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Channel 39 reporter's notes on the first Betty Broderick trial

Trial and error

Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter: “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health.”
Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter: “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health.”

The following are excerpts from a journal kept by a Channel 39 reporter during the first trial of Betty Broderick last fall.

For the broadcast types, the only practical way to cover the trial is by “pooling” resources and hooking up to the Mult Box.

The electronic equivalent of a great mother sow, the Mult Box is a metal cabinet on rollers, about the size of a dishwasher, with a TV monitor on the front.

It takes an audio and video feed from a television camera setup inside the courtroom and distributes the signals, closed-circuit, through several separate output plugs.

As long as everybody gets an udder to suck on, the broadcast pool is one big, happy family. But when the Mult Box is overloaded — as it often is for this trial — latecomers have to “piggyback.”

The Mult Box — actually, one of two in use at the courthouse — was engineered and underwritten by Channels 8, 10, and 39, along with radio stations KSDO and KFMB. According to protocol, those organizations get first dibs on the primary outlet plugs.

When all the plugs are taken, the understanding calls for network and out-of-town affiliates to receive “dubs” from their local connections.

My photographer, John Avey, is eager to shoot most if not all of the trial sessions. Thus we make a point of getting down to the courthouse every morning by 8 a.m. — often before the elevators are working. When that’s the case, we shlep our gear upstairs to the fourth floor.

Whatever their reasons for being here, the spectators sometimes make me want to shout, “Get a life!” I mean, I’m here to make a living. Why can’t they be doing volunteer work at a hospital? Helping out with Meals on Wheels? Staying at home watching As the World Turns?

It amazes me how some can stand crowding over our shoulders, gaping open-mouthed at the silent screen of the Mult Box monitor for hours on end.

“Can’t you turn on the sound?” one will ask, petulantly, every now and then. We could, theoretically. But we’ve made it a practice not to, because it merely would draw a bigger crowd of village idiots with nothing better to do.


Our closest encounters of the worst kind are with a hefty young woman who looks to be getting an early start on the life of a bag lady.

We take to calling her Miss P., after a character on Sesame Street. She gabs in a loud, down-home twang with other trial-watchers, most of whom try to tune her out.

One day Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter Kim and Kim’s uncle, Larry Broderick. “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health,” she says, pressing forward as Kim recoils in distaste.

“I was there for 90 days myself, and they really helped me. They coulda helped your mother too.”

Avey, who’s overhearing all this, catches Kim’s eye and slashes a finger across his throat, nodding for her to move away.

Miss P. notices Avey doing this and starts glaring at our intern, Tessa Armenio, who’s standing right next to Avey. Without a word, Miss P. punches Tessa on the arm and kicks her in the shin.

“Hey!” Tessa shouts. “What are you doing!?”

Miss P. scuttles away down the hall, only to reappear a few minutes later looking over Tessa’s shoulder while Tessa is on the phone. “You slut!” she sneers.

By now Tessa is, getting a little paranoid, and with good reason. The next day, she finds Miss P. standing behind her with a tray of food in a cashier’s line at the Federal Building cafeteria.

Miss P. gives her a wicked grin, then dumps the tray and its contents of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and cherry juice all over Tessa.


One night in midtrial, I have a dream.

Betty is sliding face down, feet first, off the edge of a cliff.

I’m watching in horror as she claws the dirt for a hand-hold. “My rings!” she’s screaming. “My rings!!”

In a flash, I’m pulling at one of her arms, groveling in the dirt to snatch up a couple of big, baubley rings before they slip away.

I manage to keep Betty from falling over the edge, but she’s too heavy, and I’m not strong enough to pull her back up the slope without help.

“Hey!” I shout. “Hey, hey! Somebody gimme a hand!”

Then I wake up with a start, breathing heavily and sweating a ton.

Good God, I think. I’ve been covering this trial too long.

Then it dawns on me: Betty doesn’t wear rings anymore.

So, what does it all mean?


Defense attorney Earley’s closing statement, incredibly, winds up running over four hours — nearly twice as long as his opener and four times longer than either of prosecutor Wells’s spiels.

He paces restlessly over a wide area of the courtroom, rambling and thrashing about for words to the point that every reporter stops taking notes.

By noon, he’s been at it for nearly three hours. “What’s your time frame for finishing up?” I ask him as he drifts down the hall during the lunch break.

“Why?” He sounds defensive. “Am I boring you?”

Yes, truth be told, but I give him a white lie. “Oh, no. It’s just that we need to know how many tapes to bring for the afternoon session.”

“Oh, well,” Earley harrumphs, “I shouldn’t be too much longer. But I still do have some ground to cover.”

I go back to the station with an intern to log some sound bites and stock up on tapes. Avey, meantime, runs into Earley at a deli-market near the courthouse.

“What do you think so far?” Earley asks John.

Avey pauses, wondering if it would be proper to get into a discussion. He decides to be candid, man to man. “She’s guilty. First degree. No doubt in my mind.”

