After saying for the last 4 years that an unknown intruder had killed her common-law husband at his Huntington Harbour home, Dixie Ann Dyson testified in a cold, flat voice Wednesday that she and her boyfriend planned the murder and hired another man to carry it out.
Dyson, already convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying, is now the key witness against her former boyfriend, Enrico Vasquez, 32, and George Ira Lamb, 27. Both are charged with murder and conspiracy in the death of Mel Dyson, who was found stabbed to death in the master bedroom of his condominium Nov. 18, 1984, when he was 30.
Vasquez and Lamb were arrested in June in New York, soon after Dyson, now 45, began cooperating with authorities.
At their preliminary hearing Wednesday in Westminster, Dyson told Municipal Judge Michael Beecher that the three killed Mel Dyson to collect $100,000 on a life insurance policy in which he had named Dixie Dyson as beneficiary. The amount was later determined to be about $135,000.
Dyson said she and Vasquez talked about murder for nearly 2 years before it actually took place.
“We discussed it, but I never thought it would materialize,” Dyson said. “The whole thought grew very slowly. . . . Occasionally it was brought up, and then it became real.”
It was the first time Dyson has told her story in court about what happened that night. In many previous statements to police, she had said her husband was killed by a masked intruder, who then raped her and forced her to drive him to safety past security guards at the gated Huntington Harbour condominium community.
Dyson spent the entire day on the witness stand, detailing how she and Vasquez began a sexual relationship after she separated from her husband in 1982, then waited until Vasquez could contact a hit man in New York before making final plans for the killing.
Vasquez, who came to court in a jump suit and hid his face from cameras, kept his head down as she testified, never looking at her.
Lamb, whom Dyson has named as the actual killer, came to court in a dark suit decorated with a burgundy-colored pocket handkerchief and looked straight at cameras. In contrast with Vasquez, Lamb never took his eyes of Dyson while she was on the stand.
Prosecutors said Dyson has been promised nothing in exchange for her testimony. But her sentencing date has now been postponed almost a year; lawyers involved acknowledged that she is hoping that her testimony will result in a reduced sentence.
Dyson’s physical appearance Wednesday contrasted sharply with her first courtroom appearance less than 3 years ago. She was then an attractive blond woman who had animated conversations with her attorneys.
On Wednesday, led to court in handcuffs and wearing jail clothes, she appeared much older, with gray hair, and seemed withdrawn. She could not read a simple money order placed before her, blaming deterioration of eyesight that has taken place in Orange County Jail.
She spoke clearly but without feeling. Her tone was the same when she described a night of Halloween trick-or-treating with her children as when she told the court about having sex with Mel Dyson then getting up to turn on the garage light--a signal to the killer, she said, that her husband was now asleep.
Knew Each Other in N.Y.
Dyson testified that Lamb and Vasquez had known each other for years in New York and that Lamb had agreed to kill Mel Dyson for $10,000.
Lamb even agreed to wait until she could collect the insurance money to be paid his share, Dyson testified.
Law enforcement officials have said Dyson’s testimony Wednesday has cleared up one mystery: an Oct. 31, 1984, break-in at the Dysons’ condominium.
The police once believed that Dyson and whoever was in on the killing with her had staged the burglary to throw off police after the eventual killing. But Dyson testified Wednesday that she had taken Lamb to the condominium that day with plans to kill Mel Dyson when he arrived later.
But she testified that Lamb later told her that he abandoned the plan when he saw someone else coming. Lamb decided to leave, Dyson testified, but faked a burglary first.
Although the Dysons were separated, she and the couple’s young son spent some weekends at Mel Dyson’s Huntington Harbour home.
Dyson testified that the conspirators planned to carry out the murder in the early morning hours of Nov. 18, 1984, when she, her son and a young cousin would be spending the night there.
Dyson testified that about 6 p.m. on the night of the killing, she, Vasquez and Lamb met in a small shopping center at Golden West Street and Warner Avenue. Lamb got into the back seat of her car, then climbed into the trunk by unfastening a divider.
Dyson said Vasquez “gave me a hug and told me good luck.” After he got out, Dyson said, she drove past the security guard with Lamb hidden in the trunk.
Dyson gave few details of the killing. Medical evidence shows that Mel Dyson was stabbed 27 times. Dyson told the court that she heard her husband give a low moan, then stand up and finally fall over.
Lamb at first attacked her with an iron cord--according to their prearranged plan--so she could show police bruises from an attacker, she told the court, but then Lamb told her that he would prefer to rape her too.
They had sex on the floor next to her husband’s dead body, Dyson testified.
Later, she sneaked Lamb by the guards by hiding him in the trunk again, she said.
Dyson was asked whether she had loved Vasquez when they were planning the killing. “Yes,” she said.
Do you love him now? she was asked. “No,” she said.
Dyson testified that she and Vasquez had talked about using the insurance money to start a business together.
“We talked about spending it on our children, maybe taking a vacation, there were no definite plans,” she said.
(Vasquez has a young daughter, and Dyson has four children: her son by Mel Dyson, a daughter from a previous relationship and two older sons from an earlier marriage.)
Dyson is scheduled to continue her testimony today.
One sidelight of Wednesday’s testimony is that the prosecutor who put her on the stand, and gently dragged the story from her, is Deputy Dist. Atty. Richard F. Toohey. He is the same prosecutor who won a first-degree murder conviction against her.
During her trial a year ago, Toohey had told her in the courtroom during a recess: “One of these days, Dixie, you’re going to tell us what happened.”