Throughout the second season of “Dirty John,” we watch San Diego socialite Betty Broderick (portrayed by Tiera Skovbye and Amanda Peet) quickly unravel as she tries to keep her marriage with renowned medical malpractice attorney Daniel Broderick from falling apart.
Nothing, however, stops Dan (played by Chris Mason and Christian Slater) from leaving Betty for his young new legal assistant, Linda Kolkena (portrayed by Rachel Heller). Betty soon begins harassing the couple, doing anything in her power to ruin their happiness and delay her divorce proceedings.
From crashing her car into Dan’s home to leaving threatening voicemails on his answering machine, Betty’s retaliations escalate, and her erratic behavior eventually lands her behind bars.
While being discharged from jail in episode six, Betty comes across a stack of pamphlets for HALT (Help Abolish Legal Tyranny), a legal reform group dedicated to promoting simple, affordable, and equitable justice for all. She later attends a meeting, where an organizer recognizes Betty from the press coverage of her divorce case.
“I know you don’t have a lawyer and that your ex-husband is one. I know you have a lot of kindred spirits in here. Would you be willing to talk the group?” Samantha (portrayed by Sprague Grayden) asks Betty.
Betty agrees, and standing at the podium, she talks about the dissolution of her marriage and their bitter custody battle, sarcastically telling the group that she is “sure things are gonna start going [her] way now that he’s president of the San Diego Bar [Association].”
She is met with smiles and laughter.
Betty later meets with Samantha to discuss her case, and she ends up supporting Betty during her legal proceedings. Samantha even stands by her side when Betty breaks into Dan and Kolkena’s house and shoots them to death as they’re sleeping.
After Betty carries out the double homicide in episode seven, Samantha is the first person she calls to confess to the shooting, and she later meets Betty at her daughter Jenny’s house and urges her to turn herself in.
“We need a lawyer, to find a lawyer, a criminal lawyer … to help you with the police,” she tells Betty.
They later meet with defense attorney Matthew Carpenter (portrayed by Graham Sibley), who accompanies Betty to court and enters a not guilty plea for the double homicide.
So, is Samantha based on a real person, and did Betty really find a legal ally at HALT?
In “Hell Hath No Fury: A True Story of Wealth and Passion, Love and Envy, and a Woman Driven to the Ultimate Revenge,” a book covering the case, author Bryna Taubman writes that after Betty was released from jail for violating Dan’s restraining order, she visited “various organizations, associations, and offices established to help abused women.”
None of those groups, however, were the right match for Betty’s case, and that is when she found support from HALT. There, she met friends Diane Black and Ronnie Brown, and the two began assisting Betty throughout her divorce hearings, according to “Hell Hath No Fury."
Betty became active in the organization, and she often spoke to other HALT members about her difficulties at court, reported Taubman. Because Dan was a well-respected attorney, Betty claimed judges gave him special treatment, even allowing him to use a private entrance at the courthouse to avoid reporters.
On the morning of the murders, Black called Betty’s boyfriend at the time, Bradley Wright, who was asleep in bed at Betty’s house, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1990. She told Wright that Betty had just called her and said she shot Dan.
“[Betty] said that she thought there was [another] bullet in the gun and that she would have used it on herself,” Black said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Betty called Black again while at the apartment of her daughter, Kathy Lee Broderick (who went by Lee), and asked her to go with her to surrender herself to police. Black and Brown later met Betty, Lee, and Lee’s boyfriend in a parking lot, where they discussed what they should do next.
Black and Brown then took Betty to see an attorney, who was with her when she turned herself in later that day. After speaking with Black, Wright rushed over to Dan’s house with a neighbor and found Dan and Kolkena’s bodies in the bedroom.
Betty was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, and her first trial in 1990 ended in a hung jury. The following year, she was retried and found guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, according to a 1991 report from the Los Angeles Times.
Betty took the stand to testify that she, not Dan, was the victim, claiming he was abusive during both their marriage and divorce proceedings. Although the jury "had some sympathy for her," they could not look past her "aberrant behavior," George Lawrence McAlister, the jury foreman, told the Los Angeles Times in 1991.
She was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison for the murders, and she is currently incarcerated at the California Institution for Women.
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