Sunday, January 29, 2012
Betty Broderick is one of those rare murderers for whom I feel a twinge of empathy.
These are usually women who have been abandoned and driven crazy by former husbands. I mean men who appear to have done this not unintentionally, but with a callous disregard which is tantamount to intent.
I remember when this case blew up so huge in the media and everybody seemed divided over what was the correct punishment for Broderick, who drove over to her ex-husband's house before sunrise one morning and pumped a few bullets in him and a few into his new trophy wife.
Then she pulled the phone cord out and left.
It would be very strange if her husband truly said, "You got me!" as his last words and held his palms out before him in a conciliatory "Go away, you killed me!" gesture. That's how he died according to Betty Broderick's testimony in court.
That reminds me of Quilty's death in that Nabokov novel.
I think she was lying though. And that was when she was testifying, when she was actually on the stand. I don't believe Dan Broderick said those words. That's a corny line, what a cartoon character says when he's shot. Who would actually say that if they'd just been shot full of holes and were lying there bleeding to death? Maybe he really said, "Oh God! Please call an ambulance!"
But Betty wouldn't admit that to the court, would she? It might make her look a lot less like a victim.
Admittedly, Dan Broderick wouldn't have been shouting out "Why?" as his last word.
Because he knew exactly why.
Betty Broderick had just been served the bazillionth set of legal papers (these were part of the custody war) and something in the tone of the papers had sent Broderick completely over the edge.
She had left countless threatening and humiliating messages on her ex's answering machine directed at him and his wife, and would even use very foul language to describe her kids' father to them on the phone (while she knew she was being recorded). Even when the kids would cry and beg her to stop using those words, she persisted.
Clearly, Broderick had become Medea. While she never fully sacrificed her children, she sacrificed their mental well-being--and it's possible she could have gone that next step if she had thought that would have hurt her ex more.
People who do the sorts of things Betty Broderick did often do go that extra step and kill children--when they find they have no other way to truly make the one who scorned them suffer.
In other words, they become monsters.
It's strange how fatalistic Dan Broderick was about his increasingly unstable ex. He hadn't had the security system repaired after Betty had damaged it when she rammed her vehicle into the front of his new house. This is why the victims never heard her enter the dwelling on the morning they were murdered.
By all accounts and by all evidence, he could play serious legal hardball and wasn't afraid to be Mr. Not So Nice Guy. He left his wife to replace her with a younger version of her. Since he couldn't roll back her odometer, he simply got a flashy new car.And the new bride showed no evidence of any empathy whatsoever for what Dan's ex was going through, which was clearly hell.
But that's not the entirety of his malfeasance.
He did pull a number of maneuvers in which he bankrolled about three-quarters of a million dollars by siphoning these off as "loans" to his brother (totally transparent sneak move). So these assets were not counted in the divorce settlement as they should have been.
He made sure she lost her house when almost any woman would have been entitled to keep the same. But Broderick had the misfortune of being divorced by a very powerful, rather devious attorney.
But let's be realistic. These are material things. This is money. And what ultimately happened is that lives were snuffed out. Children lost a parent. Both Dan Broderick and his new wife were stolen from all the people who loved them.
I think there were two problems here. Betty Broderick was mentally ill and refused to let go. And Dan Broderick decided the only way to handle his ex was to play cruel hardball. Neither of these facts necessarily had to lead to murder. This isn't necessarily a recipe for tragedy.
It was Betty Broderick's own actions which led to her losing custody of her children. You can't terrorize your kids, and constantly attack your ex vicariously through your children, and think a judge is going to think you're a trustworthy parent.
Dan Broderick was a powerful and well-regarded and well-connected attorney and it really looks like Betty Broderick's allegations are correct: that he schmoozed and she got treated unfairly and judges let him slide at every turn of this messy divorce.
Or maybe I'm exaggerating. If Betty had been able to focus more on what was best for her, instead of constantly trying to make her ex's life hell, she probably could have done much better in court.
But she didn't really give a damn about court. She was addicted to making Dan suffer. It had become like a drug to her.
She would leave messages saying that she was going to tell everyone what a drunk and what a worthless human being he had been "every year of his life."
