Former Saddleback College Assistant Dean Donald E. Dawson, who admits that he fatally shot his ex-wife outside her El Toro home, is an "extremely assertive individual . . . the type of person who may act with little control or forethought," a psychologist testified Monday.
Dawson listened intently as psychologist Donald K. Smith described him as someone who might "trample" on other people's feelings but later would feel remorse and deep regret. Smith, in testimony for the defense at Dawson's trial, also told jurors that the former criminology instructor could be quickly provoked and respond with revenge or vindictive anger.
Dawson, now 47, is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Dona Mae Dawson, 46, who was shot while running down a sidewalk to escape a fusillade of gunfire on the morning of Sept. 15, 1984.
Prosecutors also are asking the jury to determine that Dawson was lying in wait for his ex-wife, a special circumstance that could result in a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty because Dawson has no previous crime record.
He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and a sanity phase will follow if he is convicted.
Dawson, who taught criminology before he became an assistant dean, resigned from Saddleback soon after his arrest. Mrs. Dawson, who had just been named to head Saddleback College's nursing department, had a long career in nursing education.
Smith, of Santa Ana, was the first of six psychologists and psychiatrists that defense attorney Ronald G. Brower will call to the stand this week. Brower hopes to convince jurors that Dawson's act was impulsive and not the result of a premeditated plan to kill his wife, a requirement for a first-degree murder conviction. Brower contends that Dawson was obsessed with his ex-wife and shot her in a jealous rage.
Prosecution witnesses testified that Dawson was trying to reconcile with Dona Mae Dawson and was upset that she was seeing another man. When her neighbor, Judy Kearnes, tried to help Mrs. Dawson after the shooting, the former college dean told her: "Judy, I had to do it."
Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. James G. Enright has introduced evidence to show that Dawson had sneaked into his ex-wife's house late at night while she spent the night at the home of her new boyfriend, Robert Baker. Dawson, armed with two guns, a set of handcuffs, a box of ammunition and several pieces of rope, waited for her return in an upstairs bedroom overlooking the garage, Enright said.
Prosecution evidence shows that Dawson fired six shots at his wife with one gun inside the house without hitting her, then hit her with five more shots after she ran down the sidewalk to escape. Witnesses said several of those shots were fired as he stood over her, after she fell to the sidewalk.
Defense testimony began Monday with a criminalist who testified that Dawson probably had a high blood alcohol level at the time of the shooting. Brower also played taped interviews that Orange County Sheriff's Department investigators conducted with two close friends of Dona Dawson.
Brower played the tapes to set the stage for testimony today from Sal J. Ferrera, another Santa Ana psychologist, who is expected to use them to discuss Dawson's relationship with his ex-wife and how desperately he wanted her to reconcile with him.
On one of the tapes, a friend who talked to Mrs. Dawson just two days before she was killed said the nursing instructor was adamant that she would not go back with Dawson but also said she still loved him.
The friend said Dona Dawson told her: "Don still thinks he's Peter Pan and I am Wendy. But I'm not Wendy anymore."