D.A. Denies He Coerced Grand Jury in Dally Case
Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury on Thursday flatly denied allegations that he threatened the grand jury and tried to coerce an indictment against murder suspect Michael Dally.
The prosecutor was ordered to testify at a court hearing before Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones after defense attorneys alleged he strong-armed a murder indictment in the case involving Dally’s slain wife.
During questioning from defense attorneys, Bradbury acknowledged that he met with grand jury foreman George Billinger in November 1996 to discuss the case.
But Bradbury said he never asked for a guarantee that an indictment be returned if prosecutors decided to take the case back to the grand jury.
“Did you ask, through Mr. Billinger, for a guarantee or assurance that the grand jury would indict Mr. Dally?” Deputy Public Defender Neil B. Quinn asked.
“No,” Bradbury responded.
The district attorney further denied threatening the panel or telling grand jurors that he would not take future criminal cases to them unless they indicted Dally.
The 37-year-old grocery clerk and his lover, Diana Haun, were originally the subject of grand jury proceedings in August for allegedly plotting and carrying out the killing of Sherri Dally in May 1996.
After nine days of testimony, the grand jury indicted Haun on murder and related charges, but failed to indict Dally.
Prosecutors went back to the panel with additional evidence in November. Dally then was indicted on murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and related allegations, and Haun was re-indicted on the same charges.
But how prosecutors secured the indictments has become a hotly contested issue in the week before Haun’s trial is set to start.
Defense attorneys want Jones to dismiss all charges against Dally and some against Haun on the grounds that prosecutors improperly influenced the grand jury. Jones is expected to issue a written ruling today.
During Thursday’s hearing, Bradbury said he telephoned Billinger to arrange a Nov. 8 meeting in his office to discuss the Dally case.
Bradbury said he told Billinger that he needed at least 12 members of the grand jury who would be available to hear additional testimony. The jurors had to have already heard evidence presented during the August proceedings and be willing to consider an indictment, Bradbury testified.
“If they weren’t,” he said, “we certainly didn’t want to waste their time.”
But on cross-examination, Bradbury acknowledged that the next day he received a letter from Billinger that stated in part: “It looks good.”
What that specific remark was in reference to was not made clear.
Fielding questions for nearly two hours, Bradbury appeared relaxed and eager to respond to the allegations, occasionally speaking over the objections of his deputy prosecutors.
“Given the willingness of the witness to answer, I’ll remove the objection,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Michael Schwartz said at one point, smiling at his boss seated on the witness stand.
In other testimony Thursday, grand jury foreman Billinger said the district attorney never asked him for assurances that the grand jury would indict.
“At any time in your discussions with the grand jury,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth probed, “did you tell the grand jurors that Mr. Bradbury would not bring the Dally matter back before them unless they guaranteed that they would indict him?”
“Absolutely not,” Billinger replied.
The foreman’s testimony directly contradicts statements made in court Wednesday by grand juror DeShay Ford, who told the judge that Billinger asked the panel for a show of hands indicating whether they would indict Dally.
Though Ford told the judge that 12 members raised their hands in favor of an indictment on Nov. 13, five other grand jurors have testified to the contrary.
“There were two issues,” said grand juror John Murray on Thursday. “The first was a very brief discussion of whether we wanted to continue with the Dally matter and the second was a show of hands to see who was available.”
Billinger offered the same account.
But defense attorneys pressed on, raising other allegations of impropriety. They questioned whether Billinger had been promised a job by Bradbury. And they asked why documents pertaining to the Dally-Haun case had been destroyed.
In response, Henke-Dobroth asked if it was the policy of the grand jury to shred documents before its members leave office.
“Yes,” Billinger replied.
He denied being offered a job by Bradbury, explaining that he had expressed an interest in volunteering for the county. Billinger said he had no expectation that the district attorney would help him find a position.
But defense attorney James M. Farley, who is representing Dally, called as his final witness a retired attorney who told the judge that Billinger bragged to him at a recent dinner party about being offered an unpaid position in the district attorney’s office as a liaison to the grand jury.
“The grand jury must be independent,” Haun’s attorney Quinn said in his final arguments. “Those structural protections have been compromised here.
“If you painted a picture of the relationship between Mr. Billinger and Mr. Bradbury,” Quinn continued, “independent is not the word that springs to mind.”
Farley told the judge that Ford had no motive in testifying before him, but suggested that Billinger and Bradbury have an interest in not admitting any wrongdoing.
In their final arguments, however, prosecutors said Ford’s recollections are inaccurate, contradictory and not to be trusted.
“The defense has made some very serious allegations here which they simply haven’t been able to prove,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Schwartz said in closing.
“This case started with a bang when the allegation was first made,” he told the judge, “and ended with a whimper.”