DANIEL BRODERICK 3RD WAS ONE OF the most powerful lawyers in San Diego, but he feared the wrath and jealous rage of his former wife, Elisabeth. That fear was not irrational. At about 5:30 A.M. on Nov. 5, 1989, using her daughter's key, Elisabeth let herself into Broderick's opulent home in the suburb of Marston Hills. In the second-floor master bedroom she found Daniel, 44, and Linda, 28, his bride of seven months. She pulled out a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and started firing. Linda Broderick was hit in the chest and in the neck and died instantly. Daniel, fatally wounded by a round that pierced his lung, died minutes later.

Now on trial in San Diego for the second time on two counts of murder, Elisabeth Broderick, 43, does not deny pulling the trigger. But, her defense lawyer Jack Earley argues, it was not a premeditated act: When Elisabeth Broderick entered her husband's bedroom she was a distraught woman, "emotionally battered" by her ex-husband's relentless legal attacks. She wanted only to speak with him. If she meant to kill anyone, it was herself. It is she, Elisabeth Broderick claims, who was the victim.

"He traded me in for a younger model and stole my kids," said Broderick from the Las Colinas Women's Detention Facility, where she has been held since the shooting. "He sued me to death.... My story is relevant to millions of women."

Many of those who sympathize with her agree, calling the case a real-life War of the Roses—after the 1989 movie in which husband Michael Douglas and wife Kathleen Turner fought to the death. Elisabeth Broderick has received hundreds of letters of support. Middle-aged divorcees who relate to her crowded the courtroom. Her first trial ended last November with a hung jury. "[Daniel Broderick] was ruthless in his use of the legal system," says Walter Polk, who in the first trial was one of two jurors to vote for manslaughter while the rest held out for the more serious charges of first-or second-degree murder. "I say, 'Why did she wait so long?' "

Others, including Elisabeth's daughter Kim, 21, who testified for the prosecution, say that is nonsense. "I didn't like it that Dad got restraining orders against her, but what could he do?" says Kim. "When he tried to deal with her, she screamed obscenities. Now at least he's living in peace. He's probably better off."

Dan Broderick was a senior at Notre Dame and Betty Bisceglia a 17-year-old freshman at Mount Saint Vincent College in the Bronx when they met in 1965. Both came from large middle-class families. Both, said Elisabeth, wanted the same things: "Wealth, social standing, a large family."

They married in 1969, when Dan was at Cornell medical school. Ten years later, living in San Diego, they had achieved their youthful dreams: Dan, with a law degree from Harvard as well as a medical degree, had his own medical-malpractice law firm and would soon be earning $1 million a year. They had four children, daughters Kim and Lee and sons Danny and Rhett, now ranging in ages from 12 to 21. The Brodericks had a five-bedroom home in La Jolla and a ski condo in Colorado. Dan drove an MG, Elisabeth would receive a Jaguar.

But their marriage was troubled. Elisabeth resented the fact that Dan spent so much time pursuing his career, ignoring her and the children. Former sister-in-law Kathy Broderick claims Elisabeth belittled her husband, "calling him a fag to his face."

Kim also describes a destructive push-pull dynamic in her mother's behavior toward her father.

"Sometimes they would get ready to go out and she would change her mind at the last minute," says Kim. "Finally, Dad went alone. Then she'd get mad and lock him out."

The fireworks began in earnest in 1983 when Elisabeth discovered her husband was having an affair with his newly hired 22-year-old legal assistant, Linda Kolkena. Enraged, Elisabeth doused her husband's custom-made suits with gasoline and set them aflame in the backyard. In February 1985, Dan walked out. That September, he filed for divorce. Jack Earley claims Dan Broderick emptied the couple's bank accounts, harassed Elisabeth with contempt charges and got court clearance to sell their former home without her knowledge. Though Dan voluntarily gave Elisabeth $9,000 a month, Earley says that with Dan's $1 million annual income, that was a pittance.

Dan's defenders, on the other hand, call Elisabeth the aggressor. When she learned after her separation that Dan was still seeing Linda, she went to the house where Dan was living and spray-painted the walls black. Later she smeared a cream pie all over Dan's belongings. Dan brought charges when she returned and slammed an umbrella through a window. When he sold the house in February 1986, Elisabeth's reaction was violent: She drove her car into the front door of Dan's new home in Marston Hills. When Dan tore open the car door, there was a butcher knife at his wife's side. Elisabeth hit Dan on the head with a brass key ring; he flattened her with a punch to the stomach. Elisabeth spent the next three days in a San Diego County mental hospital after Dan told police Elisabeth was crazy. When the divorce became final that August, she was denied custody of the children, as well as visitation rights. Though she had a car and a new ocean-view home in La Jolla, and the courts eventually raised her alimony to $16,000 a month, she was bitter. With staggering legal bills, the money did not cover her expenses, she said. Her children were gone. There was, a defense psychologist later argued, another reason for her rage. Elisabeth lacked any core identity, except what she took from Dan.

In March 1989, at about the time Dan and Linda sent out their wedding invitations, Elisabeth bought a pistol. According to Kathy Broderick, Elisabeth cleaned the weapon in front of her sons, then 10 and 13. "It's what I'm going to use to kill your father," she reportedly said.

The groom-to-be took such talk seriously. On his wedding day in April 1989 he hired security guards so that his ex-wife would not disrupt the proceedings. He did, however, ignore the bride's request that he wear a bulletproof vest.

After the wedding, the situation seemed to improve slightly. Dan had agreed to give Elisabeth custody of the two boys. But on Nov. 5, Elisabeth awakened early and began reading over her legal correspondence with Dan, which included, she claims, the threat she might not get the boys after all. "I simply couldn't go on anymore," she says. She drove to her ex-husband's house, packing her pistol. "I wanted to splash my brains all over his goddamned house," she said. Instead, she claims, she began firing blindly. When she left, she insists, "I didn't have any idea if I even hit them."

Two years later, she still sees her-self as a victim. Linda, she says sternly, was not an innocent bystander but a woman who "knowingly dated a married man." She seems equally unconcerned about the death of her ex-husband. "I have regrets, not remorse," she says. "I regret my husband had no character, that my children lost their mother, home and stability. I didn't do the legal bullying. I wasn't the one who had the affair. I won't accept the blame for what happened."

The jury may decide otherwise.

JOYCE WADLER
LORENZO BENET in San Diego

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet.