Dr. Christina Villarreal was recently featured as a mental health expert on an episode of Lifetime’s Killer Kids discussing the murder mystery case of Bernadette Protti, a teen convicted of killing 15-year old classmate and cheerleader Kirsten Costas in Orinda, California, a wealthy suburb of The Bay Area during the 1980’s. This crime documentary episode chronicles the events leading up the stabbing murder of Kirsten Costas, and the investigators who identified the killer after the case went cold. The murder case filled news headlines in June of 1984 when Kirsten Costas was stabbed to death on the doorstep of a neighbor. The case remained a mystery for many months until her classmate, 16-year old Bernadette Protti finally confessed to the crime.
Friends, family and classmates in Orinda were shocked when Bernadette Protti confessed to the murder, as rumors had circulated that another classmate known for publicly disliking Kristen was responsible for Kristen’s death. At trial, the defense stated Bernadette Protti had been teased by Kirsten Costas, and that Bernadette snapped after Costas threatened to tell everyone that she was “weird,” and “that way,” a phrase used in the ’80’s to refer to someone as homosexual. Defense attorneys alleged that Bernadette Protti’s actions were not sexually motivated, and that Kirsten Costas had misinterpreted her intentions to befriend her. A rumor of that nature would have ruined Bernadette Protti’s chances of ever being socially accepted in Orinda, a community that was known for placing a strong emphasis on success, popularity and ‘fitting in’.
Bernadette Protti was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve time in the California Youth Authority, where she remained until she was released on parole in June 1992. According to Traciy Curry-Reyes, of the Movies Based On True Stories Archives, Protti changed her name after her release, causing many to relentlessly pursue her new identity for years. Traciy Curry-Reyes discovered Bernadette Protti’s new identity in 2008, but chose not to publicly disclose her new name. She shared with her viewers that Bernadette Protti is now married with a child.
The video segments below are of Dr. Villarreal’s commentary on the case, who provides a framework for understanding what pushes some people to kill. The full story can be seen here in the second half of Killer Kid’s episode #12 of Season 4, titled “Rumors and The To Do List“.