At nearly 90 years old, Betty Oldfield is a grandmother and dedicated community volunteer. She is also "best friends" with Erik Menendez, one of California's most notorious inmates.
According to Oldfield, her friendship with one of the brothers convicted for killing their parents in 1989 began when she served as an alternate juror on Erik Menendez's first murder trial, which ended with a hung jury.
"Erik and I have adopted one another. He has a new mother, and I have a new son," Oldfield said.
Erik and his brother Lyle Menendez were convicted of murdering their parents in 1989 at the family’s Beverly Hills home and sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1996. Tried separately, it took a total of three trials to find the brothers guilty, as the first two resulted in hung juries.
During first trial's five months of testimony, Oldfield listened to details of the murders, as well as the brothers' graphic allegations of sexual abuse by their father.
"You could see when they testified — the expressions, the tears," said Oldfield. "They were damaged young men."
Trial proceedings led Oldfield to believe the brothers were driven to murder their parents, she said.
She said she spoke to Erik Menendez for the first time shortly after the mistrial. Oldfield was attending a dinner held by defense attorney Leslie Abramson. The attorney had arranged for Erik Menendez to call from jail during the dinner to thank some of the more sympathetic jurors.
The friendship developed easily from there, Oldfield said, and Erik Menendez continued to call her. The two have now maintained this "very fulfilling" relationship for more than 20 years.
She said she still gets calls from him two or three times a week, and that they'll discuss everything — except the events in his life leading up to the murders.
Oldfield said Erik Menendez has spent his time behind bars putting his energy into positive things.
"He is so busy. He is taking college courses," she said. "He has championed causes for elderly and ADA inmates."
While she declined to share the personal contents of the correspondence, she pointed to the way Erik Menendez signed his letters as evidence of his softer side and their genuine bond. Erik Menendez has written that Oldfield is his "angel on Earth."
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correctly characterize the sibling relationship between Erik and Lyle Menendez.