Earley nods, soberly. “Well, I know her real well, and if people knew her as well as I do, they might think the letter was provocation.”

He’s referring to a letter from Dan’s lawyer that Betty had read less than an hour before the killings — a warning that she’d be facing contempt of court again.

“It’s just possible,” Earley continues. “The jury could see the whole thing wasn't premeditated. Or have reasonable doubt that it was.”

Avey nods politely and exchanges a few trivialities with the lawyer before they go their separate ways back to the courthouse.

Much later, after Earley finally finished, Avey tells me about their conversation.

“I got the feeling he was using me like a sounding board. Like, in the morning he was real... unfocused, all over the place.

“After lunch, he suddenly picks up the tempo. He’s harping on the reasonable doubt thing, talking about the letter and Betty’s reaction and all.

“During the whole trial, he’s been very conscious of me and the camera. He looks over all the time. Sometimes I almost feel like I’m a member of the jury.

“He’ll look at me for a reaction, and I try my best not to give him one. He can’t ask the jury how he’s doing, but he could talk to me. And I sort of gave him a jolt of reality.”


Jury Deliberations, Day 4

It’s 7:45 a.m. and we’re waiting for elevator 4A, one in the middle of the courthouse that accesses the main jury entrance — me, Avey, and Vern (The Intern) Epstein.

The doors open, but the arrow indicates the elevator car is headed down to the basement. We decide to board it anyway, just to make sure we’re not crowded out in case some custodians are waiting down below with their trash carts and equipment.

When the doors open again, we find ourselves looking not at custodians, but at a chain gang of ladies from Las Colinas.

Then, to our surprise, Broderick herself steps in, grinning mischievously. She’s sporting a royal blue suit with a big scarf knotted in a bow at the throat.

The clothes are quite a contrast to her normal earth-tone color scheme. Not to mention the jail duds she had worn a few days earlier during jury instructions, in protest of Whelan’s decision not to allow her diaries and divorce decree into evidence.

“Good morning,” she chirps.

We nod and mumble awkwardly, not wanting to annoy the marshals with any “unauthorized communication” with prisoners — which the courthouse signs say is a felony.

The other two inmates — both Hispanic women a head or two shorter than Broderick — eye us curiously. “You here to see her?” one asks, looking at Broderick.

We nod again.

“Yeah,” Broderick says, for emphasis. She gives us a sweet smile. “These are my friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together.”

She appraises me up and down. “Nice shirt.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Uh, nice suit. Good to see you dressed out.”

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Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter: “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health.”
Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter: “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health.”

The following are excerpts from a journal kept by a Channel 39 reporter during the first trial of Betty Broderick last fall.

For the broadcast types, the only practical way to cover the trial is by “pooling” resources and hooking up to the Mult Box.

The electronic equivalent of a great mother sow, the Mult Box is a metal cabinet on rollers, about the size of a dishwasher, with a TV monitor on the front.

It takes an audio and video feed from a television camera setup inside the courtroom and distributes the signals, closed-circuit, through several separate output plugs.

As long as everybody gets an udder to suck on, the broadcast pool is one big, happy family. But when the Mult Box is overloaded — as it often is for this trial — latecomers have to “piggyback.”

The Mult Box — actually, one of two in use at the courthouse — was engineered and underwritten by Channels 8, 10, and 39, along with radio stations KSDO and KFMB. According to protocol, those organizations get first dibs on the primary outlet plugs.

When all the plugs are taken, the understanding calls for network and out-of-town affiliates to receive “dubs” from their local connections.

My photographer, John Avey, is eager to shoot most if not all of the trial sessions. Thus we make a point of getting down to the courthouse every morning by 8 a.m. — often before the elevators are working. When that’s the case, we shlep our gear upstairs to the fourth floor.

Whatever their reasons for being here, the spectators sometimes make me want to shout, “Get a life!” I mean, I’m here to make a living. Why can’t they be doing volunteer work at a hospital? Helping out with Meals on Wheels? Staying at home watching As the World Turns?

It amazes me how some can stand crowding over our shoulders, gaping open-mouthed at the silent screen of the Mult Box monitor for hours on end.

“Can’t you turn on the sound?” one will ask, petulantly, every now and then. We could, theoretically. But we’ve made it a practice not to, because it merely would draw a bigger crowd of village idiots with nothing better to do.


Our closest encounters of the worst kind are with a hefty young woman who looks to be getting an early start on the life of a bag lady.

We take to calling her Miss P., after a character on Sesame Street. She gabs in a loud, down-home twang with other trial-watchers, most of whom try to tune her out.

One day Miss P. approaches Betty’s older daughter Kim and Kim’s uncle, Larry Broderick. “You should have taken your mother to County Mental Health,” she says, pressing forward as Kim recoils in distaste.

“I was there for 90 days myself, and they really helped me. They coulda helped your mother too.”

Avey, who’s overhearing all this, catches Kim’s eye and slashes a finger across his throat, nodding for her to move away.