So why want him back? And if she would have said she didn't want him back, then what the hell was she doing stalking him and his wife?
Most troubling of all are documents (never allowed into trial) that both Dan Broderick and his new wife had admitted they intended to drive Betty insane and they counted on her committing suicide. Well, this was alleged by Betty Broderick's attorney in the Aphrodite Jones documentary on Investigation Discovery, anyway. I haven't seen those "documents." Has anyone other than her attorney? I wonder if these might not have been flip, offhand comments scribbled in a notepad somewhere when someone's patience had worn thin. Possibly a bad joke someone made? (I was going to say "dashed off in an email" but I'm certain this was pre-internet.)
Her first trial ended in a hung jury. First, five jurors were refusing and wanted to acquit. Finally, they got it down to only two refusing to convict, but this pair wouldn't budge.
One of these two was interviewed and said if Dan Broderick had pulled the sort of things on him he had pulled with Betty Broderick, he would have been dead in a much shorter time than it took Betty to kill him. It's surprising to me that this was said by a man. I always thought women were more likely to see her as completely justified. Maybe I'm falling for stereotypes. Or maybe anyone who went through a similar situation with a messy breakup still deals with issues of buried rage.
Maybe Betty Broderick did what many people going through messy breakups once thought of doing, before they came back to sanity in the nick of time.
The individual who said this seemed like a pretty rational man. Scary, huh?
But let's come back to reality. It just means there was a creepy juror sitting on the case. Nobody should be advocating for murder.
That's part of the disturbing nature of this case. It seems to rattle so many people, to scramble our sense of clear judgment. Because we see the genuine pain and distress of Broderick. We see the wall that went up and how she drove herself crazy by running at that wall. Again and again.
But. I don't condone what she did.
Taking their father from her children, putting her children through hell, and the act of murder itself are unforgivable things. The one exception to justify murder would have been if these two were trying to physically murder her.
Even if you believe the allegation that Dan and his new wife were trying to drive Betty Broderick insane and have her commit suicide, that's still not the same thing as having your life threatened. It's not a physical threat. You can simply avoid them. There's no evidence that any physical threats were ever made against Betty Broderick. Dan didn't drive his vehicle into Betty's house. It was the other way around.
Yes, she did lose the original house she shared with Dan in the legal battles. But she still ended up with a very nice house and a ridiculously large monthly alimony payment, large even by today's standards.
So the "poor little bankrupt Betty" act really doesn't wash when you look at the facts.
You have to be responsible for your own mind, even when it's sick. Even if it's sick because of human cruelty. Even if this is because of psychological torture, which might have occurred here.
I say "might have occurred." But the truth is I don't really believe it. I think the real torture for Betty was that Dan stopped loving her. And that tortured her everyday and she couldn't get past it.
She shot both of them for a reason. She didn't just shoot Dan. She was trying to unwrite what life had written. Murder doesn't even do that. Which is why Betty Broderick is still mentally anguished. Killing them didn't even give her any release, any feeling of peace. If you hear her speak today, you can see she's still miserable.
People react in so many different ways to abandonment. People heal at different rates. If only this woman could have chosen to get mental health treatment (or even been forced--as she was once, but she signed herself out immediately after the required 72 hours) her life and that of her children would be so much better today.
Today, stalking behavior is taken much more seriously. But in the year that these murders occurred, there were fewer laws in place and people didn't recognize the patterns as readily.
I know Broderick's acts can't be defended using the insanity defense, since she clearly was not legally insane.
But I do believe she was insane in the medical sense when she committed her act. Perhaps a majority of murderers (or close to a majority) are. It won't affect the prosecution and it's almost seen as incidental today. The world is full of crazy people. Some of them kill and some of them don't.
The simple fact is she should have walked away. She should have medicated herself, committed herself. Anything other than what she did.
Yes, her husband baited her horribly.
Had he been a decent person, he would have tried to make her life more tolerable, even if he felt he had to leave her.
But when I hear Betty Broderick speak, in those hateful answering machine messages and elsewhere, she often sounds like the worst stereotypical, violent male predator.
This makes me wonder if maybe she initially fell in love with Dan Broderick because they were so alike.
