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Haun Trial Focuses on Defendant’s Handwriting

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Flowing Ds, angular Js and little Hs trapped in a tangle of letters.

This was the alphabet soup that dominated the testimony in Diana Haun’s murder trial Wednesday as attorneys questioned two handwriting experts about the defendant’s distinctive signature and how it compared to writing on various documents related to the case.

Prosecutors say Haun used personal checks to buy items such as a wig, pantsuit and camping ax prior to the kidnap-slaying of homemaker Sherri Dally. They further allege that those things were used by Haun during the killing.

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Although defense attorneys have taken issue with the prosecution’s murder theory, they have conceded that Haun purchased certain items before Dally’s May 6, 1996, abduction.

Nevertheless, prosecutors called three experts Wednesday to further establish that it was Haun who made the purchases and signed checks and other documents.

The testimony of two FBI experts flown in from Washington and a local document examiner provided the first forensic evidence offered in the murder trial.

Haun is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the slaying of Dally, a 35-year-old day-care center operator and the wife of Haun’s lover, Michael Dally.

As part of her analysis, FBI document examiner Marguerite McHenry scrutinized signatures on four personal checks, a gift certificate for a clothing store and handwriting samples that the defendant provided to police last year.

McHenry divided her study into two areas: Haun’s signature and her handwriting in general.

Although she testified that there were similar characteristics in the defendant’s signature, she told the jury that her conclusion was “less than positive” that each check was penned by Haun.

“Everyone’s writing has variation to it,” she explained. “I would expect to see some variation.”

She described Haun’s signature as fluid and somewhat illegible, characterized by a large D and slanted middle initial J.

“It’s a very flowing tail on that D,” she said, referring to enlarged photographs of the signature. “Very big, long tail on that D.”

McHenry also performed an analysis on two typed documents that prosecutors are trying to link to Haun.

The examiner was sent a copy of a typewritten letter mailed to various media organizations last year that claims responsibility for the Dally slaying as well as other missing persons in Ventura County.

The letter called local law enforcement officers lazy and gullible and asserted that the killings were the work of “British nationals.”

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Prosecutors allege that Haun was the anonymous author and sent typewriters seized from Haun’s home to the FBI in an effort to connect her to the document.

But McHenry said she was unable to conclude that the so-called “British letter” was indeed typed on Haun’s computer.

“I was able to determine the same design and style of type . . . but unable to say for certain that it is from the same typewriter,” she testified.

For her analysis, McHenry was sent a copy of the original letter mailed to the media as well as a duplicate letter composed by police on Haun’s typewriter.

On cross-examination, Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn placed the two documents, transferred to clear plastic sheets, on an overhead projector and tried to line up the copy. It didn’t match.

But McHenry challenged Quinn’s experiment.

“That’s not correct,” she said. She told the jury that the FBI does not perform that type of overlay comparisons because they are less than scientific.

Document examiner John Harris, who lives in Somis and conducts business from an office in Long Beach, also testified about Haun’s writing.

It is his opinion, he told the jury, that the person who signed the name Diana Haun on police handwriting tests is the same person who signed a rental agreement for a blue Nissan Altima.

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A witness identified Haun in court last week as the woman who rented that car on May 5, 1996, and returned it two days later. Prosecutors contend that the car was used in the kidnapping and slaying.

In reviewing the rental agreement, Harris suggested that Haun may have tried to disguise her signature because of an unusual slant to the writing. Quinn challenged that testimony and Harris said it was simply his observation based on years of experience.

In other testimony, Robert Rooney, the second FBI expert called to the stand, performed studies on the green ink used to write some of Haun’s personal checks.

Rooney said prosecutors sent him a green pen--it was not made clear where the pen came from--and asked him to compare it to the ink on the checks.

“They could have come from the same source,” he said.

But on cross-examination, Rooney testified that the type of green ink in question was common and widely available to any number of people.


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