Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Shadow of a Doubt

There were some major differences in this trial, noticeable from day one, that leaned in favor of the prosecution. Kerry Wells, for one, seemed more relaxed this time, less scolding and obviously coached by veteran Deputy DA Paul Burakoff, who assisted her and whose presence lent an air of determination to the state's clear objective of Get Betty.

Betty breaks down during testimony.
Betty breaks down during testimony.

Jack Early found his defense much more difficult in trial number two. Several times the court refused to allow testimony that would have supported his client as being a victim of abuse. Early was appalled when a star witness, Dr. Daniel Sonkin, an expert on battered women's studies, was limited to speak of abuse in very general terms and not in terms of Betty's particular case. It was the judge's contention that there was no hint of Betty being a victim of other than perhaps emotional abuse, not physical nor sexual.

Mid-trial, Early dropped a bombshell that sent Wells and the prosecutors off their litigant chairs. He raised the possibility that Dan Broderick may at one point tried to have Betty murdered. A city cab driver named Paul Taylor had come forth claiming that Dan had approached him, musing to have Taylor do away with the vexsome wife "permanently," to quote the cabbie for about $500,000. Newspapers rushed forward, braced for a juicy story and a rambunctious turn of events in the courtroom, but no sooner had the smoke of Early's blast cleared than the court objected and banned Taylor and any further word of hit men from the trial. Taylor would only produce misleading cues, said Judge Whelan, since Betty had no knowledge of any such external activities and this was not Dan Broderick's trial, but Betty's.

Early raged, but the trial seemed to slide downhill for him from that point.

However, the outcome proved that the notion of reasonable doubt that Early had hoped to seed in the heads of the talismen had indeed been planted. After all the fuss and flying feathers and the reinventing of the wheel that the prosecutors had caused in its second trial, the resulting verdict proved to be not much more than a compromise: guilty of second-degree murder.

Early was pleased, but he pointed out to the newspapers that had his defense not been quagmired he believed the jury's decision would have been no more than manslaughter.

The Broderick family were not happy campers. Dan's brother, Larry, seated in a San Diego Irish bar afterward, angrily told reporters, "What's the matter with a system that allows this woman to threaten these people dozens of times...blow them away in their sleep and that's not murder one in this goddamn country?"

As for Betty, she stood mixed between relief and sadness. The court recognized her struggle, but condemned her resolve. She had not expected to walk out free, but the two consecutive fifteen-years-to-life sentences she received wouldn't allow her parole for nineteen years.


Today, Prisoner Number W42477 continues to tend to her various responsibilities menial and then some that are required of any prisoner at the Central California Women's Facility at Chowchilla. She has resigned herself to her daily fate of routine mornings and early bedtimes, and keeps her eyes and hope on the year 2011, the date of her first possible parole. Her children do not visit, but she still sees a man named Brad Wright, whom she met during her separation period.

In a recent interview with Lexxicon, she sounds rather upbeat: "I am kept very busy in here. I am forced to 'program' from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., then we have meals, showers, laundry, phone calls...I try to tutor ladies in the GED exam (and) am very active in my 'community,' serving on boards and committees just like home...I am very well liked and respected...I don't live in fear."

But, with a twist of emotion peppered with lingering bitterness, she adds, "Goddamn shame you can only feel safe and free in prison! Nice society we have!"

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