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Broderick Hoopla Escalates as New Trial Nears

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Recorded on videotape for all San Diego to see, there was La Jolla socialite Elisabeth Anne (Betty) Broderick in green panties and a gray jail sweat shirt perched on an upper bunk in her jail cell. No, she said to inquiring deputies, she was not about to move.

So here came a swarm of guards, scrambling into the cell and onto the bed, determined to move Broderick to another cell, whether she liked it or not. She didn’t, and a wrestling match ensued. The guards grabbed for her limbs. She kicked at them.

Viewers of San Diego’s local news shows were treated last week to this snippet of tape. Broderick’s second trial on charges of killing her ex-husband and his new wife had not yet begun, but there she was, in her underwear, still making news.

“This case, by its very nature, has generated a mountain of publicity,” San Diego Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan said at a hearing last week, ticking off the extended coverage it has drawn in television, magazine and newspaper reports. And the mountain is about to erupt again. Ten months after a first trial ended in a hung jury, Broderick is going on trial for a second time. Jury selection, which marked the formal kickoff of the case, officially began Friday, and is expected to drag on for three or four weeks. The presentation of evidence is not likely to begin until mid-October.

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Broderick, 43, is charged with two counts of murder in the Nov. 5, 1989, shooting deaths of her ex-husband, Daniel T. Broderick III, 44, and his new wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, 28.

Daniel Broderick was a prominent medical malpractice attorney and a former president of the San Diego County Bar Assn. Linda Kolkena Broderick was his office assistant.

Daniel and Betty Broderick separated in 1985, after 16 years of marriage. During their divorce, which was not final until 1989, Betty Broderick accused her husband of using his legal influence to cheat her out of her fair share of his seven-figure annual income.

At Betty Broderick’s first trial, ten jurors voted to convict her of murder. Two pressed for manslaughter.

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She admitted in the first trial that she fired the fatal shots. The key issue in the case, then and now, remains: Did Betty Broderick have the premeditation the law requires for first-degree murder?

The case has been the focus of extraordinary public fascination, as if the bitter Broderick divorce were a template against which people could measure their own marriages.

Aside from countless newspaper stories in the San Diego and national press, the case has been featured in several magazines. Books, and television and movie scripts are in the works. Parts of the first trial were broadcast live on San Diego’s KNSD-TV (Channel 39), and news director Irv Kass said last week that the station was considering live broadcasts again.

Broderick has held court at the Las Colinas Jail in Santee since she surrendered to authorities the day of the killings. The Sept. 1 scuffle with jail guards came about as she readied for yet another interview, with the ABC-TV news show “20/20.”

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The fight, which left three jail guards with slight injuries, led to a chain reaction that the San Diego media gave prominent play.

First, it was disclosed that prosecutors are weighing whether to file felony charges of resisting an officer against Broderick.

Four days later, one of the guards, Michelle St. Clair, 25, who suffered a strained shoulder, announced that she would file suit in San Diego Superior Court against Broderick, seeking damages for her injuries. Then St. Clair’s lawyer, James J. Cunningham, released an edited version of the tape to the TV stations, who rushed it onto the late-night news shows.

That prompted Sheriff Jim Roache, whose deputies run the county jails and made the video, to call the lawyer’s actions “inappropriate and unprofessional.” Cunningham did not return a phone call seeking comment.

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The vision of Broderick in her underwear on the nightly news prompted defense lawyer Jack Earley to claim last Thursday that there was suddenly too much publicity to pick a fair jury. At a hearing, Whelan said that seemed improbable and ordered the case to go forward.

At that same hearing, meanwhile, Wells said it is likely that the tape will be played for the jury at some point at the second trial, claiming it is relevant to prove whether Broderick is disposed toward violence.

Broderick said the incident was overblown.

“They sure are getting their mileage out of their tape,” she said in a phone call Friday from jail, adding that she mostly was embarrassed over the “pistachio green” underpants and the way she looked. “If you were locked up in a teeny-tiny little room for two years, you’d have flabby thighs, too,” she said.

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In a note she wrote last week to a reporter, she said, “This is a good sub-story, but not at all what it seems now. Let’s get to the truth of what happened.”

At the second trial, as at the first go-round, much of that will depend on Broderick. She will take the stand again in her own defense, Earley said.

Testifying tearfully at the first trial, Broderick portrayed herself as a wife and mother scorned by a husband who jilted her after 16 years of marriage for a younger woman.

