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'Dan was not a gun person': Mother and father of victim testify in romance novelist murder case

Day four of the murder trial saw testimony from both of Dan Brophy's parents — Jack Brophy took the stand for the first time, and Karen Brophy for the second time.
Credit: KGW

PORTLAND, Ore. — Day three of Nancy Brophy’s murder trial saw witness testimony from Dan Brophy’s mom, a longtime acquaintance of the couple, officers who worked on the scene and medical examiners — including the one who conducted Dan Brophy’s autopsy. Day four saw testimony from both of Dan Brophy's parents — Karen Brophy for the second time and Jack Brophy took the stand for the first time.

Nancy Brophy, a romance novelist, is accused of killing her husband Dan Brophy, a chef at the Oregon Culinary Institute. Students found him shot to death on June 2, 2018.

The first witness called to the stand was Maxine Borcherding, a former instructor who worked at the culinary school until 2015 and was an acquaintance of the Brophys. She testified to knowing Nancy Brophy for approximately 30 years.

Borcherding said on the morning of the shooting, she heard about something going on at the institute from a former coworker. Borcherding called Nancy Brophy to let her know but said it had never occurred to her that the victim may have been Dan Brophy.

RELATED: Tearful testimony from woman who performed CPR on Dan Brophy in second day of murder trial

She testified Brophy told her on the phone, “Oh you know Dan, he would never call me, I would have to wait until he got home to learn what happened.”

Like Borcherding before her, Nancy Brophy also called Dan Brophy’s phone and got no answer.

Borcherding said Nancy Brophy had never had a bad word to say about her husband and was always his biggest supporter. She also said that Dan Brophy’s teaching style could be harsh, and he had been known to embarrass or humiliate students over the years.

RELATED: Romance novelist's 'How to Murder Your Husband' essay tossed out as evidence in day 1 of murder trial

Nancy's lawyers asked Borcherding about the homeless population in the Goose Hollow neighborhood where the culinary institute was, as they've asked multiple witnesses who have taken the stand so far.  

While it is the state’s job to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Nancy Brophy shot and killed her husband, it is the defense’s job to supply a possible alternate scenario that would sow reasonable doubt in the jury. The defense has brought up an open garage door to the culinary institute's storeroom several times, as it offers an alternate way into the building that anyone could have accessed at or around the time of Dan Brophy’s murder.

Two more of his coworkers testified on Thursday. They both had kind things to say of Dan Brophy.

Paul "Woody" Bailey in particular had fond memories of Dan Brophy, who he was coworkers and friends with.

Bailey said there was never any talk or indication that Dan Brophy was planning on retiring. Bailey was also in charge of inventory at the school and he recalled going through the school after Dan Brophy was shot and killed, and he said he did not see anything out of the ordinary. He never remembered Dan Brophy talking about guns.

“Guns was never something Dan – Dan never liked guns, Dan would not have had a gun.”

Dan Brophy's parents testify

Karen Brophy, Dan Brophy’s mother, took the stand for the first time on Wednesday. She is expected to testify several more times throughout the trial, but her first time on the stand saw her asked specifically about the phone calls she shared with Nancy Brophy on the day of her son’s death.

Nancy Brophy called Karen Brophy to let her know that something was happening at the culinary institute.

“I said to her, ‘Well are you going to go down there?’ and she said, ‘No I’m not going to go because there will just be a lot of policemen there and a lot of cars,’" Karen Brophy said.

She said she called Nancy Brophy back shortly after and encouraged her to go, and Nancy Brophy said she would. Their last phone call was about an hour later, Karen Brophy said, when Nancy Brophy said she was with police and it was Dan Brophy who had been killed.

Karen Brophy said Nancy Brophy was very matter of fact about it being Dan Brophy who had been killed, but both women began to cry on the phone.

“I said, ‘Oh Nancy’ and I was crying and she did cry.”

On Thursday, Jack Brophy, Dan Brophy's father, took the stand for the first time.

