A novelist who wrote about ‘How to Murder Your Husband’ was found guilty of her husband’s murder on Wednesday following a controversial trial in which prosecutors relied on a ‘puzzle’ of circumstantial evidence to portray the author as a deceitful spouse who has spent months quietly plotting the perfect crime.
Nancy Brophy, 71, stood quietly, a pandemic mask covering her nose and mouth, as the verdict was delivered, seven weeks after the start of the trial in Portland, Ore.
Prosecutors had built their case with evidence showing Ms Brophy had acquired gun parts in the months leading up to the murder of her husband, Daniel Brophy, including an additional item that prosecutors say could ensure that the bullets used in the shooting would not be traced. to his gun. Prosecutors argued Ms Brophy shot her husband at his workplace, where there were said to be no cameras or witnesses, and then decided to collect lucrative life insurance policies in the days that followed.
“She had the plan in place,” Shawn Overstreet, an assistant district attorney, said in closing arguments this week. “She had the opportunity to commit this murder. She was the only person who had motive.
The second-degree murder charge Ms Brophy was convicted of carries a life sentence. She is due to be sentenced on June 13.
Ms Brophy, who had written self-published romance novels, once speculated in a 2011 blog post that a woman who kills her spouse must be ‘ruthless’ and ‘very smart’ because she is likely to become the prime suspect. She pondered various methods of murder, assuming the knives were too personal, the poison was too traceable, and the hitmen were too untrustworthy. She wrote that guns were messy and required skill.
At trial, prosecutors detailed how Ms Brophy purchased a ghost gun kit and a handgun. She then purchased an additional slide and barrel separately on eBay which could have been swapped out and placed on the finished gun. This additional component was never found. Mrs. Brophy testified that the handgun was for protection, purchased with her husband’s support, and that the other components of the gun were for research writing, also purchased with her acquaintances.
Ms Brophy had considered the story of a woman who slowly acquired gun parts in order to complete a weapon and turn the tables on an abusive partner, she and her lawyer said. Ms. Brophy’s romantic thriller books have largely focused on what she described in an author biography as “pretty men and strong women, families that don’t always work out, and the joy of finding love. love and the difficulty of making it stay”.
On the morning of June 2, 2018, Mr. Brophy had visited the Oregon Culinary Institute, where he was teaching classes. Students who arrived after him discovered his body on a kitchen floor. He had been shot twice.
Detectives later told Ms Brophy that her husband had died and asked her for details of the matinee. She said her husband got up early, fed their chickens and walked their dogs. She said she woke up when he went upstairs to take a shower. She estimated that he left for work a little after 7 a.m.
But investigators uncovered video in the neighborhood of the culinary institute showing what was apparently Ms Brophy driving her old van in the area at the time of the murder. Ms Brophy testified that she had no recollection of this period, speculating that she may have been running coffee and taking notes for writing her book. She said her conversation with detectives took place as she was overwhelmed by the news of her husband’s death.
In their closing arguments this week, prosecutors acknowledged their case was based on “all circumstantial evidence”, saying the jury had to piece together the pieces of a “puzzle” to reach its conclusion.
‘Nancy is the only person who could have committed this crime,’ Mr Overstreet told the jury.
Ms Brophy and her defense team had argued the two were married and planning a future of travel, and that the prosecution’s case was based on ‘suspicion’ and ‘speculation’.
“The love that Nancy and Dan Brophy had was not a mere possibility. It was the best proven fact of this trial,” defense attorney Kris Winemiller said in closing arguments this week.
Defense attorneys also relied on neighborhood CCTV to try to suggest that perhaps a homeless person in the area could have committed the murder. They showed video at trial of a man hiding behind a wall and looking into a bag when officers arrived at the scene. Investigators said they were unable to identify the man.
Although friends and family members testified that the Brophys appeared to have a strong and collaborative relationship, which lasted approximately 25 years, prosecutors said Ms. Brophy had a financial incentive to kill her husband, presenting evidence that the couple had struggled financially and that she had moved to collect life insurance policies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They noted that she asked the police for a letter saying she was not a suspect just days after her husband’s murder.
Prosecutors were barred from discussing Ms Brophy’s ‘How to Murder Your Husband’ blog post during the trial. But at the end of their questioning of Ms Brophy, they covered some of the blog post’s themes, concluding with a question that echoed some of her formulations: “If there’s one thing you know about murder, is anyone able to do this?
Ms Brophy said she believed him “absolutely”. She said people can kill if they are pushed into a corner, or to protect someone, or angry. And she said financial problems could be a big reason for the murder.
But she and her lawyers argued that she did not have sufficient financial motivation to justify the killing, noting that the couple’s insurance policies were not unusual and that she was not the beneficiary of all of them. She said a fictionalized version of her case would not stand up to scrutiny.
“An editor would laugh and say, ‘I think you need to work harder on this story. You have kind of a big hole in it,” she said.