The Real Story Behind the Sensationalist 48 Hours AA Murder Episode
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

The Real Story Behind the Sensationalist 48 Hours AA Murder Episode


After hearing about the recently aired segment of the CBS news program 48 Hours, which detailed the story of Karla Mendez Brada—the young woman who was murdered by the boyfriend that she met at an AA meeting—I expected the worst. The show came up in my men’s meeting the Sunday morning after it aired, and some of the guys were rightfully concerned over the portrayal of the organization that has saved many of our lives. I hadn’t seen the show, so I went online and watched. And while I personally found many of the assertions to be ridiculous, it’s not that difficult to see how people who don’t understand either the nature of alcoholism and addiction or how AA works would be swayed by this to think that AA is a dangerous place.

Because 48 Hours tends to be more of an infotainment program than a journalistically sound news show, there were a lot of dramatic elements that made for a good crime story—with AA as the ultimate villain. Let’s be truthful: television loves stories about pretty girls being murdered (Stalker, Criminal Minds, all of the CSI series, the list is endless), and news programs are no different. If you remember the coverage of the overdose death of Anna Nicole Smith (with a steady stream of accompanying footage of the stunning model) and the search to find somebody, anybody to blame for the demise of a tragically doomed addict, you know what I’m talking about. So of course I shouldn’t have expected a journalistically responsible news story.

If you’re not familiar with this particular case, Brada was an alcoholic/addict who went to AA and NA to get sober, hooked up with Eric Allen Earle, a 13th step predator with a long history of domestic violence, and began dating him. After a few months, he moved in with her at her recently purchased condo. Neither of the pair remained sober, and he soon began abusing her physically until one night he killed her by asphyxiation following a violent beating. He called 911 and attempted to blame her death on injuries suffered from an alleged fall, but he was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison last year. The woman’s family is now suing AA and the couple’s sponsors for failing to protect her.

There were a lot of dramatic elements that served the story line that AA itself was directly responsible for the death of Brada, and some of the points that the show brought up—like the predatory behavior and the fact that everyone is welcome at AA—are legitimate reasons to not blindly trust everyone who attends meetings. But painting AA as a more dangerous place for women than your average shithole bar or online dating is preposterous. The odds of being murdered as a result of attending AA meetings are a lot less than the probability of winning the Powerball lottery, and to lead viewers to draw that conclusion is completely irresponsible.

Make no mistake, AA is no hotbed of sane behavior (alcoholics are by the very definition mentally ill, according to all of the medical and psychiatric literature), but blaming the program as an institution for the behavior of a small segment of its constituents is like condemning the American Bar Association for the bad behavior of lawyers. The bad behavior isn’t the aim of the organization (just the contrary), and most people really are there to address their addiction issues, not to hunt prey. Unfortunately, any time you gather a group of people in any organization, no matter their aim, there are going to be some sick fucks, and AA has more than its share based on the makeup of its constituency: damaged people.

Brada’s death is a horrible and tragic story, but I can’t make the connection that the report and its interview subjects tried so hard to make—that AA is a dangerous place where you are taking your life into your hands by simply going. This was a domestic violence issue, and that is something that one in four women report experiencing in their lifetimes, resulting in two million injuries and 1,300 deaths each year. Much of that violence is perpetrated by active addicts and alcoholics, which both Brada and her killer were at the time of her death.

How is AA even remotely responsible for the crime when its primary goal is to help addicts to stop drinking and drugging? Alcoholics and addicts, especially those that are still active or in early recovery, make spectacularly bad “romantic” decisions, and I‘ve always maintained that no one has lower self-esteem than a woman in early recovery, which is why you will constantly hear “Men with men, women with women” at AA meetings. But addicts are ruled by emotion, not reason; as anyone who has been a sponsor can tell you, the single most unheeded suggestion in AA/NA is to not get into a relationship in the first year, as Brada chose to.

The interview subjects in the program are weighted heavily towards reinforcing 48 Hours’ premise that AA is a “dangerous” place: Most prominent is the grieving family that is suing AA, still trying to make sense of the woman’s death. The reporter asks them a number of loaded and leading questions that are designed to appeal to their emotional states. Example: “Do you think that if she hadn’t gone to AA, she’d be alive?” Sister’s response: “Definitely.” Cut to commercial.

There is also commentary from author and professional AA basher Gabrielle Glaser, who never misses an opportunity to compare AA to a Bosnian rape camp; a guy who once lived at the sober house with Earle, who is quoted as if he is an AA “expert” and a women who left AA after 36 years and is now making a documentary about 13th stepping. There’s also a non-alcoholic former AA trustee, a judge, who questions the court’s practice of sending people convicted of booze and drug-related criminal offenses to AA instead of jail (which certainly has some validity). There’s also a social worker that provides some balance on the profile of women who choose to stay with domestic abusers, as Brada did with Earle after the abuse began. But the point of the piece appeared to be to validate a sensationalized premise and not to look at a horrible tragedy for what it was: a case of an addict getting involved with a manipulative and violent abuser.

There are some legitimate questions raised, mostly about 13th stepping and why the courts order offenders to AA (a practice which has a pretty low success rate anyway, even though that’s how I got sober). Predatory sexual behavior can be found in any organization, although given the higher male-to-female ratio in AA, the stunted maturity of alkies and addicts and the emotional fragility of women in early recovery, it’s much more common than in the general population. But honestly, how can AA tell adults who they can and can’t get emotionally involved with?

The larger argument is that people who go to AA have no knowledge of the person sitting next to them. Which is exactly like many other places in society where there are no restrictions on who attends; just like movie theaters, nightclubs, stadiums and churches, AA doesn’t screen for criminal records. At one point in the show, Glaser suggests that meetings should be separated into criminals and non-criminals, which is absolutely fucking ludicrous, given that AA welcomes everyone. If you can legally walk the streets, you can attend meetings. Was she suggesting that AA run CORI checks on everyone who attends a meeting?

We live in a society where the media looks for someone or something to blame in the wake of a tragedy before the facts of a case are assembled and AA was just the latest target in this story.

Does AA have problems? Yes, the kind that come from a constituency that is pretty fucked up as a result of their addictions. But the principles in AA are directed at fixing those behaviors, not encouraging them. The 48 Hours piece was a sensationalized piece of crap, and will probably be damaging to people looking to get help with their addictions from AA.

There’s one point in the show where the anti-AA bias eases up; before cutting to commercial for dramatic effect, the reporter says, “But Alcoholics Anonymous was not charged with murder, only Eric Alan Earle is.”

And that’s exactly how it should be, no matter how many viewers 48 Hours hopes to attract.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Johnny Plankton is the pseudonym for a freelance business and comedy writer/editor (and recovering alcoholic) who lives in Boston. He is also a grateful member of America’s largest alcohol recovery “cult” as well as Al-Anon.