March 2018 - Between the Pages: Hazel Thornton - Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menéndez Juror
Hazel Thornton seems like your everyday neighbor next door. She is the owner of her organization business, Organized For Life, and a constant staple when it comes to networking. So, imagine our surprise when we discovered that the woman we’ve known for years was on one of the highest profile cases of 1994. The story of the Menéndez Brothers and how they brutally killed their parents in August of 1989 was the story on television screens across the world and Thornton was front and center as one of the jurors on the first Menéndez trial. The experience left Thornton with a head full of memories and written pages of the experience. Those pages become the topic of her book, Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menéndez Juror. Thornton shared her experience with the trial and how this almost 30-year-old case is making headlines again.
You were on the first Menendez trial. What was the experience like?
It was very stressful in the beginning because I wasn’t sure what I was going on. What was I gonna have to do? How serious was this and did I have someone’s life in my hands. Once the judge picked us and went through the instructions, I was more comfortable about paying attention and see who was telling the better story.
The trial is done for most people and you decide to write a book?
Here’s how the book happened. In order to deal with the stress of the trial, I kept a journal because the judge ordered us to not talk to anyone during the trial for seven months. So I talked to my journal at night and near the end of the trial my brother’s colleague at The University of Kansas…Lawrence Wrightsman…he’s the one that convinced me to have it published. He wrote the psychological commentary on the journal and we had Alan Scheflin write the legal commentary on the journal and we had it published.
Did you find any challenge in writing the book?
The first publisher didn’t want it because they wanted me to add details like dirt on my fellow jurors and I said ‘No, either you want the journal or you don’t.’ So, the second publisher wanted it the way it was.
Now this book was published in 1995. With the excitement of Law & Order creating the Menendez Brother miniseries, is this how the book came back into play?
What happened was in the fall of 2016 I was called for jury duty here in New Mexico and they were doing jury orientation at the Hispanic Center, not downtown. There were 1000 people in this jury pool. It was for the James Boyd/homeless man shooting in the Sandia mountains by the two police officers. I eventually, I told them…’you know, I’m not trying to get out of jury duty, but I think you might want to know my background - you may or may not want me on your jury. They did eventually excuse me for the jury. I was so relieved to be out of this jury and then I thought, ‘you know people are always trying to get off juries, but they don’t know that I’ve already done mine.’ So the next day I came out as a Menendez juror and everybody was like ‘Really? Are you kidding? How long have I known you? You haven’t been talking about this?’ And the reason I haven’t been talking about it for 20 years is because, frankly, O.J. happened…and he took all the attention away from Menendez. So the book went out of print. It was just too hard to talk about. It’s just too big a topic for me to want to talk about if I can’t say, ‘Read the rest of it in the book.’ So that was the fall of 2016. Later I found out this Law & Order series was happening and I was like ‘Oh no’ because every Menendez article, television show, news report, documentary, and dramatization are terribly prosecution bias. But then I found out that Edie Falco was starring as Leslie Abrahamson who is a hero to me. I love Edie Falco and I was worried that she would not do Leslie Abrahamson justice. But then I found out that an investigative reporter that I know from 1994 who interviewed me after the trial was a consultant for the show. So I called him up and I said, ‘Hey, what do you know about this?’ The short answer is it was based on his manuscript for his book which is due out later this year. His name is Robert Rand and that made me feel better. He wasn’t sure what Dick Wolf was doing with his material necessarily, but Dick Wolf came out on August 3  and said publicly that The Menendez Brothers were given too harsh a penalty and…there was collusion on the second trial with the judge and DA to assure murder convictions I thought, ‘Yes!’ because he’s telling the story as I know it. So from then on, you couldn’t shut me up about it.
Did find yourself criticized or harassed after the trial?
Oh gosh yes. I would like to say I was not the most popular girl in Los Angeles in 1994. We were mocked by the media. We were called Leslie’s Girl, which I’m proud to be a Leslie Girl because she arranged for some people to interview us and she was criticized for doing that, but we were grateful. They made it sound like she paid us off or something, but really, we just agreed with her and we’re glad for her protection. While some of my fellow jurors were going on talk shows, arguing with each other and getting into lawsuits over what they said…I was going with Leslie to places like Princeton and Yale, to legal conferences to speak about my experience.
Were there things you discovered, on the trial or while you were writing the book, that surprised you?
I guess the basis of the whole trial surprised me. When I first heard it was The Menendez trial I thought ‘that can’t be right because that happened so long ago, everybody knows.’ It was about the Beverly Hills teenagers, that they were so greedy for their inheritance that they killed their parents. But the surprise was the defense - they were not saying they were not guilty, they were saying that after a lifetime of abuse by both parents, their whole lives, they killed out of fear. So the prosecution spent one month presenting the same old story we’ve been hearing for four years and the defense spent five months and over 50 witnesses presenting the defense of having been abused and not just sexually, in every way possible – emotionally, neglect, physically. So that’s the big surprise, I guess.
So where can we get this book?
You can get it on Amazon in three formats – paperback, e-book and just brand new is the audiobook and my narrator is Robert Rand and his book Menendez Murders is due out later this year.
Pick up Hazel’s book, Hung Jury: The Diary of a Menéndez Juror, at https://www.amazon.com/Hung-Jury-Diary-Menendez-Juror/dp/1566393949