Nancy Brophy wrote an essay entitled How to Murder Your Husband. A murder trial followed

OOn the first day of the author’s trial, a jury ruled that the jury would ignore an essay she wrote years earlier entitled How to Murder Your Husband.

Nancy Brophy wrote the play in 2011. It appeared as a guest post on an author’s blog. “As a romantic suspense writer, I spend a lot of time thinking about murder and, consequently, police procedures,” Brophy wrote. “After all, if murder is going to set me free, I don’t want to spend time in prison. And let me be clear for the record: I don’t like overalls and orange isn’t my color.”

Seven years after the essay was published, Brophy’s husband died. Daniel Brophy, a chef, was found dead on June 2, 2018 at the Oregon Culinary Institute where he taught. He had been shot twice. Nancy Brophy was arrested three months later and charged with murder. Her trial opened in Portland on Monday (April 4).

Prosecutors have claimed that she was motivated by the prospect of financial gain to collect $1.4 million after her husband’s death. The defense has argued that both Brophy and her finances deteriorated after the death, that the couple was in love, and that the prosecution’s case is merely circumstantial.

According to the picture of the couple painted by Assistant District Attorney Shawn Overstreet on day one of the trial, the Brophys met in the 1990s while Nancy was studying at the Oregon Culinary Institute. The couple married in 1999 and bought a home in suburban Portland, where they lived until Daniel Brophy’s death in 2018. Daniel had one child from a previous marriage; he and Nancy had no children together. Nancy worked as a caterer and sold insurance products, including life insurance, Assistant District Attorney Shawn Overstreet said in court Monday. She also wrote and published several romance novels, which she described online as “tough men, strong women, and a good story.”

On her personal website, Nancy Brophy opened up about the moment she knew she wanted to marry Daniel: “I was in the bath. It was a big tub. I expected him to come to me, and when he was late I called out, ‘Are you coming?’” Daniel’s response—“Yes, but I do hors d’oeuvres”—convinced her that he was “Mr Right.”

“Like all marriages, we’ve had our ups and downs, more good times than bad,” she continued. “Recently we have spent 14 nerve wracking months in an apartment while our house is being rebuilt after a house fire. In the process, I have acquired a solid knowledge of kitchen cabinets, bathroom fittings and leaking roofs. If that doesn’t work out with the writing, I plan to see if I could become a contractor specializing in on-time, under-budget remodels. Believe me, the builder who keeps his promises can make a fortune.”

The How To Murder Your Husband blog post was an early topic in Nancy Brophy’s trial. In it, Brophy listed five possible “motives” that could lead someone to kill their spouse. The first is “financial (that’s big)”.

“Divorce is expensive, and do you really want to divide your property? Or if you married for money, aren’t you entitled to everything?” Brophy wrote. “The disadvantage [sic] the police are not stupid. They look at you first. So you have to be organized, ruthless and very smart. Husbands have disappeared from cruise ships before. why not yours?”

The last of the five “motives”, “it’s your job”, is: “Now let’s talk. You already have both skills and knowledge. They have the moral ambiguity necessary to pull it off. Quick hit and you disappear from the scene. Get your payment upfront from someone else, as life insurance is unlikely to send a check.

Defense attorney Lisa Maxfield delivers her opening statement to her client Nancy Brophy on April 4, 2022 in Portland, Oregon

(YouTube/KGW News)

Assistant District Attorney Shawn Overstreet delivers his opening argument at Nancy Brophy’s trial on April 4, 2022

(YouTube/KGW News)

At the opening of the case, Judge Christopher Ramras granted a defense motion to bar the blog post from evidence. “Any minimal probative value of an article written so long ago is greatly outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice and confusion of the issues,” the judge told the court.

The first moments of Brophy’s trial so far have focused on love and money. Money because prosecutors claim it was Brophy’s motive for the alleged murder. The Brophys’ financial situation began to change in 2016, Overstreet told the court Monday, when they struggled to pay their mortgage, used up their only retirement account and took out a life insurance loan. At that point, the district attorney alleged, the two were spending over $1,000 a month on life insurance premiums and fell into an “overspending pattern” that meant they would soon fall into “financial desperation.” Overstreet claimed Nancy Brophy began investigating and planning her husband’s murder in 2017, amid further financial difficulties.

Defense attorney Lisa Maxfield disagreed with the prosecution’s account, arguing in part that one of the life insurance policies the couple took out stipulated that all premiums would be reimbursed when Daniel Brophy reached the age of 78 — and therefore his longevity would have been more profitable to the couple. (Daniel Brophy was 63 years old at the time of his death.)

Maxfield argued that the couple’s life insurance policies were the result of financial planning decisions, particularly as they got older. (Life insurance premiums increase as policyholders age.) She told the court that the sudden death of Daniel Brophy upended some of the couple’s financial plans. In order to refute prosecutors’ allegations that Nancy Brophy killed her husband to collect life insurance policies, Maxfield told the court, “Murder can be a major complication when life insurance is involved. At the very best, murder will seriously delay insurance payments.” She argued that the Brophys were “in pretty good financial shape” up until June 2018, around the time of Daniel’s death.

And then there was love. In her opening statement, Maxfield described the Brophys as a united couple and Nancy Brophy as a devoted wife. “During this process, the state will present a circumstantial case asking you to ignore the greatest circumstance of all,” she said. “What is that? Well, it’s love.” She described Nancy Brophy as “sad” and “utterly shocked” after her husband’s death.

Judge Christopher Ramras during the trial of Nancy Brophy April 4, 2022 in Portland, Oregon

(YouTube/KGW News)

Prosecutors have relied on surveillance footage showing a minivan being driven through the Oregon Culinary Institute property by Nancy Brophy on June 2, 2018. Overstreet claimed Monday that Brophy researched and purchased “ghost guns” (homemade guns assembled from parts) one that investigators later found when they searched a storage unit she rented. It doesn’t appear Brophy ever built it, Overstreet said, because she didn’t have the skills to do so. Brophy, the prosecutor claimed, ended up buying a firearm at a gun show and a slide and barrel on eBay. The chute and barrel, purchased on eBay, are “the only firearm or firearm part not uncovered by law enforcement in this investigation.”

Maxfield argued that Brophy made a number of purchases as part of her research work as an author. “To support her writing, Ms. Brophy spent a great deal of money on night vision goggles, a telescope, police-grade handcuffs, powerful binoculars, art supplies, antique glass doorknobs and lots and lots of locks,” she said. The defense attorney said she will subpoena at least two other writers as witnesses, one of whom bought “a giant crossbow” in support of her writing, while the other, identified as Delilah, bought a chastity belt for similar purposes.

“Delilah will assure you that this was not suitable for her husband,” Maxfield said. “Instead, she wanted to know how the hinges felt. She wanted to know how it sounds when the key is inserted. She wanted to feel how hard it was.”

Nancy Brophy’s trial is expected to last seven weeks. If convicted, Brophy could be sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years.

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