Like Bailey, Jack Brophy said his son never mentioned retirement to him, never mentioned slowing down or having a retirement plan, which is a key point for the defense who argue that the Brophys were transitioning to retirement together.

Jack Brophy said he also didn't talk to his son about their financial situation much. However, he did recall loaning $50,000, primarily to Nancy Brophy, so she could buy a sandwich shop. He said he only got a quarter of that money back before he told them they didn't owe it anymore because he said it was clear he would never get it back.

He said he and his wife gave Nancy and Dan Brophy their van. This is the van pictured in the surveillance footage, which was brought up in court documents released before the trial began and heavily focused on by the state in its opening statements.


The state tried to suggest that Dan Brophy was sleeping in a separate bedroom from his wife, which would work counter to the picture of a loving, happy marriage the defense is leaning on. However, an objection was sustained on the topic. Instead, Jack Brophy testified that there was a room downstairs that was in disarray, which was indicative of Dan Brophy who was, according to his father, a messy man, and had many of Dan Brophy's personal belongings in it.

When Karen Brophy took the stand again, she said that Dan and Nancy Brophy had talked about retirement in the abstract and she was unaware of any plan. She was also unaware that Nancy Brophy was not listed on the mortgage of their home, nor that she was on the deed to the home and had been added to it recently before Dan Brophy's death.

She did mention that in the year or so leading up to Dan Brophy's death, Nancy Brophy had said to her three times that Dan Brophy had changed. She said all he wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch sports. But Karen Brophy said that was unlike him and said she told Nancy Brophy that maybe he was tired from working two jobs.

Karen Brophy told the defense that her son did not often confide in her about his relationships, not even during his first marriage, which was particularly rocky. She also said that Nancy Brophy gave Dan Brophy the space to be himself, and she believed he did the same for her.

There was a lot of talk about firearms, as well. Karen Brophy said that she had once heard Nancy Brophy talk about how she and Dan Brophy were considering getting a firearm after mass shootings had been in the news. However, Karen Brophy did not learn they had a gun until Nancy Brophy told her she had turned one over to police.

“Dan wasn’t a gun person," she said.

The investigation 

Later in the day, Dr. Michele Stauffenberg, deputy state medical examiner for the state of Oregon, took the stand. She conducted the autopsy on Dan Brophy.

Stauffenberg testified that Brophy came in with clothes on that she examined, and she found several things on him, including $77 in cash. She indicated there was an entrance and incomplete exit wound on Brophy’s chest and on his back, and he had likely been shot in the back and the chest.

Both bullets were still inside Dan Brophy’s body when she began examining him and both had the likelihood to be fatal — having pierced his heart and left lung, she said. One had pierced his spinal column and cord, paralyzing him from the injury down his body.

His cause of death was listed as “gunshot wounds of torso,” and his manner of death was listed as “homicide.”

The final witness for the day was the lead homicide detective on the case, Anthony Merrill with the Portland Police Bureau.

Merrill and his team, as part of their investigation, checked all the exits and entrances into the culinary institute and could find no sign of forced entry. He was made aware that the garage door to the storeroom had been open, but when he arrived on scene it had been shut.

He also looked in the rooms and kitchens in the school.

“Everything was laid out like it had never been disturbed… nothing was out of the ordinary,” Merrill testified. “I mean, based on what I had been briefed on, a man had been shot to death in his business ... that the garage door was open, I thought I was going to see a robbery-type incident where someone came in there, saw a window of opportunity … to steal something valuable.”

When pressed by the defense as to whether he would know if anything was stolen, as if comparing items to an inventory list, Merrill said no, but that police had the staff at the school take inventory and they were not alerted to anything missing.

Merill also testified that he believed Dan Brophy was standing at the sink with his back to the door when someone came and shot him in the back. He believes Brophy then fell to the ground on his back and was shot in the chest at short range. He was the only person who could testify how Brophy might have been shot.

Court will continue on Thursday. Both Karen and Jack Brophy, Dan Brophy’s mother and father, are expected to take the stand.

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