Broderick Found Guilty of Murder in Second Degree

Times Staff Writer

Twenty-five months and two trials after Elisabeth Anne (Betty) Broderick shot her ex-husband and his new wife to death in their bed, the La Jolla divorcee was convicted Tuesday of two counts of second-degree murder.

Broderick, who had claimed that she was emotionally abused by her ex-husband, Daniel T. Broderick III, a prominent medical malpractice attorney, became a national symbol of the rage--and desire for revenge--felt by many divorcing couples.

Though her attorney had pushed for a verdict of manslaughter, Broderick remained composed as the jurors found her guilty of murder, smiling pleasantly at them as they were individually polled. She was also convicted of two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.


Her attorney, Jack Earley, turned and asked, “Are you OK?” She nodded and touched his hand.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry Wells, who also prosecuted Broderick in last year’s trial, which ended in a hung jury, hugged her husband after the verdict was read and flashed reporters a beaming smile.

“I’m glad it’s over,” she said.

Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan scheduled Broderick’s sentencing for Feb. 7. She faces a prison term of 32 years to life. The 44-year-old woman could be eligible for parole in 19 years, Dist. Atty. Edwin Miller said.

For more than two years, the Broderick case, with its themes of infidelity among the wealthy, had been the talk of San Diego and the template around which others judged their own marriages and divorces. It was written about in numerous national magazines and is yet to be chronicled in a book and made-for-television movie.

The seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated four days before reaching a verdict shortly before 2 p.m. Last year’s jury deliberated four days before announcing it was deadlocked, with 10 favoring a murder conviction and two holding out for manslaughter.

Broderick crept into her ex-husband’s Marston Hills house on Nov. 5, 1989, and shot the 44-year-old lawyer and his wife of six months, Linda Kolkena Broderick, 28.


Broderick testified that her only intention on that early Sunday morning was to confront the couple about ongoing problems in the divorce and custody dispute, and then kill herself.

She said she fired five shots from a .38-caliber revolver only because Linda Broderick yelled, “Call the police!” and Daniel Broderick lunged for the phone.

Jury foreman George Lawrence McAlister said several members of this year’s panel, including himself, were leaning toward a verdict of first-degree murder and several others toward a manslaughter conviction, and that what resulted was a decision “somewhere in the middle.”

Much of that decision was based on Broderick’s own description of the killings, McAlister said, which the jury asked to have reread during deliberations.

“Her reactions weren’t something a normal, reasonable person would do,” he said. “It became a question of, ‘How did Betty Broderick perceive the world?’ ”

Defense attorney Earley said Broderick was unable to fully comprehend the verdict yet, and that she smiled in the courtroom only because her tendency “is to be a people-pleaser.”

“This is just not something she’s been able to absorb,” he said. “It’s just not real to her at this point. I’m sure it will be very shortly.

“It’s like telling someone they have cancer. They might smile and everything might be OK, but it’s the week after, when everything comes home as a reality that makes all the difference.

“Of course, she understood that there’s a verdict, and of course she understood that there are consequences, but that’s a lot different from finding out that the course of your life has been determined,” he said.

Earley said he felt the jurors made a fair decision based on the evidence they were presented. But he said he will appeal on the basis that Judge Whelan excluded significant evidence. He said that, had he been given the opportunity, he could have shown that Daniel Broderick had driven his ex-wife to violence.

Relatives of Daniel and Linda said Tuesday that, while they are disappointed Broderick was not convicted of first-degree murder, they are glad the trial is over.

“Is it a happy day? No, it’s not. It’s a sad, tragic story and I hope it’s over now,” Maggie Kolkena-Seats, Linda’s sister, said from her home in Portland, Ore. “Those two people were unjustly murdered, especially my sister. . . . I’m tired of the media dragging Dan and Linda through the dirt. I’m tired of Betty’s . . . sensational perspective.”

Terry and Larry Broderick, two of Daniel’s brothers, said they were “outraged” by the verdict. Terry Broderick said he believes the jury fell prey to “sympathies, as opposed to what they were instructed, based on the evidence.”

“What they (the jury) got was more a reflection of my brother Dan as opposed to what she was accused of,” he said. “I feel my brother’s life and the things he did have been discounted, as opposed to the actions she took. She was the one on trial, not him, but it was his character being tried.”

Jurors began deliberating Thursday afternoon and asked Monday to review Broderick’s description of the killings--98 pages of testimony.

According to her testimony, Broderick entered the home with her daughter’s key and crept into the bedroom. In last year’s trial, prosecutor Wells chose not to ask about the shootings themselves, but this year spent more than an hour on the homicides in intense cross-examination.

During the trial, the jury heard the now-familiar tale of an American success-story couple whose marriage, complete with four children, disintegrated into a sordid divorce.

Betty Broderick, who was receiving $16,100 a month in alimony at the time of her ex-husband’s death, had repeatedly vandalized his home--ramming her car into his front door, for example, and spray-painting the walls of his bedroom.

Earlier, during their estrangement, she had piled his clothes in their back yard and set them on fire. She repeatedly left obscene messages on his answering machine.

She had violated numerous restraining orders, witnesses said, and made repeated death threats against the couple.

As the two trials unfolded, Broderick told and retold a story--rebutted by Daniel Broderick’s friends and family--of emotional terrorism at the hands of an influential, cunning ex-husband.

