Broderick Gets 32 Years to Life

Times Staff Writer

La Jolla socialite Elisabeth Anne (Betty) Broderick was sentenced Friday to the maximum term possible, 32 years to life in prison, by a judge who said the time had come to set aside the rancor that marked her divorce and murder trials and “start the healing.”

Closing a case that sparked national interest as a symbol of the rage--and fire for revenge--that consumes many divorcing couples, San Diego Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan said Betty Broderick deserved to be sentenced for the Nov. 5, 1989, killings of her ex-husband, Daniel T. Broderick, and his new wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick.

When Betty Broderick snuck into her ex-husband’s home before dawn that Sunday morning and fired a gun in a dark bedroom, two people died, not just one, said Whelan, who imposed consecutive terms rather than condensing the two sentences into one, as he could have.


Parole guidelines ensure that Broderick, 44, convicted of two counts of second-degree murder at the second of two lengthy trials, will be behind bars for at least the next 18 years. Her first trial ended in a hung jury. She contended at both trials that she was also a victim--of a lawyer husband she said had been emotionally abusive and manipulative.

Broderick impassively read letters and legal papers as Whelan passed sentence. She did not speak in her own defense, and ignored Daniel and Linda Broderick’s friends and relatives, who, one after the other, tearfully begged Whelan to show no mercy.

The only time Broderick looked up during the two-hour hearing was when the prosecutor in the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Kerry Wells, called her a “very disturbed woman.” Broderick put the stack of papers aside, looked to her left at Wells, and smiled. Then she went back to the stack.

Wells, who had asked Whelan for the maximum term, was obviously pleased when she heard him announce the sentence. “Yeah!” she exclaimed softly.

After the hearing, Wells said: “I say it the way I feel it, and I’m pleased the judge saw it the way I see it.”

Defense lawyer Jack Earley said after the hearing that he plans to appeal the verdicts and the sentence. He had asked Whelan to give Broderick some hope that she would not die in prison, but he said the maximum term was not a surprise.


“I expected it and (Broderick) expected it,” he said.

For more than two years, the case, with its theme of infidelity among the wealthy, had been the focus of extraordinary public attention, as if the bitter Broderick divorce were a template against which people could measure their own marriages.

Aside from countless articles in the San Diego and national press, the case has been featured in several magazines. A book and a made-for-TV movie are in the works.

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.

The couple had four children: two daughters who are grown and living on their own and two sons who now live with one of Daniel’s relatives.

Daniel Broderick, 44, was a prominent medical malpractice attorney and a former president of the San Diego County Bar Assn. Linda Broderick, 28, was his office assistant.

Betty Broderick admitted firing the fatal shots, but testified that her only intention was to confront the couple about ongoing problems in the divorce and custody dispute, then kill herself.


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

The first jury, which heard the case in 1990, could not break a deadlock--10 jurors favored a murder conviction and two held out for manslaughter. The second jury compromised on a second-degree murder verdict, rejecting the prosecution claim that Broderick planned the killings beforehand, which would have been first-degree murder.

Whelan sentenced Broderick to two identical terms of 15 years to life. State law called for him to add an additional two years because she used a gun.

He called the case a “tragedy from start to finish.” But, he said, Broderick showed a “high degree of callousness” by shooting the couple, then pulling a phone out of Daniel Broderick’s reach as he lay gurgling in his own blood.

From beginning to end, Whelan said, the case had produced “strong emotions.” But, he said, “now is the time to set aside this emotion and start the healing process.”

State law demands that Broderick serve two-thirds of the sentence before she is eligible for parole. Taking into account the time she has already spent behind bars--she surrendered to police hours after the killings--means she will be eligible for release in about 18 years.


A parole board will determine whether she actually remains in prison past then.

If the sentences had run concurrently--that is, a term of 17 years to life--Broderick would still have had to serve two-thirds, about 10 years, before she was eligible for parole.

Earley asked Whelan to send Broderick to the California Institute for Women at Frontera, in Riverside County, the state’s maximum-security prison, saying it is the closest to San Diego. Whelan said he will recommend that she go there, but the final decision is up to prison authorities.

Until court officials pull together the necessary prison papers, Broderick will remain at the Las Colinas Jail in Santee. She has been held there since she gave herself up.

Her old friend from jail, Karen Wilkening, showed up Friday at the sentencing. Wilkening, who used to run a call-girl service in San Diego and is now making the rounds of the national TV talk shows, never went into the courtroom.

Wrapped in a white coat, a glittery scarf and wearing blue sunglasses, Wilkening waited in the hall during the hearing. After it broke up, she left, avoiding reporters.

Margaret Kolkena-Seats, Linda Broderick’s sister, showed up, too--for the first time. She saved her comments for court:


“It is dismaying to those of us who knew her well that Linda has emerged as some kind of gold-digging bimbo. She was very quick and intelligent, and anyone who knew Dan knew he had a low tolerance for ineptitude, and she would never have continued as his legal assistant if she had been stupid.”

Larry Broderick, Daniel Broderick’s brother and the Broderick family’s most outspoken spokesman at every critical court hearing, did not attend. Terry Broderick, another brother, took his place. He referred to Betty Broderick only by her maiden name--Betty Bisceglia--and said, “The triumph of justice is our only peace.”

Betty Broderick’s oldest daughter, Kim, 21, sat in the back row with a friend and her father’s brother. The younger daughter, Lee, 20, sat in the front row with her mother’s relatives. Broderick’s former maid was there, too. So were two of Broderick’s brothers and her father, who came from various cities around the country.

As the crowd cleared out after the hearing, Kim Broderick spent a few minutes with her mother behind closed doors. Emerging, Kim said, “I’m just glad it’s over.”

Added Gerard Bisceglia, Broderick’s brother: “I feel bad for everybody. There are no sides. There are just victims.”