Miss P. notices Avey doing this and starts glaring at our intern, Tessa Armenio, who’s standing right next to Avey. Without a word, Miss P. punches Tessa on the arm and kicks her in the shin.

“Hey!” Tessa shouts. “What are you doing!?”

Miss P. scuttles away down the hall, only to reappear a few minutes later looking over Tessa’s shoulder while Tessa is on the phone. “You slut!” she sneers.

By now Tessa is, getting a little paranoid, and with good reason. The next day, she finds Miss P. standing behind her with a tray of food in a cashier’s line at the Federal Building cafeteria.

Miss P. gives her a wicked grin, then dumps the tray and its contents of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and cherry juice all over Tessa.


One night in midtrial, I have a dream.

Betty is sliding face down, feet first, off the edge of a cliff.

I’m watching in horror as she claws the dirt for a hand-hold. “My rings!” she’s screaming. “My rings!!”

In a flash, I’m pulling at one of her arms, groveling in the dirt to snatch up a couple of big, baubley rings before they slip away.

I manage to keep Betty from falling over the edge, but she’s too heavy, and I’m not strong enough to pull her back up the slope without help.

“Hey!” I shout. “Hey, hey! Somebody gimme a hand!”

Then I wake up with a start, breathing heavily and sweating a ton.

Good God, I think. I’ve been covering this trial too long.

Then it dawns on me: Betty doesn’t wear rings anymore.

So, what does it all mean?


Defense attorney Earley’s closing statement, incredibly, winds up running over four hours — nearly twice as long as his opener and four times longer than either of prosecutor Wells’s spiels.

He paces restlessly over a wide area of the courtroom, rambling and thrashing about for words to the point that every reporter stops taking notes.

By noon, he’s been at it for nearly three hours. “What’s your time frame for finishing up?” I ask him as he drifts down the hall during the lunch break.

“Why?” He sounds defensive. “Am I boring you?”

Yes, truth be told, but I give him a white lie. “Oh, no. It’s just that we need to know how many tapes to bring for the afternoon session.”

“Oh, well,” Earley harrumphs, “I shouldn’t be too much longer. But I still do have some ground to cover.”

I go back to the station with an intern to log some sound bites and stock up on tapes. Avey, meantime, runs into Earley at a deli-market near the courthouse.

“What do you think so far?” Earley asks John.

Avey pauses, wondering if it would be proper to get into a discussion. He decides to be candid, man to man. “She’s guilty. First degree. No doubt in my mind.”

Earley nods, soberly. “Well, I know her real well, and if people knew her as well as I do, they might think the letter was provocation.”

He’s referring to a letter from Dan’s lawyer that Betty had read less than an hour before the killings — a warning that she’d be facing contempt of court again.

“It’s just possible,” Earley continues. “The jury could see the whole thing wasn't premeditated. Or have reasonable doubt that it was.”

Avey nods politely and exchanges a few trivialities with the lawyer before they go their separate ways back to the courthouse.

Much later, after Earley finally finished, Avey tells me about their conversation.

“I got the feeling he was using me like a sounding board. Like, in the morning he was real... unfocused, all over the place.

“After lunch, he suddenly picks up the tempo. He’s harping on the reasonable doubt thing, talking about the letter and Betty’s reaction and all.

“During the whole trial, he’s been very conscious of me and the camera. He looks over all the time. Sometimes I almost feel like I’m a member of the jury.

“He’ll look at me for a reaction, and I try my best not to give him one. He can’t ask the jury how he’s doing, but he could talk to me. And I sort of gave him a jolt of reality.”


Jury Deliberations, Day 4

It’s 7:45 a.m. and we’re waiting for elevator 4A, one in the middle of the courthouse that accesses the main jury entrance — me, Avey, and Vern (The Intern) Epstein.

The doors open, but the arrow indicates the elevator car is headed down to the basement. We decide to board it anyway, just to make sure we’re not crowded out in case some custodians are waiting down below with their trash carts and equipment.

When the doors open again, we find ourselves looking not at custodians, but at a chain gang of ladies from Las Colinas.

Then, to our surprise, Broderick herself steps in, grinning mischievously. She’s sporting a royal blue suit with a big scarf knotted in a bow at the throat.

The clothes are quite a contrast to her normal earth-tone color scheme. Not to mention the jail duds she had worn a few days earlier during jury instructions, in protest of Whelan’s decision not to allow her diaries and divorce decree into evidence.

“Good morning,” she chirps.

We nod and mumble awkwardly, not wanting to annoy the marshals with any “unauthorized communication” with prisoners — which the courthouse signs say is a felony.

The other two inmates — both Hispanic women a head or two shorter than Broderick — eye us curiously. “You here to see her?” one asks, looking at Broderick.

We nod again.

“Yeah,” Broderick says, for emphasis. She gives us a sweet smile. “These are my friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together.”

She appraises me up and down. “Nice shirt.”

“Thanks,” I say. “Uh, nice suit. Good to see you dressed out.”

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