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Haun to Spend the Rest of Her Life in Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

There were no words of remorse from Diana Haun, sentenced Monday to life in prison without parole for fatally stabbing her lover’s wife.

There were no deals to reduce prison time in exchange for her testimony against lover and co-defendant, Michael Dally.

There were only the parting words of an angry and grief-stricken mother seeking some degree of justice for her daughter’s slaying.

“Losing you is like having my heart pulled out of my chest,” said Karlyne Guess, the mother of murder victim Sherri Dally. “It hurts so much that I never got to say goodbye.”

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Turning to her daughter’s convicted killer, Guess asked Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones to impose the jury’s verdict in favor of life imprisonment. She told the judge that Haun, 36, does not deserve hope in her future.

“Her life should not be easy,” Guess said in a quiet, even voice.

Jones imposed the sentence, the harshest possible sanction since the jury last month rejected prosecutors’ call for the death penalty. Later Monday, he began hearing motions in the case of co-defendant Michael Dally, with jury selection set to begin in mid-December.

Haun stared blankly at the floor of the courtroom as Guess read a 10-page letter addressed to “My precious daughter Sherri.”

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Sherri Dally was abducted from the parking lot of a Ventura Target store May 6, 1996. Witnesses said they saw the 35-year-old homemaker and mother of two young boys allow herself to be handcuffed and placed into the back seat of a car driven by a blond woman.

During the six-week trial, prosecutors presented evidence to suggest the woman was Haun wearing a wig and disguise. They argued that she killed Dally by stabbing her repeatedly in the chest before dumping her body in a ravine between Ventura and Ojai.

Dally’s skeletal remains were found by a search party 26 days after her disappearance. In her statement, Guess said those days were filled with anxiety, fear and dashed hopes.

“My life as I know it ended on May 6, 1996,” Guess said.

She recalled imagining her daughter’s body “thrown like a bag of trash” into the ravine to be ravaged by animals and buzzards. Those thoughts still haunt her, she said.

“It took me a lot of time to get out of that ravine,” she said. “Your death has left me so empty and so sad.”

Her statement was the only one given during Monday’s short sentencing hearing. After an epic court case that spanned four months, it all ended in less than an hour.

Before Jones handed down his decision, however, Haun’s lawyers asked the judge to strike one of the jury’s findings in the case.

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Haun was convicted Sept. 26 of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. The jury also found, in part, that Haun committed murder for financial gain--a special-circumstance allegation that enhances her sentence considerably.

Her lawyers argued that evidence presented during the trial did not support that financial-gain finding. They asked Jones to dismiss the allegation, therefore making Haun eligible for parole, or allow a new trial on the matter.

Prosecutors, however, said the evidence did support the jury’s finding. They further argued that Jones did not have the authority to reduce the charge and said for him to take such a step would be wrong.

Jones disagreed in part, saying he did have the authority to dismiss the allegation. But he said he was unwilling to do so given the “viciousness and callousness of the crime.”

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Haun said nothing during her sentencing. She made no statement in a probation report and declined to make an appeal to the court before Jones imposed sentence.

Her friends and relatives, however, sent letters to the judge seeking leniency and placement in a women’s prison that would allow her to lead a productive life.

“I realize my opinion of her trial will have no effect on her situation,” sister Mary Oliver wrote to the judge, “but I hope my insight of her as a person will have some impact on where she is sent.

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“Diana is a very creative and intelligent woman,” Oliver said. “She has a lot to offer. . . . It is my hope that you place Diana in a prison where she can better herself and the people around her.”

Haun’s sister-in-law, Patrizia M. Haun, also described the former grocery clerk as a caring and sensitive person.

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“I would also like you to know that I believe in my heart that Diana will not be of any trouble or cause problems in prison,” she wrote. “She sees how hard this has been on all her family and does not wish to cause us any problems or any more heartbreak.”

At the end of the hearing, Jones ordered Haun transported to a woman’s prison near Fresno.

She must first return to Ventura County Superior Court on Dec. 8 for a hearing on how much money she should pay in restitution to the relatives of Sherri Dally.

The hearing will also evaluate whether Haun can afford to pay the costs of her own representation by the public defender’s office.

Outside the courtroom Monday, three jurors from her trial walked away with a sense of closure to the celebrated Ventura County case while remarking that it is far from over.

“This is kind of an unfinished saga,” said juror John Mostachetti, a Santa Barbara County planner. Mostachetti said he was disappointed that Haun did not make a statement during the hearing or show remorse.

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“She apparently committed a very violent crime,” he said. “I feel she should have made some statement, shown some remorse. And I was kind of saddened that that didn’t happen.”

After Haun’s sentencing, the judge wasted no time in turning to Michael Dally’s murder trial, which remains on track for jury selection next month.

Like Haun, Michael Dally is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy for allegedly plotting his wife’s killing. Prosecutors say Dally was an accomplice while Haun actually carried out the killing.

Dally, 37, walked slowly into court before noon. He sat next to his court-appointed lawyers as they began to discuss pending pretrial motions and scheduling for jury selection.

Jones, who will not preside over the case because of health problems, said he made arrangements with court officials in neighboring Santa Barbara County to summon 1,000 prospective jurors Dec. 15.

About the same number of jury candidates were screened during jury selection for Haun’s trial.

As in her trial, an outside jury is being sought for Dally’s because of heavy pretrial publicity in Ventura County. The procedure involves busing jurors to the Ventura courthouse each day.

For three days in December, the lawyers plan to discuss which jury candidates cannot serve because of financial or personal hardship. After a break for the holidays, jury selection is set to resume in early January.


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