I know many people think Dan Broderick was an arrogant prick and maybe he was. He's not here to defend himself or his choices. We don't really know what went on in that marriage. It does appear he looked at his marriage after the breakup as only another contract, another legal battle, another chance to prove his competency.
One wonders if he could have tried to have a more human response to Betty's pain. Or would that have just been sending her mixed messages and giving her false hope for a reconciliation?
I believe Betty Broderick is still insane.
I suspect she's had many people bolstering her own insane arguments about why she was ultimately justified in what she did.
Some of these people might be advocates for abused women or feminist thinkers who might be trading on Broderick's story to add interest to whatever they're writing or whatever cause they're espousing.
But allowing Broderick to continually self-justify and to refuse to look at the true nature of her act is ultimately to do her a great disservice as a human being.
I understand exactly why the parole board said what they said to her when refusing her request. I feel it's unfortunate they set the next hearing at the maximum allowable amount (fifteen years, when Broderick will be well into her seventies). Because she could have a breakthrough next year and begin to truly understand what she has done and what she has forever undone.
It's horrible to see a human being become a killer because they loved someone in a very honest and trusting way. It's like that classic Raymond Carver story, "What We Talk about When We Talk about Love." That's basically this story being told one afternoon over cocktails, deeply troubling some couples with its mordant truth value.
I suppose Medea was the exact same story. The only difference is Broderick didn't physically sacrifice her children--she did it emotionally and spiritually.
Aphrodite Jones, in her recent documentary on Broderick, included commentary by a journalist who summed up Broderick's situation today best: "She feels that if she just tells you every single horrible thing he did to her, every unjust and cruel act perpetrated against her by her ex and his new wife, she can somehow make you understand that what she did to those two people was justified." (I'm paraphrasing).
And that's exactly what she did at her parole board hearing and that's why she was (understandably) denied.
Is Betty Broderick a threat to anyone other than herself anymore?
Is she insane? I believe she is still completely insane. I mean she has no control over her own mind or that idee fixe she has that Dan (and his new wife) made her do it.
That's the insanity. That she felt like a puppet even as she premeditated and did this heinous act.
She has never believed that she was responsible for the murder. Somehow, Dan nefariously drove her to do this against her will. Or that's what I'm honestly convinced this woman believes.
I mean I believe that she believes what she says about Dan still persecuting her from beyond the grave with his connections and powerful friends. Those people have probably all long buried this story in their minds and forgotten about Betty Broderick. But she hasn't forgotten about them. She's still there. In that year. In that nightmare. In that bedroom trying to reason with him by putting bullets into him.
Which is so sad. But I guess it protects her from the knowledge of what she actually did. Maybe she can't survive knowing the truth. I've seen other murderers like that. They simply create the truth they can live with. In a sense, we all do this, even those of us who are non-murderers.
I don't think for a moment it's an act. Because as an act it's not self-serving at all. The act that would serve her would be contrition, false or otherwise. But she can't go there. She's still fighting a dead man.
I kept thinking how ironic this situation is. Because you just know if Betty Broderick had been a stone-cold sociopath and not a woman driven insane by betrayed love, she would have surely been paroled after that recent hearing.
Because parole boards are only too ready to be flattered by people who know just what to say in any given circumstance.
Had Broderick been such a creature, she would have aced that hearing.
But sociopaths don't turn themselves in, either. And Broderick turned herself in the very day she committed these murders.
Probably because she didn't know what to to. Her entire reason for existing (revenge) had ceased once her great antagonist was dead. Her universe was probably spinning. I bet it felt like the Death of God to her.
And then she found her champions and advocates and she fell almost gleefully into her victim narrative.
At her trail, she'd go from genuine sobbing, tearful testimony to weird little gleeful smiles when she made hateful jibes at her dead antagonist. It was creepy and pathetic.
It was so clear she was insane.
Just not legally insane.
If the prosecution had not managed to get so much defense material quashed in the second trial, she might very well have ended up with a hung jury or been acquitted there too.
I suspect Betty Broderick is in two prisons.
One is made out of cinderblocks and bars.
But I suspect the one from which she may never be paroled is actually flesh and bone, memories and emotions she can't wash clean. And this while her children have gone from elementary school age to full adulthood.
I hope they have found a peace somewhere beyond this.