neighborhood sports.
If there was one thing people remembered about the family, it was an intense drive to succeed. Kitty was just as competitive on the tennis court as her husband.
Jose Menendez never accepted second best, and the sons grew up with the same competitive desire. Lyle was ranked 36th in the nation at one time on the junior tennis circuit. Those who knew the boys frequently mentioned their intense personalities.
"There is a lot of pressure to become great," Erik Menendez said in an interview with The Times after his parents' deaths.
On the fact that he and his brother stood to inherit the entirety of their parents' $14-million estate, Lyle said: "I would want this generation to do so much more than the last one. It would be revolting to just take a large sum of money and just either blow it or live just comfortably."
Immediately after the murders in August, Erik dropped out of UCLA and hired a full-time tennis coach to help him sharpen his game so that he could turn professional.
Watching this, friends of the family were compassionate. Seena Hamilton, founder of the Easter Bowl tennis tournament and a friend of the family, characterized Erik's dream of professional tennis as "an emotional escape." He was a good junior player, she said, but not in the class of a skilled professional.
Several people noted Lyle's apparent lack of emotion after his parents' deaths. On the second night after the murders, a friend, Glen Stevens, said he asked how Lyle was holding up emotionally. Lyle replied, according to Stevens, "I've been waiting so long to be in this position that the transition came easily."
In the first weeks after the murders, Lyle went on a spending spree that included the purchase of a new Porsche.
Lyle launched into business ventures, purchasing a condominium in the Princeton, N.J., area where he had spent his earliest years and had attended prep school and college. He also bought a restaurant there that specialized in chicken wings. The local newspaper in Princeton said he intended to start a nationwide franchise of chicken wing eateries.
At that time, an uncle, Brian Andersen, said of Lyle: "A little of what we're seeing in him trying to move too fast is sort of a way for him to reach out because he is angry" over the murders and has a difficult time showing emotion.
Judy Bergman knew the Menendez family for 10 years back in New Jersey. Both families moved to California about the same time. The Bergmans settled in Emerald Bay and the Menendezes in Calabasas.
"Erik and my boys were all swimmers," Bergman recalled in an interview several months ago.
She remembered Kitty as being wrapped up in family life, always traveling with her sons on the tennis circuit.
Lyle was "very friendly and very smart. They were sure of themselves."
Jose, she remembered, kept long hours at the office. But Lyle and Erik said they could not remember him missing a soccer game in which his sons played.
Lyle went on to Princeton University, where he had to fend off the advances of people interested only in his money. But at this time more serious problems started to crop up.
He left the university for a year amid accusations that he had plagiarized another student's paper, friends said.
The Menendez family moved from New Jersey to Calabasas in 1986. After Erik was beaten by a gang on the tennis courts there, the family moved to Beverly Hills. They left behind an expensive home in Calabasas, but Erik kept up his close friendship with Cignarelli, the son of a Hollywood film executive.
They gave each other nicknames. Erik was the "Shepherd" and Cignarelli was the "King."
As their friendship deepened, they would head out to the hills above Malibu on dark nights and dream about the future. Sometimes they made plans to use their energies to better things for mankind. Other times they dreamed up the perfect crime.