A Sylmar man, who with the help of a prostitute mistress bludgeoned his wife of 35 years to death for financial gain, will spend life in prison without the possibility of parole, a jury ruled on Tuesday.
Dennis Dawley, 61, a 21-year Air Force veteran and former golf starter, could have faced the death penalty after being convicted Thursday on charges of murder, conspiracy and solicitation in the 1991 death of Joan Dawley.
Co-defendant Brandita Taliano, who was convicted on all but the solicitation charge last week, also drew a life prison sentence.
According to prosecutors and defense attorneys, the jury's decision was influenced by the emotional pleas from witnesses as well as the background of the defendants.
"Dennis Dawley had no prior record and Brandita Taliano had no prior record involving acts of violence," Deputy Dist. Atty. Shari Silverman said. "That together with the compelling testimony, particularly from the defendant's daughters, made the difference in this case. They pleaded with the jury to spare their father's life."
Dawley's defense attorney, Rayford Fountain, said he is considering an appeal.
"I've tried a number of death penalty cases and we would have been totally shocked with a death verdict," Fountain said. "It was a totally appropriate verdict. My client lived an exemplary life prior to this case."
During the three-month trial before Superior Court Judge Shari K. Silver, prosecutors charged that Dawley was worried he would lose money because his wife was planning to divorce him. Dawley first attempted to hire a man to kill Joan Dawley for $12,000. When that plan failed, the pair did it themselves, beating her to death with a blunt object, prosecutors said.
After the slaying, Dawley showed little grief, prosecutors said. He cashed in life insurance policies and went on a shopping spree spending his wife's cash inheritance on gambling trips, cars and a Jacuzzi.
In a particularly callous move, prosecutors said, Dawley set off with Taliano, a prostitute and heroin addict, to Las Vegas two days after his wife's funeral.
Shortly afterward, the two were arrested on suspicion of murder but released for lack of evidence.
A new DNA technique eventually linked Taliano to scrapings found under Joan Dawley's fingernails.
From there, investigator Paul Tippin uncovered a mountain of circumstantial evidence linking the two to the slaying.
Tippin showed that Dawley had visited Taliano 14 times in county jail, that he put her up in hotels, claimed her as a dependent on his income taxes for three years and put her name on the titles of cars and property. Prosecutors said Dawley even went so far as to stage a burglary the summer after his wife's death to make the crime look like it had been the work of someone else.
In an interview, Carolyn Dawley, who married Dawley in 1995, thanked the jury for sparing her husband's life.
"There was so much to digest over the past two years," she said. "It's inconceivable that Dennis could have played a role in this. His whole life he was a model citizen, and that has to count for something."
Dawley's sentencing is scheduled for May 23 and Taliano's for June 6.