Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Betty Broderick: Divorce... Desperation...Death

Trial Begins

The trial opened Monday, October 22, 1990, on the upper floor of the county courthouse, Judge Thomas J. Whalen presiding. Among the newspaper and television people cramming the narrow courtroom were members of the Broderick family of Pennsylvania and the Bisceglias of New York. Most random spectators were female.

"This case is not only about murderit is about premeditated murder," Kerry Wells opened the session, clearly giving away the prosecution's objective. "Killing Dan and Linda Broderick was something she thought about for a long, long time." Thematic to that goal, she played Betty's answering machine outbursts over and over like a machine gun display mercilessly driving home a point.

Jack Early & Betty
Jack Early & Betty

In easy contrast to Wells' kinetic opening remarks, Jack Early clarified that he would prove Betty was not the aggressor, but a woman pushed to a nervous breakdown by Dan Broderick's "snowstorm of paper, a litigious assault that started somewhere around 1985." Dan Broderick , he said, was really the hunter "whose reputation as a lawyer was the most important thing to him, more important than his family...(and) he would do anything to protect it."

To prove premeditation, the prosecution introduced witnesses who came forth to tell of Betty's unconcealed anger and mania, about the threats she made, the reckless break-ins at Dan's house, the full-nine-yards mania. Among those summoned to testify were Dan's housekeepers Linda David and Sylvia Cavins. David claimed she heard Betty utter, "I'll either make his life a living hell or I'll kill him." And Cavins testified that, on the day of Dan's marriage to Linda, Betty said she would "put four bullets in Dan's head, one for each of the children."

Wells even brought in the two Broderick daughters Kim and Lee to testify. Both girls, 20- and 19-years-old, respectively had somewhat estranged themselves from the parents during the last months of parental feuding the eldest, Kim, had even been disowned by Dan at one point for her rebellious attitude. Strangely, then, Kim presented a rather negative picture of her mother. Although there had been no love lost between father and Kim in those final years, now with Dan dead he seemed to have become a metaphoric martyr in her eyes.

Kim not only testified that she heard her mother say "a lot of times" that she wanted to kill Dan a fact that Lee supported but in the process presented the court with a previously unconsidered motive: a court-ordered $1 million dollar insurance policy for the four children, which had gone into effect two months before her mother killed her father. According to Kim, Betty told the four siblings, "I'll kill him (and) we'll all be rich."

For the benefit of the prosecution, Wells had family therapist Dr. Ruth Roth explain her reactions to Betty whom she had met briefly in 1987 when she helped counsel the couple's marital problems. Referring to notes she had made on Betty at that time, Dr. Roth recalled Betty as a woman of uncontrollable anger; she quoted Betty as saying, "I'm not going to be a single parent of four kids. He'll die first."

In cross examination, Jack Early attacked all of Wells' witnesses with fervor. He was particularly concise with the Broderick daughters who, under Early's baton, admitted that, well yes, Betty would use the term "kill" routinely and as a figure of expression, such as I'm gonna kill the paper boy if he throws the newspaper on the lawn again, etc. etc. Early got a tearful Kim to admit that if her mother's temper was one to reckon with, so was that of her father, who had once smashed an uncooperative lawnmower to pieces.

As for Dr. Roth, when he asked her to compare her notes on Betty with those on Dan, the therapist conceded that she could not she had failed to take notes on the husband.