After his arraignment, Menendez stepped into the courtroom with a smirk on his face, a look he continued to sport throughout the trial, PEOPLE reports. The unusual behavior led critics to call him out as the heartless and spoiled killer that prosecutors described him as.
Menendez now says, however, that he was misunderstood. In a new episode of the A&E documentary special, The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All, the brother says he "was in shock."
"I was being portrayed as a monster — someone who would kill for money," the 47-year-old said.
"When I first came to the arraignment, I was so nervous," he explained. "I walked out there and [defense attorney] Leslie made a joke. It was so nerve-wracking that I smiled and it was this defense mechanism that came out. But on the cameras from then to the rest of eternity, [they] have me smiling as if I think the whole thing is a joke."
"Ironically, that was exactly the opposite of how I felt," he added.
In the docuseries, Menendez describes his version of events, revealing the bond he had with his older brother and the media circus surrounding the case.
Although the brothers appeared to be calm during trial, Menendez is insistent he was privately losing it.
"Behind the scenes, I can't stop crying," he said. "I'm on massive doses of antidepressants, and I just want to die. Instead, what's portrayed is this arrogant kid who thinks this is all a joke. But it was exactly the opposite."
Although the brothers allege, in detail, that they acted in self-defense after years of abuse, prosecutors claimed the murders were part of a bigger plan to get their hands on the $14 million-dollar estate.
The brothers were convicted of first-degree murder in 1996, and were later sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.