Kerry Wells rose to fame as the serious prosecutor driven to take Betty Broderick down and expose her string of lies in the courtroom. But after the Court TV cameras stopped rolling and Broderick was securely behind bars, Wells went on to lead a successful career as a prosecutor and judge.
Wells retired from the bench in 2018 after spending 38 years working in the legal field, according to a news release from the San Diego Superior Court. Wells made her mark in the California legal scene both as a prosecutor and later a judge during her decades long career, but the Broderick case remains one of her more notorious cases.
The former prosecutor told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 2018 that the case prompted her to create and lead the first domestic violence and stalking units within the San Diego District’s Attorney’s Office.
The intense media coverage of the case — which inspired USA Network's "Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story" — and the live footage of the trials by Court TV also formed a distaste for cameras in the courtroom that would stay with Wells throughout her career.
“In general, I am opposed to cameras in the courtroom,” she told the paper. “It started with the Broderick case. Having cameras in the courtroom can have such an impact on the witnesses, knowing the cameras are on their faces.”
Wells, who was a deputy district attorney at the time, was tasked with prosecuting both Broderick trials. The first trial ended with a hung jury in 1990, but the second one led to Broderick’s conviction in 1991 for two counts of second-degree murder.
Prosecutors contended Broderick snuck into the home of her former husband, medical malpractice attorney Daniel Broderick, to shoot him and his new wife, Linda Kolkena Broderick, to death as they slept in their bed.
"The evidence is going to show without question she did shoot and kill two people that she hated with a vengeance," Wells said in courtroom footage obtained by "Snapped," streaming now on Oxygen.com.
In Bella Stumbo’s book “Until The Twelfth of Never,” which depicted the salacious crime and media circus that followed, Stumbo described Wells as woman who had “dealt routinely with battered women and abused children,” and was a mother herself of two young boys at the time.
“On the plus side, she was well-respected among her peers as a smart, efficient, hardworking, no-nonsense professional,” Stumbo wrote. “In addition, Well’s personal profile was right for this case. Here was no stereotypical, unattractive spinster who might alienate a jury by her perceived inability to relate to a wife and mother in crisis. Instead, Kerry Wells was married (to another attorney), had two small sons of her own, and not insignificantly, she was also very pretty — reed thin, with short, curly, strawberry blond hair and a complexion meant for Ivory soap commercials.”
The trials would pit the two mothers against one another as Wells sought to break down Broderick’s claims of being a battered woman who had been pushed to the brink.
“I’ve worked with battered women,” Wells said as the legal proceedings began, according to the book. “And this woman is not one. Betty Broderick is making a joke of a serious, important issue.”
But jurors in the first trial were unable to reach any conclusions about Broderick’s guilt, and a mistrial was declared.
During the second trial, Wells — who earned her law degree from Whittier School of Law — told The Los Angeles Times she tried to focus on the details of the crime and attack Broderick’s credibility whenever she could to paint the mother of four as a liar.
“We needed to let [the jury] know that right up front,” Wells told the paper in 1991. “Letting them know that there was more than one side to her story.”
The strategy worked, and the jury convicted Broderick of second-degree murder for both deaths — sending her to prison where she remains today.
When filming the courtroom scenes in "Dirty John," much of the dialogue was lifted from the trial transcripts, showrunner Alexandra Cunningham told The Hollywood Reporter.
"Kerry Wells really did have a difficult job, but she felt that justice needed to be served. Deciding what to pull from the transcripts and how to lay it out had a real effect on me," Cunningham said.
The Broderick case, along with other domestic violence cases she worked on, allowed Wells to see a common link between stalking and domestic homicide cases.
“The vast majority were preceded by stalking,” she told The Union-Tribune. “No stalking crimes were on the books in 1990. I started to want to intervene in these cases.”
As a result, Wells created a Stalking Strike Force, which combined the efforts of multiple agencies and targeted stalkers before they had resorted to violence. Wells later shared her expertise in both domestic violence and stalking in lectures throughout the country and world.
She stayed at her post with the San Diego District Attorney’s Office until January 2003, when she was appointed by then-Gov. Gray Davis to the Superior Court. While serving on the bench, she handled a variety of criminal cases, ranging anywhere from misdemeanors to homicides.
“Whether working as a prosecutor or as a judge, Kerry Wells brought to the job an unyielding commitment to justice,” Presiding Judge Peter Deddeh said in the statement announcing her retirement. “She is a woman of strong convictions with a keen sense of fairness. Judge Wells will be missed by all of us at the San Diego Supreme Court.”
Wells told The San Diego Union-Tribune one of her most memorable cases occurred the first day she was on the bench when a bank robber pulled down his pants and relieved himself in the courtroom.
“At first I didn’t understand what he was doing. He dropped down out of my sight,” she said. “I had to stand up to see. There was sort of a gasp in the courtroom.”
The incident may have been shocking, but it didn’t derail her. Wells later finished her career as the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court’s Appellate Division.
“Having worked steadily for the past 38 years in the legal field I have great respect for the lawyers and judges who are ‘in the trenches’ on a daily basis, passionately fighting the good fight for justice. I will surely miss them,” she said at the time of her retirement announcement. “I feel that I almost grew up in San Diego courtrooms — starting out as a ‘baby’ attorney who could hardly formulate a coherent question to a witness. Over the years, I raised my family, made invaluable friends, and grew as a practitioner so that I could, hopefully, have a positive impact on the lawyers and litigants who appeared in front of me.”
Wells said she planned to use her retirement to play the piano, write music, and spend time with her seven grandchildren.
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