The novelist who wrote about “How to Murder Your Husband” was convicted in her husband’s killing Wednesday following a contentious trial in which prosecutors leaned on a “puzzle” of circumstantial evidence to portray the author as a duplicitous spouse who spent months quietly plotting the perfect crime.
Nancy Brophy, 71, stood quietly, a pandemic mask covering her nose and mouth, as the verdict was handed down, seven weeks after the trial began in Portland, Oregon.
Prosecutors had built their case with evidence showing that Brophy had acquired gun pieces in the months before the killing of her husband, Daniel Brophy, including one extra component that prosecutors said could ensure that the bullets used in the shooting would not be traced back to her gun. Prosecutors contended that she shot her husband in his workplace, where there would be no cameras or witnesses, then moved to collect on lucrative life insurance policies in the days that followed.
“She had the plan in place,” Shawn Overstreet, a deputy district attorney, said in closing arguments this week. “She had the opportunity to carry out this murder. She was the only person who had the motive.”
The second-degree murder charge for which Brophy was convicted carries a punishment of life in prison. She is scheduled to be sentenced June 13.
Brophy, who had written self-published romance novels, had once speculated in a 2011 blog post that a wife who kills her spouse must be “ruthless” and “very clever” because she is likely to become a prime suspect. She pondered various methods of murder, supposing that knives were too personal, poison was too traceable and hit men were too untrustworthy. She wrote that guns were messy and required skill.
At trial, prosecutors detailed how Brophy had bought a ghost gun kit and a handgun. She then separately bought an extra slide and barrel on eBay that could have been swapped and placed on the completed gun. That extra component was never found. Brophy testified that the handgun was for protection, bought with her husband’s support, and that the other gun components were for writing research, also bought with his knowledge.
Brophy had been considering a story about 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. Brophy’s romantic suspense books largely focused on what she described in an author bio as “pretty men and strong women, about families that don’t always work and about the joy of finding love and the difficulty of making it stay.”
On the morning of June 2, 2018, Daniel Brophy had gone to the Oregon Culinary Institute, where he taught classes. Students arriving after him discovered his body on the floor of a kitchen. He had been shot twice.
Detectives later told Nancy Brophy that her husband was dead, and they asked her for details of the morning. She said her husband arose early, fed their chickens and walked their dogs. She said she awoke when he came upstairs to have a shower. She estimated he left for work a little after 7 a.m.
But investigators discovered video in the neighborhood of the culinary institute showing what was apparently Brophy driving her old minivan in the area around the time of the killing. Brophy testified that she had no memory of that time period, theorizing that she may have been making a coffee run and taking notes for her book writing. She said her conversation with detectives came as she was overwhelmed with the news of her husband’s death.
In closing arguments this week, prosecutors conceded that their case was based on “all circumstantial evidence,” saying that the jury needed to join together the pieces of “a puzzle” to reach its conclusion.
“Nancy is the only person who could have committed this crime,” Overstreet told the jury.
Brophy and her defense team had contended that the two were happily married, planning for a future of travel, and that the prosecution’s case was built on “suspicion” and “conjecture.”
“The love that Nancy and Dan Brophy had was no mere possibility. It was the best-proven fact in this trial,” said the defense attorney, Kris Winemiller, in closing arguments this week.
Defense lawyers also leaned on the neighborhood’s video surveillance in trying to suggest that perhaps a homeless person in the area could have committed the killing. They showed video at trial of one man who hid behind a wall and looked in a bag when police officers arrived on 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 had lasted some 25 years, prosecutors said Brophy had a financial incentive to kill her husband, presenting evidence that the couple had been struggling financially and that she had moved to collect on life insurance policies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They noted that she had asked police for a letter stating she was not a suspect just a few days after her husband’s killing.
Prosecutors were prohibited from discussing Brophy’s “How to Murder Your Husband” blog post during the trial. But at the conclusion of their questioning of Brophy, they covered some of the themes of the blog post, concluding with a question that echoed some of her wording: “If there is one thing that you know about murder, is it that anyone is capable of doing it?”
Brophy said she “absolutely” believed that. She said people can murder if they get pushed into a corner, or to protect somebody, or in a rage. And, she said, financial issues could be a big reason for murder.
But she and her lawyers contended that she did not have sufficient financial motivation to justify murder, noting that the couple’s insurance policies were not unusual, and that she was not a beneficiary on all of them. She said a fictional 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.