Prosecutor Turns a Defeat Into a Victory

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kerry Wells bounded into her boss' office Tuesday to make her first formal report on the verdicts that everyone already knew.

Free of the pressure that kept her tightly wound in court, Wells yelled, "Yo!"

"Good show," said her boss, Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller. In an aside to a bystander, Miller said, "She did a great job."

Turning back criticism that she botched the first trial of La Jolla socialite Elisabeth Anne (Betty) Broderick, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry Wells won two second-degree murder convictions Tuesday. The trial last year ended in a hung jury.

The convictions this time around, Wells said, were the direct result of a two-pronged strategy--to attack Betty Broderick's credibility at every turn, and to hammer relentlessly at the details of the Nov. 5, 1989, shooting deaths of Betty Broderick's ex-husband, Daniel T. Broderick III, and his second wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick.

That strategy not only won Wells two murder verdicts, it also won her the respect and admiration of her boss--and the powerful and prominent lawyer friends of Daniel Broderick, a former president of the San Diego County Bar Assn.

In San Diego legal circles, there had been wide speculation that Wells might be replaced for the second trial. But Miller stood by her, and though another deputy prosecutor, Paul Burakoff, helped out at the second trial, Wells insisted Tuesday that she was simply glad for the help.

After the first trial, Denver businessman Larry G. Broderick, one of Daniel Broderick's brothers, sent Wells a letter suggesting ways to ensure a conviction with a "less than middle-class jury" of "less than average intelligence."

In a section of the letter that seemed critical of Wells, Larry G. Broderick cited ways the case "might be better prosecuted the second time around."

Larry Broderick sent a copy of that letter to several prominent local attorneys, who said later they had discussed legal tactics with each other but had nothing to do with the June 21, 1991, letter.

On Tuesday, the lawyers denied playing a part in the prosecution, but they said Wells should be proud.

"I think she did a better job this time around," said Ken Coveney, one of the attorneys who received the letter. "I think she did a much better job.

"She had her heart and entire being committed to getting a just result in this case. And it showed."

Though the verdicts were second-degree murder, not first-degree, Wells said any murder verdict had to be considered a just one.

"Obviously we're very pleased there's a verdict," Wells said. "And obviously we're very pleased that the jury believed (Betty Broderick) was guilty of murder, not manslaughter.

"It's always been our position that she was guilty of murder," Wells said. "It's always been our position that if we found 12 reasonable jurors, they'd agree with us."

Wells said she could tell, as the case went along, that the jury was leaning the prosecution's way.

"I was basically pleased with the way the case was coming in," she said. "I think we put on a good, strong, concise case."

The first prong of the prosecution strategy, Wells said, was to paint Betty Broderick as a liar.

"We needed to let (the jury) know that right up front," Wells said. "Letting them know that there was more than one side to her story."

The key to the tactic, Wells said, was showing the difference between Betty Broderick's manner on direct and cross-examination--that is, between the answers Betty Broderick gave when she was being led softly by the defense and sharply questioned by the prosecution.

"Suddenly, there was a real lack of memory on cross-examination," Wells said. "Suddenly there was an inability to answer a simple yes or no question with a yes or no answer."

The tactic did not rely on exposing one big lie, Wells said. Instead, she said she hammered at "an accumulation of little ones."

For example, Betty Broderick said she did not know anything about her ex-husband's investments, Wells said, when she did.

Betty Broderick testified initially that Daniel Broderick reneged at the last minute on an arrangement to take custody of the couple's children on a weekend that Betty Broderick had set aside for a trip to Acapulco. That wasn't true, Wells said.

"There was an accumulation of little lies that showed her willingness to just weave a story to try to get her intended result," Wells said.

In the June 21 letter, Larry Broderick suggested that "virtually every lie that (Betty) tells on the stand should be refuted--regardless of how long it takes."

Wells said Tuesday she had not been swayed by the letter, nor put under any pressure to secure a conviction from Daniel Broderick's family or his lawyer friends.

"I think in any case that has a lot of publicity, obviously there's going to be a lot of people offering opinions," Wells said. "You just sort of take them for what they're worth," she said, adding that the opinions that mattered to her came from Miller and other prosecutors.

The second prong that prosecutors emphasized the second time around was a distinct focus on the actual killings. During cross-examination at the first trial, Wells inexplicably did not ask Betty Broderick for details of the shootings.

This time, Wells spent more than an hour asking Betty Broderick about the shootings. Often, Betty Broderick told Wells she could not remember what happened the morning of the slayings.

"The focus was to show that there was a lack of credibility. But even despite that, to focus in on the murders, and what she did that morning," Wells said.

"There was an attempt to do that the last time around. It obviously wasn't as successful."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
65°