She said Daniel Broderick undertook a legal campaign during which he secured custody of their children and manipulated their finances.

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She also said he called her names--"old, fat, ugly, boring and stupid"--and suggested she was crazy for thinking he was cheating on her. Months later, he admitted she was right to suspect him but still maintained she was mentally ill, she said.

Walter Polk, 60, a retired engineer and one of the two jurors who voted for manslaughter, told a writer for the magazine Mirabella that his only question about the killings was: “What took her so long?” Polk could not be reached for comment by The Times.

Unlike the first trial, it is likely that Betty Broderick will be questioned in far more detail about the shootings. The first time around, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry Wells, the prosecutor in the case, did not ask Broderick directly about them.

Broderick testified that she remembered very little about the shootings. She said she sneaked into the house where her ex-husband and new wife lay sleeping, crept up the stairs into the bedroom to talk to him, fired the gun and fled. “They moved, I moved and it was over,” she testified.

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Inexplicably, on cross-examination, Wells did not ask Broderick for more details.

Wells said last week that she would not disclose whether she planned to pick apart Broderick’s version of events in the bedroom. “I can’t answer tactical questions,” she said.

But Earley said he fully expected Wells to press. “I think she’ll do a lot of questioning about it,” he said.

As before, much of the defense case will rest on the tumultuous details of the bitter divorce and the evolution of her relationships with Daniel and Linda Broderick. Defense attorney Earley said the strategy simply involves “trying to put on what the truth of the whole case is.”

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Relatives and friends of the couple insisted last week that it’s more a case of bashing the reputations of the dead.

They said they couldn’t understand the focus at the first trial on Daniel Broderick, given that it was Betty Broderick who burned her husband’s clothes, spread cream pie through his things, left obscene messages on his answering machine and drove her car into the front door of his house.

“To us it is an atrocity,” said one of Daniel Broderick’s sisters, Patricia B. Cappelli, who lives in Pittsburgh.

“We cannot believe it,” Cappelli said. “Many of us have sat back and said, ‘Are we blind that we can’t see it the way these people see it?’ We come from a very conservative town and a very conservative upbringing. For Dan to be portrayed as a bad guy is just inconceivable.”

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Earley sharply disputed the suggestion that he was putting anyone on trial.

“For us, the victim is not on trial, the facts are on trial,” he said. “And the victim created most of those facts. So we’re putting them on.”

One of the key tactical decisions in the second trial is whether Betty Broderick’s two young sons, Danny, 15, and Rhett, 12, will take the stand.

The boys, who now live in Colorado with the ex-wife of one of Daniel Broderick’s brothers, did not testify at the first trial, although their adult sisters, Kim, 21, and Lee, 20, both did. Just a few weeks ago, both boys saw their mother for the first time since the killings.

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Defense attorney Earley said he does not plan to call the boys. “It’s something my client does not want to happen,” he said. “She doesn’t want to see them get up there before all those people.”

Prosecutor Wells said she might call the boys, but must decide whether their testimony will help convict their mother of murder--or whether it might add yet more pain to a family reeling from hurt. It’s not an easy call, and one she’s still weighing, she said.

“Nobody wants to traumatize these children any more than they are already traumatized,” Wells said. “In the same vein, the truth has to come out,” she said.

Both Wells and Earley acknowledged that gearing up again for a major murder trial has been difficult. “I don’t think any attorney particularly relishes putting on a case the second time,” she said.

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At the second trial, Wells, who went it alone the first time, will have the help of another prosecutor, Paul Burakoff. He is a specialist in fraud cases, though he and Wells have worked together before.

Wells said that, despite wide speculation to the contrary, no one forced Burakoff on her. “My request,” she said.

The first trial cost Broderick about $500,000, and left her indigent, so Earley’s second defense is courtesy of San Diego County taxpayers. “I don’t have the resources the D.A. has, which means I have to do a lot more work myself,” he said.

In the past year, Earley’s Laguna Niguel home was burned in a fire sparked by a faulty VCR, he and his family moved four times, and he had surgery on his lip for cancer. In court, he tried two murder cases and a federal fraud case. And now, round two of the Broderick case.

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“It’s emotionally very trying, to know you have to go through this all again,” he said.

Including jury selection, the trial probably will last up to nine weeks, or well into November, Judge Whelan said.


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