He began an affair with office assistant Linda Kolkena in 1983, and, when Broderick tried to confront him about it, told her she was crazy, she said. He told her she was old, fat and boring, and had her jailed and hospitalized when she tried to fight his legal maneuverings, she testified. The couple were divorced in 1986 but continued to wrangle over alimony payments and child custody.

“Dan Broderick wanted to litigate everything,” Broderick said in a recent interview. “He would not settle on anything and so that left me vulnerable to have to fight with a guy for whom litigating was fun. He wasn’t ever going to leave me alone. He kept jerking me around and jerking me around. . . . You think going to court or filing legal papers was emotionally upsetting to Dan Broderick?”

Her story touched many of the jurors, foreman McAlister said. Throughout the deliberations, he said, “we thought we could have a hung jury.”

“We all had some sympathy for her. We felt it was a tremendous tragedy,” he told reporters after the verdict was read. “But we saw so much aberrant behavior.”

Billy J. Curtis, another juror, said: “It’s not that I didn’t believe her. But I was listening to the witnesses. She could have lied.”

Earley said late Tuesday that three female jurors were leaning heavily toward a manslaughter conviction but that McAlister--who favored the harshest conviction--urged his colleagues to compromise somewhere in between.

When the second trial began Oct. 15, Wells, the prosecutor, depicted Broderick as a cold-blooded killer who had executed Daniel and Linda and left him “gurgling in his own blood.”

In opening arguments, she portrayed Broderick as a woman possessed by hate and the need for revenge, and as a killer who most deeply resented, not her divorce from a prominent attorney, but the fact that her days as a La Jolla socialite were over.

Earley characterized Daniel Broderick as a man with a drinking problem, one with two convictions for driving under the influence, and who once, with his wife at home with a newborn baby, drove home drunk with his three other children in the car.

The arena in which the Brodericks’ ugly divorce war took place was Daniel’s arena, Earley said.

“He said, ‘OK, if you want to fight, you’re going to be in the ring with Muhammad Ali. You’re going to be in here with a heavyweight litigator. We’re going to litigate this case the hardest way we can.’ ”

Earley said Betty Broderick was left with an avalanche from which she could never escape and which haunts her to this day.

“She was left in a severe state of depression, and the anger was as much at herself as anyone else,” Earley said. “She couldn’t dig out from under the avalanche.”

He said he was not surprised at the reaction from that of Daniel Broderick’s brothers.

“All along, they’ve tried to portray Betty as an evil person and Dan and Linda as complete victims,” Earley said, “when they (Dan and Linda) knew every step of the way that they were torturing Betty.”

Part of the Brodericks’ dispute was over custody of their two sons, Danny and Rhett, now 15 and 12. The two daughters, the elder children, live on their own in Colorado. The sons now live with Larry Broderick’s estranged wife, Kathy, in Colorado.

Kim Broderick, 21, the oldest daughter of Daniel and Betty, testified that her mother had shown violent tendencies for years and had talked openly and often about killing her ex-husband and his new wife. Her sister, Lee, 20, testified that Daniel cut her out of his will after learning of her drug use.

The prosecution also played an emotional tape in which Danny, then 11, told his mother that all she cared about was money, and begged her to never again use “bad words.”

For 34 minutes, the couple’s oldest son pleaded with his mother to stop tearing the family apart with jealous rage and vulgar invective.

At one point, the boy said: “All you care about is your stupid money. You want everything. You want all the kids, all the money, to get rid of Linda--and it’s not going to work, Mom. You’ve been mad long enough.”

She replied, “No, I haven’t.”

Earley said Tuesday that a key aspect of his appeal will be his allegation that Daniel Broderick once solicited a hit man to kill his estranged wife. Judge Whelan rejected appeals to enter evidence on those allegations.

“In 1984 and 1985, he talked to someone in his office about what it would cost to have her killed,” Earley said, “what guarantees he would have that it would not get back to him and how it would be done. He told a number of people it wouldn’t be over until one of them was gone.”

The judge said that, since the defendant was unaware of the alleged murder-for-hire scheme until recently, it could not have been relevant to her state of mind at the time of the slayings.

Broderick’s legal troubles are far from over. Even as a prison inmate, she will face a civil lawsuit, filed in San Diego Superior Court, in which a San Diego County sheriff’s deputy has asked for punitive and compensatory damages after being injured in a fracas at the jail.

And matters pertaining to the estate of Daniel and Linda Broderick remain to be settled.

Brad Wright, Broderick’s boyfriend after the divorce and one of two people who discovered the bodies on the day of the slayings, said Tuesday that Broderick has been largely misrepresented by the local media.

“She was not a socialite,” Wright said. “She was just a housewife with four kids trying to settle a divorce, as she has told me. The media keep repeating that she was a socialite.

“Joan Kroc, Helen Copley--those are socialites. . . . Betty was just a La Jolla housewife who spent a lot of time in jogging suits taking kids to school parties or soccer games.”

Wright said he had not yet had a chance to talk with Broderick, but, asked about her calm demeanor during the reading of the verdict, said: “Don’t worry, she’ll collapse later. She came in with an optimistic attitude, but had voiced a lot of concern about the way the trial was going.

“She didn’t get a sense the jury was getting a real clear picture.”