Two days before Daniel T. Broderick III was killed, Betty Broderick received legal papers from her ex-husband that "were like hammers at my head," she said Tuesday in an interview with The Times.
Elisabeth (Betty) Broderick said those papers were the last in a series of acts of "overt emotional terrorism" by her ex-husband. Her comments Tuesday in the County Jail at Las Colinas came during the only interview she has granted since she was charged with murdering the prominent San Diego malpractice attorney and his new wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick.
Betty also took issue with court statements and press accounts that she said characterized her as crazy.
"I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness--except when he provoked a 'disturbance,' " she said. The final disturbance, she said, came "the week before, in fact, the Friday before this incident," referring to the killings.
"Those papers at my door were like hammers at my head. They were just going to keep me in court forever. How long can you live like that?"
When asked whether she felt any relief after Daniel and Linda's deaths, she said, "I don't know what I feel. I go through periods of peace, but then there's a day like today, with the lawyer, the psychiatrist, (a reporter) all asking me about the past. . . . I don't know if my words will be used against me.
"Momentarily, I felt like it was over. But now, I'm having to go through it all over again."
During the half-hour conversation, Betty, 42, did not directly address whether she had killed the couple. She has pleaded not guilty.
But she spoke animatedly about the last six years of her life, her 1986 divorce, her constant court battles and the events that led up to the first Sunday in November, when Daniel, 44, and Linda, 28, were found shot to death in the bedroom of their Hillcrest home.
During visiting hours Tuesday night, Betty sat in a partitioned row of inmates, separated from visitors by a plate-glass window. Dressed in a gray sweat shirt and blue sweat pants, her blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, Betty appeared alert and energetic as she talked about the week before she went to jail.
On Halloween, five days before the killings, Betty and Daniel's two sons, Daniel IV, 13, and Rhett, 10, called their father to ask if they could go trick-or-treating with their mother, Betty said.
"I was on the other line," she recalled. "He just said, 'No.' He wouldn't give a reason. For my youngest, this was his last Halloween in Francis Parker (a private school). Kindergarten through fifth grade, his whole life at school, was lived under this divorce. It just broke my heart."
Then, on Friday, Betty said, she received some legal papers from Daniel that included the transcripts of three phone messages she had left on Daniel and Linda's answering machine.
Daniel had used the tactic before, she said, transcribing her frustrated--and sometimes profane--messages to show in court that she was dangerous. Now, as Betty was preparing to return to court to regain custody of her young sons, she was stunned to see he was doing it again, she said.
"I never intended to make an obscene phone call," Betty said. "I always picked up the phone to call my children. But then I'd get Linda's (tape-recorded) voice on the line. That phone line was the only communication I had with my kids. They would entrap me into these calls, and then they'd just type it up.
"The only purpose of that machine was to taunt me," she added, twisting an imaginary knife in the air. "I had no power to torment him. I'm too intelligent to bother."
When asked about her own lawyer's contention that she seemed unaware that Daniel is dead, often speaking of him in the present tense, she slowly shook her head, dismissing the suggestion with a brief smile.
"Sometimes I talk about him like that," she said.
But Tuesday night most of her comments were in the past tense. Although the object of her rage is dead, her anger against her ex-husband dominated her conversation.
"He was accusing me for years," she said. "Most of those things never happened. I'd never threatened him. The only weapons I had were my tongue and my superior attitude."
According to Betty, Daniel Broderick had long sought to make her look crazy in order to excuse the fact that he was divorcing her. As a strict Catholic and a socially prominent attorney, Daniel did not want to appear to have left his family without good reason, Betty said. So, she said, he successfully sought custody of their four children, accused Betty of things she did not do, had her put in jail and prolonged their divorce proceedings.
"We've always had a five-bedroom house and two maids, one for cleaning and one as a nanny," she said. "He knew that, if I had the kids, it would have cost him. . . . So, he went off with the bimbo at 40, driving a red Corvette--haven't we heard this before? But he didn't walk out on his family because it would look bad. His public image was No. 1."
Betty said that, after they separated, Daniel bought new "extravagant stuff" and stored their old furniture and dishes in the garage. But he wouldn't let her use it, she said.
"He had no interest in that furniture--just like in the kids," she said. "But every spoon, every towel, every dish, I had to buy" to set up her new home.
"My goal was to have it be over. If anyone had an obsession with the divorce, it was Dan," Betty said. If Daniel had settled the divorce to her liking, she said, "I would have been fine. I would have had my house, my kids. I would have still worn a size 6--I used to be skinny, you know.
"I could have done my superior dance," she said, turning sideways and angling her arms in an Egyptian silhouette.
"But he wouldn't settle this case," she said as she shuffled several yellow legal pages of handwritten notes--her response to a recent Times article that described her behavior toward her ex-husband as "emotional harangues" and "outbursts."
"My 'emotional outbursts' were only a response to Dan's calculating, hateful way of dealing with our divorce," she said. "He was hammering into me and everyone else that I was crazy.
"I try always to tell the truth," she added. "I was the right person. I was right! How could things go so wrong?"
During much of the interview, Betty read from her notes in order to correct what she said were subtle but important errors in press accounts of her story. Incidents previously described by friends came to life as Betty retold them.
"The burning of the clothes," she said, referring to an incident in which she piled Daniel's clothes in the backyard of their La Jolla home and set them on fire. "That was in 1983 or 1984--during the marriage, when I literally ate shit while he flaunted Linda in front of me. He had been seeing her since 1983!"
Turning the page of her carefully penciled notes, she went on.
"The ski incident," she said, recalling when Daniel and Linda took the four children to Vail, Colo. "It was Christmas, 1985, the first Christmas after the separation. Dan literally kidnaped the kids, taking them to a two-bedroom ski condo with the bimbo."
Soon, Betty said, she received a "huge" floral arrangement with a card in Daniel's handwriting. "It said, 'I know you're not feeling well, but the children and I are thinking of you,' " Betty recalled. "Not feeling well? Of course I wasn't feeling well."
She added: "He knew how to kill me--(through) the kids."
"The car incident," she continued, consulting her notes to describe when she drove her Chevrolet Suburban into the front of Daniel and Linda's new Hillcrest home in 1986. "That was when he sold my home right out from under me. . . . I'm sorry I didn't do it better--if I'd known how much press attention I'd get for it."
Throughout the interview, Betty described Daniel's second, younger wife in deprecating and sometimes obscene words.
"My kids couldn't stand her," she said. "They were old enough to see the cars, the trips, the diamonds--while they had no sports, not a single birthday party in (Daniel and Linda's) house."
At one point, Linda sent Betty a photograph of her and Daniel that had appeared in Dicta, the San Diego County Bar Assn.'s monthly magazine, Betty said. Attached to the photo, Betty said, was a note that said, "Eat your heart out, bitch!"
On Wednesday, Laurel Summers, a close friend of Linda's, rebutted that claim.
"I know that Betty's always said that Linda did that, but we know that Linda didn't do it," she said, adding that she once talked to Linda about the story. "Betty Broderick has made up through the years a lot of stories, and she's made herself believe them. She silenced the only people who can tell her story."
But most of Betty's rage remains focused on Daniel, who she says used his legal influence--not evidence--to gain full custody of their children.