Broderick Jury Had to Put Emotions Aside

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Courts: A stalemate was possible at any time, the foreman said, but the jurors agreed they owed a final decision to the victims.

As they began deliberations, the jurors who ultimately sealed Elisabeth Anne (Betty) Broderick's fate were badly divided and buffeted by the turbulent emotions of the infamous murder case.

Four days later--four days of arguments and Snickers bars, of compromises and pretzels--the jurors cemented their second-degree murder verdict during a final lunch break.

They gave vent to their own sympathies for the victims and their pain for Betty Broderick herself.

But in the end, they focused on the legal definitions of murder and manslaughter, and resolved not to leave their windowless refuge without a verdict.

"At any point in time, it was possible to have a hung jury again," said jury foreman George McAlister, a medical librarian from Rancho Penasquitos. "But we decided as one group to pull together and leave the jury room with a verdict. That was our responsibility and we owed it to the victims."

But it took four days of sorting out conflicting emotions before a small camp of jurors holding out for a verdict of voluntary manslaughter could be convinced to go along with two second-degree murder convictions.

The break came late Tuesday morning, when McAlister sensed his colleagues were nearing agreement after 18 hours of deliberations.

"I said, 'I personally feel that we can reach a consensus agreement if we decide on murder two,' " McAlister recalled of Tuesday's final hours. "How does everybody feel about that? Can they live with that? Can they accept that based on the evidence?

"And we went around the table and everybody said they could live with that, with the exception of a couple of people who said, 'Let's go to lunch and let's make sure this is absolutely what we want to do.'

"So we took an hour-and-a-half lunch as opposed to our hour lunch and we walked around a lot and we thought about it and then we came back and I think we made a decision and we signed the verdict forms within a half an hour," McAlister said.

"We all held hands. It was spontaneous. We realized we had all survived this," McAlister said in a later interview.

Surviving the eight-week retrial took its toll on the seven men and five women who said they ultimately felt the burden of deciding Broderick's fate.

"It's been quite a load for a person like me, a simple person like me," said juror Maurizio DiMartino, a maintenance worker from Spring Valley. "I've lost a lot of sleep over it. My emotions were touched many times. Like many of the jurors, during deliberations, we laughed and we cried, but we did come to a conclusion and I'm satisfied with it."

"Everyone had to live with the decision they made and reality started setting in at the end," said Angus Brunson Jr., a 49-year-old aircraft technician at the North Island Naval Air Station. "We were thinking, 'This is this lady's life. She is defending her life to a degree.' "

The stress built over several weeks.

Early in the trial, jurors spent their lunch hours Christmas shopping at Horton Plaza or lunching together. And during breaks, they would converge on the fourth-floor snack room for Snickers bars and bags of pretzels. The three smokers in the group went outside the courtroom and stood in front of the courthouse.

But as deliberations began, tensions heightened.

During breaks, more and more jurors spent time alone. McAlister said he walked up and down the courtroom stairs to relieve stress. And group lunches came to a halt. Most said their stomachs were too knotted to eat.

In the jury room, they sipped soda or hot tea, coffee and hot chocolate. Soon, plastic-foam cups littered the conference table in the sparsely furnished jury room equipped only with 13 chairs, a hot- and cold-water dispenser, an exhibits table, a blackboard and two small bathrooms.

McAlister tried to keep the deliberations focused on legal issues, writing definitions and arguments on the blackboard. But time and again, discussions turned emotional.

From the outset, jurors said, sympathy for everyone touched by the killings surfaced in the jury room. It had to be dispatched before a decision could be made. McAlister's first move was to go around the table and allow jurors to release pent up emotions.

"It was an American tragedy. We had to get this out, and then go beyond being human beings and focus on the issue," McAlister said.

"I sympathize for her. I sympathize for the family, for the kids," said juror JoAnn Phelps, of Chula Vista. "It's just that human response. I just don't think we can let our emotions and our sympathy get in the way (of) justice."

But once they began to examine the facts of the case, it became clear to most jurors that Broderick had acted with malice, a conclusion that ruled out a manslaughter verdict. Under the law, a demonstration of malice separates murder from manslaughter.

Also, the fact that Broderick entered her ex-husband's Marston Hills home with a gun precluded a finding of manslaughter because the act was itself a felony, McAlister said.

"It was clearly murder," said juror John M. Krouse, of Lemon Grove. "When she went into Dan and Linda's house she went in with a loaded .38 pistol. We all know the outcome: The results were two dead people. This was not a manslaughter issue."

The question then confronting the jurors was whether she should be convicted of murder in the first or second degree. Some, including the foreman himself, wanted a first-degree murder conviction.

But Betty Broderick's own testimony convinced some jurors she wasn't capable of committing first-degree murder.

"There was so much aberrant behavior on Betty Broderick's part, not acting as a reasonable person would act," McAlister said. "Her perceptions of the world seemed somehow different than what a normal person would perceive. That affected us."

To the end, McAlister worked to subdue pitched emotions, sometimes raising his hands to calm agitated jurors and insisting that jurors allow one another to speak. There was anger, tears and shouting.

On Monday morning, for instance, deliberations began at 9:10, and McAlister ordered a break just 30 minutes later to cool off the jury.

"People would say, 'Why are you attacking me? I'm not on trial,' " said Brunson. Then, "everyone had to have a hug."

"People were crying, people were yelling. We decided we had to have a unanimous verdict, a conclusion to all this," said Krouse. "We wanted to bring this to an end."

At 3:02 p.m., more than 25 months after Betty Broderick murdered her husband and his second wife, they did just that.

Times staff writers Tom Gorman, Mark Platte, Nora Zamichow and Leonard Bernstein reported this story. It was written by Bernstein.

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