USA's crime anthology series Dirty John is back, with Season 2 dramatizing the true story of Betty Broderick, a Southern California socialite who murdered her ex-husband and his new wife. The real trial transfixed San Diego in the early '90s, with Oprah deeming it one of "America's messiest divorces." But since it's now been decades since the crime, here's a Betty Broderick trial primer before Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story airs on USA.
According to The Los Angeles Times, Elizabeth Anne Broderick and her husband Daniel T. Broderick III were well known figures in upper crust La Jolla. Dan was a San Diego celebrity, having graduated from both Harvard Law School and Cornell School of Medicine. He was a prominent malpractice attorney, and Betty was his proud wife who planned their busy social calendar and cared for their four kids. They were rich and fashionable, and could always be spotted at high-profile parties.
Things started unraveling after 16 years of marriage. In 1983, Broderick began suspecting that Dan was cheating on her. In 1985, Dan filed for divorce, which kicked off an aggressive feud between the two. Broderick reportedly defaced his property, and even told her kids that she would kill their father. Dan responded by filing a restraining order and having her arrested and briefly committed to a mental hospital. He drafted up paperwork so she'd only have the kids on a "trial basis."
In November 1989, Broderick decided she had had enough. On the morning of Nov. 5 she walked into Dan's house using her daughter's key and shot him and his new wife Linda Kolkena to death with a .38-caliber pistol. She turned herself in to the police shortly after.
Broderick's actions divided San Diego society; some saw Dan as the victim of a vindictive harasser, while others saw Betty as the poor wife who was emotionally abused by a highly intelligent and legal-minded husband. “I have never had emotional disturbance or mental illness —except when he provoked a ‘disturbance,’" Broderick explained to an LA Times reporter after the murder. “He was hammering into me and everyone else that I was crazy... How long can you live like that?”
Per The New York Times, Broderick was defended by attorney Jack M. Early. Her first trial in 1990 ended in a hung jury because the jurors could not agree whether to charge her with murder or manslaughter after four days of discussions. (Murder carries a much stiffer penalty.) Her second trial began in September 1991, and kept the same defense strategy as the first: that she was the victim of a "covert, methodical and discreet assault."
On December 11, 1991, Betty Broderick was found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder by Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan. Whelan said that Broderick acted with “a high degree of callousness," noting that she pulled Dan's phone out of the wall after shooting him so he could not call for help. Whelan scheduled Broderick’s sentencing for Feb. 7, and she was given a prison term of 32 years to life, with parole eligibility in 19 years.
Per The San Diego Union-Tribune, in January 2010 Broderick was denied parole after she could not convince the state parole board that she was remorseful of her actions.
“Your heart is still bitter, and you are still angry,” said Board of Prison Terms Commissioner Robert Doyle. “You show no significant progress in evolving. You are still back 20 years ago in that same mode.”
Broderick was again denied parole in 2017; she will not be eligible again for parole until 2032. Broderick is currently serving her sentence at the California Institution for Women in Chino, California.